This is it: Packers/Vikings II at Lambeau Field—the game Packers fans have long looked forward to hating.
It hasn't been long enough since these two teams faced each other in that eyeball-o-meter record breaking Monday night game. Forced to think about the loss all bye week long, you can bet the Packers want to return the favor this week.
Surprisingly, quite a bit has changed since that game in early October.
The game being in Green Bay instead of Minnesota is going to make a difference for the Packers. Since Mike McCarthy and Brad Childress took over their teams in 2006, the Vikings have never won in Green Bay.
Rookie Clay Matthews has become a force and is an improvement over Brady Poppinga at outside linebacker.
Inside linebacker Nick Barnett is starting to regain his pre-injury form, and last week A.J. Hawk reasserted himself as a factor in the middle. Safety Atari Bigby is back—a huge boost for a secondary that looked lost and confused without him.
Since the bye week, the Packers defense has been nearly perfect (and yes, that is an achievement—even against the lowly Browns and Lions). You have to go all the way back to the third quarter of the Vikings game to see the Packers give up a touchdown.
It’s not all good news for the Packers: Tight End Jermichael Finley will, most likely, miss the game.
This may be a big loss since the Packers effectively exploited matchups between Finley and the Vikings’ secondary. Finley had six catches for 128 yards and a touchdown in the first matchup.
Wide receiver Jordy Nelson is out with a knee injury, and receiver Brett Swain was lost for the season last week.
The Packers signed Jake Allen from the practice squad, but that won’t make up for the loss of Nelson, who was a quality option for Rodgers in the passing game.
Packers will be on their third return man, since Will Blackmon is on IR and Nelson is injured.
The Vikings also have some injuries. Pro Bowl cornerback Antoine Winfield will probably be out. He’ll be replaced by either Karl Paymah, Benny Sapp, or Asher Allen. That’s a big step down for a secondary ranked 24th in the league.
Vikings wide receiver Bernard Berrian didn’t play in the second half against the Steelers and his status for Sunday is uncertain.
The Packers won’t field the same offensive line that gave up eight sacks—which has to be considered an improvement.
Allen Barbre has shown more consistency since the opening weeks of the NFL and Mark Tauscher is cleared to compete for the job. Between the two, someone should play better than last time.
Either veteran Chad Clifton or rookie T.J. Lang, the likely starters at left tackle for the Packers, will be an improvement over Daryn Colledge’s performance against Vikings’ pass rushing specialist, Jared Allen.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers praised Lang. Despite the risks of playing a rookie against Allen, Rodgers seems to think it’s a good idea. He talked about Lang’s attitude and presence in the huddle. I think it’s safe to say Rodgers likes him.
Rodgers joked with the media while taking questions in front of his locker. He gave all the correct answers and he seemed confident. For a guy who was beaten up by Jared Allen and this Vikings defense, Rodgers doesn’t show it.
If the idea of getting sacked multiple times doesn’t freak him out, forget about media hype fazing him.
As the swelling number of media-types at Lambeau indicates, interest in this game hasn't waned in the weeks since the last matchup.
The furor to cover Brett Favre’s return hints at what he’s become: the Princess Diana of the National Football League. He draws viewers and mouse clicks, so they will cover him to death—not literally, hopefully.
The coverage over the past year and a half has been excessive (helicopter surveillance, people camped in his yard, etc). Sunday is a rare noteworthy event in the bigger-than-life Favre saga. The game will probably decide who wins the division, but it is more than that.
This is a game so monumentally large that you have to talk about it in Protestant Reformation terms before you reach the point of satirical hyperbole.
Brett Favre returns to that holy shrine of football, Lambeau Field. Like Martin Luther, he intends to nail his protest to the door as a message to Ted Thompson, the Packers’ Pope of Football Operations.
Favre will say he likes major free agents, high risk/reward draft picks, poaching from your neighbors, and winning championships this year.
The only obstacle that can stop Favre from making his point is a football team built completely Ted Thompson’s way. If that makes Packers fans feel uneasy, it's not too late to pray.