The Green Bay Packers lost yet another game in overtime, 23-20 to the Miami Dolphins at home last week, after truning in another shaky offensive performance but also once again outgaining the opponent.
The Packers' season and their pride are both on the line this week as Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings come to town this Sunday night. The Vikings enter the contest 2-3 and coming off a big win at home against the Dallas Cowboys, who quite possibly may be the only team in the NFC more desperate for a victory than the Packers.
Clay Matthews is coming back from injury, and with him should come the Packers' pass rush. Without Matthews last Sunday, the Packers failed to get much—if any—pressure on Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne, and that no doubt played a key role in the Packers losing the game.
Penalties played another big role in the outcome; in particular, one that nullified a punt and gave the Dolphins the ball back with a fresh set of downs. To quote Vince Lombardi, "What the hell is going on out there?"
The Packers now face a must-win game Sunday night.
A win puts their season back on track: The Packers can continue to make their push for the NFC North title, despite the rash of injuries that has hampered them, and all will seemingly be well in Dairyland.
A loss? Well, lose to the Vikings and Titletown may burst into flames. Many fans will call for the heads of Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy, and the team could have a meltdown of epic proportions, making 2010 one of the most disappointing seasons in the Packers' illustrious history.
Breaking down the Vikings
Favre returns to Lambeau. Enough said.
No. 4 returns to the place he once called home, but unlike 2009, his season has gone south in a hurry. The old Favre has returned: The sacks. The turnovers. The boneheaded throws. All the problems that went away in Favre's first season in a Vikings uniform have suddenly reappeared in his second.
Throw in some injuries that nearly caused him to miss last week and a scandal involving him, a former Jets employee and Little Brett—no more jokes about that, I promise. You want them? Google them—and the three-time MVP is feeling low.
Still without Sidney Rice, the Vikings passing game has suffered. Have no fear, Randy Moss is here! Favre finally got his wish when the Vikings acquired Moss from New England. The Favre-Moss connection has only had one week to get it together, but it has the potential to be one of the best in league.
That is, if the Vikings patchwork offensive line can keep Favre in one piece. No. 4 has been under siege so much he is spending more time on the ground than his pants (I'm referring to the song that the Vikings mimicked after their win in the playoffs last year, you perverts!)
With the passing game getting it together, the Vikings offense once again rides on the legs and hands of Adrian Peterson. Peterson's turnover problems of 2009 seem to have disappeared as quickly as Favre's returned. That means bad news for the NFL, as Peterson remains the most explosive running back in the league.
On defense, Jared Allen has been kept surprisingly quiet for much of the season so far, as he has fallen victim to a lot of double- and even triple-teaming. The Williams brothers become the biggest threat to the Packers keeping Aaron Rodgers upright.
The Vikings secondary is led by Antoine Winfield and Asher Allen. This would probably be the weakest link on the defense for the Vikings, so look for the Packers to continue to go with their one-dimensional, pass-only attack against the Vikings.
When the Packers have the ball
I hate repeating myself, but here it goes anyway.
The Packers will be attacking the Vikings through the air. Stop the presses, I know.
Even though McCarthy will likely try and establish the run, the solid Vikings front should grind that plan to a halt, so look for Aaron Rodgers to target Greg Jennings often.
For the Vikings, the key will be getting their secondary to stop the Packers receivers. Even without Jermichael Finley, the Packers still have a lot of offensive weapons at their disposal, so the Vikings will have a challenge matching up against the Packers three- and four-receiver sets.
When the Vikings have the ball
Peterson likely will have to be "All Day" once again for the Vikings to win the game.
The Packers undoubtedly will take a cue from every other team the Vikings have faced this season and throw the house at Favre. In two matchups last season, Favre stayed upright for the majority of both contests, and the Packers paid dearly for it.
Generally speaking, the Packers have had good luck in stopping Peterson, and now, with the emergence of B.J. Raji, the Packers have a front three that can do a good job holding Peterson at bay.
Matthews will be key for the Packers. Without him, the Packers don't have a pass rush, and Favre is still dangerous when he has time to throw.
Three keys to the game (plus a bonus)
1. Can the Packers hit Brett Favre?
If Favre gets sacked, look for Lambeau to erupt like a dormant volcano.
Establishing the tone of the game on defense early will be crucial to stopping the Vikings. Rattling Favre and forcing some classic Favre mistakes will make it that much easier for Rodgers and the defense to put points on the board.
2. Can McCarthy make the right play calls?
This week, McCarthy has been under siege by many for his play-calling abilities. The argument is that he is not putting Rodgers in position to do the things he is best at.
He should be calling some rollout plays so Rodgers can use his natural scrambling abilities. McCarthy also needs to start using some of the slant routes that helped make his offense so explosive regardless who was under center.
McCarthy is under the microscope in this game, so he has to get it right to stop the calls for his job.
3. Will Rodgers get rid of the ball faster?
Rodgers has slipped into some old bad habits. As he did in the early part of the 2009 campaign, Rodgers is holding onto the ball far too long and taking some brutal hits because of it. A lot of plays seem to be designed for him to take a three-step drop and then throw. If so, those plays are obviously not being executed to design.
With the Vikings expected to blitz, how fast Rodgers' release is will be key to his team's hopes for victory.
Bonus! How will the league's new late hit policy affect such an intense rivalry game?
Much of the talk this week has been on how the league will be handling helmet-to-helmet and other vicious hits. The NFL announced it will increase fines and will not hesitate to suspend players who lead with their helmets when making a tackle, even for first-time offenders.
Hard hits are common in any rivalry game in football. With both teams playing such aggressive styles on defense, it will be interesting to see how Dom Capers and Leslie Frazier alter their attacks (if at all) to prevent such things from occurring.
Vikings 28, Packers 24
Chalk this one up as a vote of "no confidence" in Mike McCarthy's leadership of the Green Bay Packers.
All season long, the Packers have appeared to play with no fire and no emotion. They have been on an even keel (not that this is always a bad thing) through the first six games and don't seem to realize their season is coming apart at the seams.
If the Packers can't get fired up about this game, a nationally televised affair with your Hall of Fame former quarterback coming to town, then they should be ashamed of themselves and really don't deserve to wear the "G" of Lombardi and Holmgren on their helmets.
Your season is on the brink, Packers. Shape up or ship out.
Follow Kris Burke on Twitter @KBurkeNFL