For only the third time since 1991, this game will not feature Brett Favre
If you had told me before this season began that a quarterback was coming back in time to play Week 7 of the season, I would not have thought it would be Carson Palmer.
The smart money would have been on Brett Favre trying desperately to get revenge on somebody one last time. But even after making the decision to bench Donovan McNabb, the Minnesota Vikings have made it obvious the success of Favre as a Viking will be limited to the 2009 season.
These two teams are headed in the opposite direction, with the 1-5 Vikings clearly transitioning from aging contender to rebuilding team. The Green Bay Packers are at the height of their success—an unbeaten team that is defending a championship. In so doing, this team has tied a consecutive wins (12) record of a franchise that predates the league and has three more titles than any other team.
Yet the Packers have not shown overconfidence this season, and there is no reason they will start against a division foe on the road. The Metrodome is a tough place to play if the home team gets momentum, but that is unlikely given the other aspects of this matchup.
The Packers have more experienced and accomplished coaches, more at stake and better personnel overall. The following slides compare the personnel match-ups by team passing, rushing and on special teams...
Only a Brett Favre apologist like Skip Bayless could say, "It's not even close," regarding a question of whether Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady is the best in the game right now and not be saying it is because Rodgers has passed Brady by.
Sure, Rodgers has the absolute best receiving corps in the league (fewest drops, best in touchdowns and yards after the catch). But Brady has two good tight ends and one exceptional receiver to anchor an otherwise average unit. He also has a better offensive line.
Can you imagine Brady being able to have a 140-plus passer rating throwing outside the pocket like Rodgers? Rodgers has a much better passer rating this season, better for his career and gets better rather than worse in the postseason.
Rodgers has better feet, a stronger arm and improvises better. Brady is still a little quicker to read defenses and get rid of the ball, and is a little more accurate. But his edge in those areas is minimal, unlike those of Rodgers.
Rodgers leads the league in touchdowns, completion percentage, yards per attempt, passer rating and TQBR. He is going against a defense that is without its best corner and may be down a safety. They were not very good in the secondary when those guys were healthy.
The only thing the Vikings have going for them is that sack leader Jarred Allen is going against second-year tackle Marshall Newhouse. If the Packers cannot protect Rodgers' blindside, there is a risk of not only losing a big advantage passing in this game, but for the remainder of the season.
The Vikings are still a very good run defense. They rank in the top six in total yards and yards per carry allowed.
Allen is a solid run stuffer and Kevin Williams remains one of the best. The other two linemen hold up the point of attack well and there are enough good linebackers, led by Chad Greenway who was drafted a dozen selections later than A.J. Hawk (13 fewer tackles but 1.5 more sacks and one more flipped bird).
The Packers only run the ball to keep opponents honest. Green Bay ranks 24th in total yards and only five teams average fewer per carry. But a team that can get rushing yardage in the Super Bowl against a much better run defense will get a little production from the running game until the Vikings know they are running the ball in the second half.
Some people might think the Vikings new quarterback was named Christian Ponder because they wondered what in God's name the Vikings were thinking when they drafted him in the middle of the first round. Most experts had him available in the second because he was not ready.
Now he has to be ready. And considering the success Donovan McNabb has had against the Packers, one might also wonder what in God's name they were thinking benching him. He had four touchdowns to only two picks and a passer rating of 82.9. But it was apparent he was not going to elevate that team and you might as well see what Ponder can do.
To the casual fan, the Packers might seem a good first opponent. Only the New England Patriots have given up more passing yards. But that is because those two teams face a lot of passes from teams trying to get back in the game.
Green Bay is in the top 10 of the league in interceptions, sacks and opponent passer rating, eating up experienced quarterbacks. Worse, the Vikings lack enough targets to exploit a good Packers secondary even if Sam Shields does miss the game from last week's concussion.
Now that he has corrected his fumbling problem and is becoming at least average in the passing game, Adrian Peterson is better than ever. As a result of his work, the Vikings have the third-most rushing yards in the league and second-most yards per carry.
Unfortunately for them, they are running into a Packers defense that has returned to its 2009 status as one of the toughest to run on, allowing the fourth-fewest yards. However, part of that is also because teams abandon the run in the second half; Green Bay is only 15th in yards per carry.
So long as this game remains close enough for the Vikings to run the ball, they will be able to do it with consistent enough success. That will also keep the Packers more mobile packages with multiple backs and linebackers off the field.
Current Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell may be 37, but he is kicking as well as he did as a member of the Green Bay Packers. He remains one of the most accurate kickers in the game and is 10 of 12 this year, but Mason Crosby is 10 of 10 with a 56-yard long.
Punter Tim Masthay has not been as good as he was at the end of last year, with just a 4:2 ratio on inside 20 to touchbacks. He is averaging 41.5 yards per punt, but the coverage is giving up over 20 yards per return. Packers returners are averaging just 5.5 yards.
The kick return game is better, as the Packers are getting four more yards per return than the opponents get. But the Vikings are a better team in both respects, having a better differential on punts and kicks. Chris Kluwe is also having a better season, averaging almost four more yards per punt and with seven times pinning a team inside the 20 to just one touchback.
It is indeed the year of the quarterback
On paper, the number of advantages are even: Green Bay holds it in intangibles, pass offense and defense and Minnesota in special teams, rush offense and defense.
In debates just a few years ago, many clung to the old thought that running the football and special teams was the path to success and would have given the Vikings the edge. However, the passing game means more than it ever did before, and Green Bay's edge in those two areas is the largest among these categories.