Vikings vs. Packers: Previewing the NFC North Matchup

MJ Kasprzak@BayAreaCheezhedSenior Writer IINovember 14, 2011

Vikings vs. Packers: Previewing the NFC North Matchup

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    While the Green Bay Packers-Minnesota Vikings rivalry has been defined by Brett Favre since 1992, he is now the past quarterback for both teams. Their quarterbacks of the future are the ones who will be battling in this game.

    Minnesota is focused on that future, while Green Bay is very much in the present. The reigning Super Bowl champions are unbeaten and protecting the home field, and thus are expected to win.

    Playing an inferior divisional opponent who has no pressure is always dangerous. Unfortunately for the Vikings, the Packers are being pushed by San Francisco for the top seed and Detroit and Chicago for the division.

    Green Bay has better coaches and goals to work toward that prevent overlooking a rival who played well the last time they met. Thus, every miscellaneous advantage goes to Green Bay. But how do they match up on paper?

Packers Passing Game vs. Vikings Pass Defense: Huge Advantage, Green Bay

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    The Green Bay Packers have a quarterback who is setting records and the clear front-runner for league MVP because he is at or near the top in every statistical category. He throws to a receiving corps that is among the NFL leaders in yards after catch and fewest dropped passes.

    The Vikings give up the third-best opponent passer rating and third-most passing yards in the NFL despite many teams leaning on the running game in the fourth quarter to protect leads.

    The only thing they have going for them is the ability to apply pressure with a four-man rush (Rodgers picks apart blitzes), and it did help them to amass four sacks in the last matchup. But this still adds up to an extremely lopsided advantage for the Packers.

Packers Rushing Attack vs. Vikings Run Defense: Advantage, Minnesota

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    The Minnesota Vikings defensive line remains one of the best in football despite the retirement of Pat Williams and departure if Ray Edwards. Thus, only five teams give up fewer yards per game and only four fewer yards per carry.

    Green Bay only runs the ball to keep teams honest. The Packers rank 21st in the league in yards per game and 22nd in yards per carry, so the advantage obviously goes to Minnesota.

    However, because teams have to focus on stopping the pass and face the two-back tandem of the physical James Starks and speedy Ryan Grant, the Packers running game does all it needs to. Green Bay was even able to get yards late in the last matchup to salt the game away.

Vikings Passing Game vs. Packers Pass Defense: Advantage, Packers

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    The typical fan looks at the Packers' 31st-ranked pass defense and the Vikings' 27th-ranked passing attack and figures this one to be a wash.

    However, Christian Ponder has a passer rating of just 77.5 and has only been the team's starter for three weeks. After the first possession of the last matchup, Green Bay feasted on him because of that inexperience and a dearth of weapons to help him.

    The Packers lead the NFL in interceptions and are one of only eight teams to have at least as many of them as passing touchdowns allowed. This is why Green Bay is 12th in opponent passer rating and Ponder is in for a long day.

Vikings Rushing Attack vs. Packers Run Defense: Big Advantage, Vikings

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    Here again the numbers may be misleading if you only scratch the surface: Green Bay is ranked eighth in rushing yards allowed per game and Minnesota fifth in rushing offense.

    However, the Packers are not giving up yards because only two teams (Chicago and San Francisco) are facing fewer carries per game. Similarly, the Vikings average only the eighth-most carries per game despite having Adrian Peterson in the backfield.

    The reality is the Packers give up the 10th-most yards per carry in the NFL while the Vikings average the second-most yards per attempt. This is why Adrian Peterson was able to rack up 175 yards on Green Bay in the last matchup and should top 300 against his rival for the season.

Special Teams: Even

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    Neither team has an edge in the kicking game.

    Chris Kluwe and Tim Masthay have almost the same punt average. The only difference is Kluwe is a little better at the touchback-to-inside-20 ratio.

    Mason Crosby has not been a great kicker over his career, but has not missed a kick in almost an entire calendar year, including two over 55 yards. Ryan Longwell is one of the most accurate kickers of all time, but has three misses this season, including one inside 40 yards.

    The Packers are better at kick returns than their opponents but worse on punts. The Vikings are better at punt returns than their opponents, but worse at kicks.

    While Minnesota's edges are bigger, they will be more affected by conditions as an indoor team playing outdoors, though Longwell certainly is comfortable kicking at Lambeau Field.

Prediction: Packers 31, Vikings 16

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    As I said in my preview of the first contest, the matchups appear to even each other out—both teams have one regular and one big advantage and are even on special teams.

    This would suggest the Packers have only a small edge because of their significant miscellaneous edge. In fact, just a couple years ago, the prevailing opinion might have been that the edge was Minnesota's because the path to success was being able to run and stop the run.

    However, the modern NFL is about passing. Ten of the last 14 conference champion quarterbacks were in the top six of the NFL in passer rating, and two of the exceptions were Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger.

    The Packers have the edge on both sides of the ball in the passing game. Unless there is an unexpected storm that quells the air attack, Green Bay wins this one relatively comfortably.