Vikings and Packers Ready for the Rematch
By Tom Pollin (@tjpollin)
Black and Blue Division Bruiser
The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers have already played each other twice this season and both teams held serve on their home fields. The Packers won 23-14 in Week 13 at Lambeau Field and the Vikings won their way into the playoffs 37-34 last week at the Metrodome.
This week, the two teams are set for a rematch at Lambeau Field in the second game of Wild Card weekend on Saturday night.
In 2004, the 8-8 Vikings crushed the 10-4 Green Bay Packers 31-17 in a Wildcard game best remembered for Randy Moss’ fake “moon shot” salute to the Lambeau Field crowd. This game won’t have Moss on the field but here are five other things to look for on Saturday.
1. The Packers need to jump on top of the Vikings early.
In his five years as a starter Aaron Rodgers has led Fourth Quarter Comebacks* five times in his career. That total is tied for No. 28 among active NFL quarterbacks behind such luminaries as Kyle Orton, Matt Cassell and Jay Cutler among others. He’s also behind a long list of quarterbacks in the number of Game-Winning Drives he’s led.
The Vikings had halftime leads on the Packers in both of their games this season. At Lambeau Field, the Packers came back and took the lead in the third quarter. In Week 17 the Packers trailing by a field goal heading into the fourth quarter. They were able to tie the game but could never take the lead.
Once the third quarter is over on Saturday night lay the rent on the team that’s leading to win the game.
2. Christian Ponder needs to play mistake free, again.
In their first meeting the Vikings were leading the Packers at halftime 14-10. In their first drive of the third quarter the Vikings were ready to extend their lead to 21-10 until safety Morgan Burnett intercepted Ponder in the end zone to kill the threat. Then on the last play of the third quarter with the Vikings in Packers’ territory Burnett did it again.
Last week, Casey Hayward came unblocked on a blitz. Anxious to avoid a sack, Ponder launched a high floater just as Heyward flattened him in the backfield. What should have been an easy interception backfired when Jarius Wright dove between two defenders and turned Ponder’s desperation into a completion. The Packers paid again when the Vikings converted on that drive for a touchdown.
That was the only play in the game where they forced Ponder to make a critical mistake. To win Saturday night they’ll need to create more than one of those opportunities.
3. The Packers offensive line needs to protect Rodgers better.
Aaron Rodgers was sacked 51 times this season, most in the NFL. He was only sacked 36 times in 2011, No. 8 in the NFL. That’s the difference between Rodgers averaging 8.31 Real Passing Yards per Attempt in 2011, best in the NFL, and only able to manage a 6.65 RYPA average, No. 12 in the NFL, this season.
The Packers have four wide receivers that averaged over 10-yards per catch this season. Add tight end Jermichael Finley to those four and Rodgers has a group he can use to get the ball downfield in a hurry, if Rodgers has time to get them the ball.
In last week’s game the Vikings sacked Rodgers 5 times for 32-yards and recorded seven more quarterback hits. Defensive End Everson Griffen had three sacks and four of those hits. The Packers need to pay close attention to where he’s lining up this Saturday night or he’ll do it again.
4. Adrian Peterson has torched the Packers twice this season.
In two games against the Packers this season Adrian Peterson has carried the ball 69 times for 409-yards, a 6.3-yards per carry average.
On the Vikings’ final drive last Sunday Adrian Peterson carried the ball five times and gained 36 of the 61-yards that set up Blair Walsh for the winning field goal.
Ponder only threw for 234-yards last Sunday and the Vikings still outgained the Packers by 39 Total Yards. The Packers surrendered 4.54-yards per carry on defense in 2012, the second consecutive season they’ve been No. 26 in the league in stopping the run.
Another advantage to jumping on the Vikings early (Thing No. 1) is it would force the Vikings to take the ball out of Peterson’s hands and force Ponder to make plays. Without Percy Harvin on the field the Vikings don’t have any receivers they can count on to make plays when the game is on the line.
If the game stays close, Peterson will shred the Packers’ defense all evening.
5. The trends say...
...that they can't be bothered to make a prediction so don't blame them if you bet and lose on Saturday.
The Packers play Saturday night with the memory of the beating they took from the Giants still fresh in their memory. In 2010 they swept through three road games to Super Bowl XLV and a 32-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Under Mike McCarthy the Packers are 1-2 in playoff games at Lambeau Field, 5-3 in postseason games overall.
The Vikings haven't played in the postseason since Brett Favre's was in his first year with the team and in his second comeback from retirement.
The Vikings have Peterson but the Packers have the better quarterback and corps of receivers. More often than not that's the formula for victory at any time of the season and especially in the playoffs. Look for the Packers to do what they couldn't do last year and advance.
* Pro-Football-Reference: Must be an offensive scoring drive in the 4th quarter, with the team trailing by one score, though not necessarily a drive to take the lead.
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