The Green Bay Packers host the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night at Lambeau Field in what will be the final regular-season home game for the Packers this year. The Packers defeated the Cleveland Browns 24-22 last week to improve to 12-3 on the season and to keep them in the driver’s seat for the top spot in the NFC playoff race. Meanwhile, the Vikings lost to the Los Angeles Rams 30-23 to fall to 7-8 on the season.
The Packers lead the all-time regular-season series between these two division rivals, 62-55-3. These franchises first faced each other in 1961 when the Vikings entered the league and have been in the same division since that year. The Vikings and Packers met twice in the playoffs with each team winning once. The Packers lost the first meeting of the season between these two teams 34-31 in Minnesota.
Here is a look at six key factors that will determine who wins Sunday night’s game in Green Bay:
- Get Off to a Quicker Start
The Packers have struggled to score in the first quarter as they have been outscored 77-41 in the first 15 minutes of games this season.
The offense has produced points on their opening drive in just four games this season (two touchdowns and two field goals).
The defense has also been giving up more points in the first quarter and that means the Packers usually need to come from behind.
The Vikings will become one-dimensional if they fall behind early and that would work in the Packers favor if they can get off to a quicker start.
- Contain the Vikings Running Game
The Vikings will have Dalvin Cook back for Sunday’s game. Cook has been in Covid protocols but he was activated earlier this week.
Cook is a difference maker for the Minnesota offense. He gained 115 total yards from scrimmage and scored a touchdown in the first meeting between these two teams. Last year, he scored four touchdowns at Lambeau as the Vikings upset the Packers.
If Cook is limited, the Vikings will turn to Alexander Mattison. Mattison is a capable back but he lacks the consistency and big-play explosiveness of Cook.
The Packers run defense gave up more than eight-yards per carry against the Browns. While the Packers don’t emphasize stopping the run, they must do a better job of slowing down Minnesota’s rushing attack or the Vikings could control the clock and limit the number of chances the Packers will have to possess the football.
Kenny Clark, Krys Barnes and De’Vondre Campbell take care of the middle of the field but both Rashan Gary and Preston Smith have struggled to contain on the edges. They must do a better job Sunday night or the Packers could be in trouble.
- Pressure Kirk Cousins
Cousins puts up good numbers and has a quarterback rating of 101.3 this season. He has excellent receivers and has 30 touchdown passes against just seven interceptions.
This season, Cousins has been sacked 25 times. The Vikings offensive line is the weak link of their offense The Packers have an edge up the middle where Clark is matched up against center Garrett Bradbury.
If the Packers can get pressure on Cousins, they can get him out of rhythm and force him into mistakes or at least incompletions. He often is too quick to turn to his checkdowns and this limits the effectiveness of the offense.
Green Bay is lacking depth at edge rusher right now with Tipa Galeai and Oren Burks both on the Covid reserve list which leaves Jonathan Garvin as the only sub at edge behind Preston Smith and Gary.
A consistent pass rush like the defense provided last week can also reduce the chances Cousins has of finding Justin Jefferson deep down field which hurt the Packers the first time these teams met earlier this season.
- Protect Aaron Rodgers
The Packers offensive line has only one starter left from opening day and that is right guard Royce Newman. The team is still unsure when or even if David Bakhtiari, Billy Turner and Josh Myers will be back in the lineup. Still, players like Yosh Nijman, Lucas Patrick and Dennis Kelly have done a good job of protecting Rodgers in recent games. In fact, the Packers did not allow a sack against the Browns last week.
The Vikings are without their best pass rusher, Danielle Hunter, who is out for the season. While they lack an outstanding pass rusher, they get pressure from a variety of pass rushers led by D.J. Wonnum with six sacks and Eric Kendricks and Armon Watts who have five each.
Wonnum will likely face Kelly on most plays while Watts will face Newman who has picked up his play in recent weeks. Kendricks often blitzes up the A-gap which means Patrick and left guard Jon Runyan, Jr. will have the primary responsibility of slowing him down.
If Rodgers has time to throw, he should be able to take advantage of vulnerable Vikings secondary which is ranked 27th in the league and allows an average of 248.5-yards passing per game.
The Packers will likely be without tight end Marcedes Lewis who often helps chip pass rushers and protect the quarterback. Hopefully, Nijman and Kelly can do the job with some help from Dominique Dafney and the team’s running backs.
- Don’t Forget to Run the Football
The weather forecast for Sunday night is cold with temperatures expected to be in the single digits and a wind-chill factor that could be below zero. If it’s windy, that could hamper the deep passing game.
The Packers need to remember to run the football enough to keep the Minnesota defense off balance and to control the clock.
Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon have contrasting running styles but both are capable of being the lead back and taking control of a drive or even a game when needed.
The Minnesota run defense is vulnerable and gives up 130.5-yards per game on the ground. A steady ground game will keep the Vikings offense off the field and will keep the pass rushers honest and help the Packers protect Rodgers.
The middle of the Minnesota defensive line is vulnerable and the Packers should be able to open some holes for Dillon and Jones to keep the chains and the clock moving.
The Packers only ran the ball 19 times in the first meeting between the teams but gained 95 yards on the ground. They should run more frequently this time around.
- Contain Justin Jefferson
The Vikings have an elite receiver in Justin Jefferson who has taken his game to another level and has been voted to the Pro Bowl this season. Jefferson already has 97 catches for 1,451 yards and nine touchdowns this season. He torched the Packers in Week 11, catching eight passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a 56-yard catch in the game.
The fact that Adam Thielen is out for the season will make it easier for Joe Barry’s defense to focus on containing Jefferson.
Jefferson’s combination of size and speed makes it tough to cover him. Green Bay is a zone-heavy team on defense, but will they try to use the speedy Eric Stokes to stay with Jefferson even though he struggles to follow the ball in the air at times or the slower but more experienced Rasul Douglas? Either way, expect plenty of safety help from either Darnell Savage of Adrian Amos as the Packers try to slow down Jefferson and prevent the Vikings from making splash plays that can quickly change the momentum of the game.
Both teams need this game. The Vikings must win to keep their fading playoff hopes alive while the Packers need a win to maintain their hold on the top seed in the NFC and the bye that goes with it.
The Packers also want revenge on the Vikings for the Week 11 game in Minnesota which the Packers easily could have won. Minnesota remains the only team in the NFC North to defeat the Packers since Matt LaFleur took over as coach in 2019 (they’ve done it twice).
The cold weather should benefit the Packers as Minnesota is a dome team now. Green Bay’s offense should score on the Vikings while the weather will help slow down Cousins and the Vikings passing game.
It won’t be easy but the Packers will get it done and close out their home schedule with a win.
Packers 34, Vikings 27
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