Round Three - Wildcard Weekend Preview
What does matter is this: the Packers and the Vikings are playing a playoff football game at Lambeau Field on Saturday.
Sure, you can point to stats like the Vikings' winless record in outdoor games this year or the fact that Christian Ponder played easily his best game of the year last week (and just his second game since Week 2 with a passer rating over 100). It's inconsequential. Know why?
The Packers and Vikings are playing a PLAYOFF FOOTBALL GAME at Lambeau Field on Saturday.
The playoffs change everything. Four times in recent memory, the Packers have been favored to win a home playoff game, and you can ask a fan of the Giants (twice!), the Falcons, and even (gulp) the Vikings how those turned out.
When it all comes down to one game, anything can happen, and probably will. Few would have predicted the game would turn out exactly the way it did last week, although a Minnesota win was never totally surprising. It does go to show, though, that when everything's on the line, nothing is impossible.
Of course, the Packers would rather things not turn out like last week, and if that's the goal, they need to get off to a much better start than they did Sunday at the Metrodome. To do so, they should look to their third down defense.
Minnesota finished the game just 6 of 12 on third down conversion attempts, but they dominated the down in the early going en route to a 13-0 lead, a deficit the Packers could never really overcome. Consider the third down plays from the Vikings first three drives.
Minnesota's Early Third Down Attempts
3rd and 10 - Minnesota 47 - Christian Ponder 9 yard pass to Michael Jenkins 4th and 1 - Green Bay 44 - Adrian Peterson 1 yard run 3rd and 7 - Green Bay 35 - Christian Ponder 10 yard pass to Kyle Rudolph (drive continues in second quarter)
2nd Quarter 3rd and 4 - Green Bay 19 - Christian Ponder incomplete pass Drive result: Blair Walsh field goal
On all three drives, the Vikings converted from 3rd and 7 or more, and even threw in a fourth down conversion for good measure. Even worse, the defense didn't necessarily improve as the game went on, allowing a 25 yard completion on 3rd and 11 on the game's final drive.
There's very little that can specifically be done about preventing third down conversions, short of simply executing better. That's easy to say as a writer, but harder to do as a player. At any rate, short of locking Adrian Peterson away in some kind of vault until Sunday morning, it may be the best way the Packers can prevent a second loss to Minnesota in as many weeks.
Last Time - Vikings: 37 Packers: 34 - December 30, 2012
Do you really need the details on this? Didn't think so. Moving along.
Meet a Viking - Christian Ponder - 6'2", 229 lbs - QB - 2nd NFL Season
Though Adrian Peterson is the engine that makes the Vikings go, Christian Ponder holds the keys to victory. (BAM! Car metaphor!) In all seriousness, Ponder's performance may be just as important as Peterson's. If he plays well, Minnesota has a legitimate chance at victory. If not, the Vikings may be able to get an early start on their offseason plans.
The Vikings will win if...
...Christian Ponder can duplicate his Week 17 performance and keep his turnovers to a minimum. Adrian Peterson seems likely to rush for at least 175 yards, so if Ponder can make a few plays, Minnesota may be taking a trip to Atlanta in a week (although we all know how Minnesota does against Atlanta in the playoffs).
The Packers will win if...
...they can manage to start faster than last week. Digging a 13-0 hole shouldn't necessarily have been a death sentence last week, but it allowed Minnesota to set the tone and pace of the game. Perhaps turning Aaron Rodgers loose in the early going rather than banking on Ryan Grant to start the game would allow for a quicker start.
The Pick - Packers: 23 Vikings: 21
Honestly, this game could go either way, but it seems like a stretch to ask Christian Ponder to put together back to back spotless performances. Aaron Rodgers played mad as heck last week, and an angry Rodgers is a dangerous Rodgers. Hopefully he saved a bit of that energy for this week.
The Rest (home team in ALL CAPS)
TEXANS over Bengals Colts over RAVENS Seahawks over REDSKINS
Last week: 9-7
Season total: 171-83-1 (.670)
Tweets of the Week
Plenty of Twittery goodness in the last few days, starting with the always insane Tom Crabtree. No additional comments needed.
Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis announced this week that he's retiring, prompting former Packer executive Andrew Brandt to drop this little nugget.
And finally, Greg Van Roten reflects on great moments of the human race.