Week 16 Preview: No Rodgers, No Chance Against Vikings?

For almost 30 years now, the Packers have always had a chance to win because of the player taking snaps under center.

First Brett Favre, then Aaron Rodgers gave announcers reason to say some variation of "as long as the Packers have ______, you've got to think they're in the game."

This week, officially, Aaron Rodgers cannot help the Packers. He walked the long road back and fell short against the Panthers, rendering what was supposed to be a revenge game against the Vikings a meaningless spectacle.

Now, the Packers will face the team that ruined their season without Rodgers, but that's not to say there's nothing to be gained.

The Packers have been criticized all season for supposedly being "exposed" by the lack of success without Rodgers, but starting this week, they could begin to reverse that narrative by taking down a powerful Vikings team with Rodgers out for good. It's sometimes hard to buy the notion of playing for "pride," but maybe that's what it comes down to: showing that without their two-time MVP, the Packers can still play.

Five Things to Think about During Sunday’s Game

1 - If the Vikings win Saturday night, it will be the first time since 2009 that Minnesota sweeps the two-game series against the Packers. You may have forgotten, but this was Minnesota’s quarterback that season.

2 - Packers quarterback Brett Hundley has been Dr. Jekyll on the road and Mr. Hyde at home this season. Through 122 attempts, Hundley has yet to throw a touchdown pass at Lambeau Field this season, and is five passing attempts from setting an NFL record for the most passes without a touchdown at home. On the road, Hundley finished each of his three contests with a passer rating of 110-plus.

3 - If the Packers are trailing late and need help from an onside kick, they’ve got the right kicker for the job. Mason Crosby and the special teams unit have recovered six onside kicks since 2010, the most in the NFL over that span. When teams are expecting an onside kick, they’re successful only about 20 percent of the time.

4 - The emergence of rookie running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams has provided a helpful boost to the offense this season. However, the Packers are on pace to eclipse last season’s total rushing yards by just 22 yards. Since Eddie Lacy’s rookie season in 2013, the Packers have rushed for fewer yards in each subsequent season:

5 - The last time the Packers and Vikings played at Lambeau Field, receiver Jordy Nelson was the subject of a supposed mutiny by the Minnesota defensive backs against their coach Mike Zimmer. After the game, Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes admitted that the defensive backs didn’t follow Zimmer’s plan to have Rhodes on Nelson. Nelson had seven catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. Once the story made national headlines, Rhodes and the Vikings walked back their initial comments.

Who Could Be an X-Factor?

Jon says Jamaal Williams

The Packers have two talented rookie running backs, but seem to be capable of only using one at a time. Currently, Jamaal Williams is at the front of the line, and although I would love to see Aaron Jones get more carries, I think Williams is going to get the bulk of the touches until he gives the Packers some reason to think he can’t handle it. With Brett Hundley sure to face intense pressure from the Vikings, let’s hope Williams is up to the task of carrying the running game alone.

Gary says Aaron Jones.

You may have missed Aaron Jones against the Panthers if you used the restroom during the game’s second quarter. Jones had two carries for 43 yards over the span of three plays, then didn’t touch the ball again until the fourth quarter. When both Jones and Jamaal Williams are healthy, Mike McCarthy is wise to use both and not favor one or another. If the Packers are to have a chance against the Vikings, Jones and Williams must be equal participants against Minnesota.

What Happened Last Time the Packers and Vikings Played?

Do we really have to talk about that? Here’s the box score. Figure the rest out for yourself.

Who’s Going to Win on Sunday?

Jon says the Vikings, by a lot.

In 1996, the Packers lost two games near midseason before figuring things out against the Rams and kicking it into another gear down the stretch. They got especially hot in the regular season’s final quarter, pummeling their last four regular season opponents by a combined score of 138-36.

The last of those four opponents was the Minnesota Vikings, who the Packers obliterated 38-10 three days before Christmas, and the score made that game look a lot closer than it actually was.

A generation later, the shoe is on the other foot. Other than a Week 14 stumble against Carolina (forgivable against a good team on the road), the Vikings are cruising. Their loss in Carolina was their first since the first day of October, and with a vicious defense and an offense that refuses to make mistakes, the Vikings are in good shape to take the Packers apart on Sunday.

But don’t worry. The Vikings will find a way to ruin this in the playoffs.

Gary says the Vikings, by a lot.

As a Wisconsin transplant in the eastern time zone, it may not be until after midnight for the game to officially end. The winner will likely be decided by halftime, though. The Vikings can clinch a first-round bye with a victory and a Carolina loss this week, and the Packers are playing… for pride? Given how backup Brett Hundley struggled the first time these teams met, I don’t think Green Bay will be able to knock off their rivals. Let’s hope another NFC team can in the postseason.

For Further Listening

This week on Blue 58, we’re talking about how to fix the Packers. It’s going to take a big philosophical shift to help the Packers retool. Is the brain trust prepared to do what it takes?