Week 6 Preview: Packers Dive Into Divisional Schedule With Minnesota Trip
Since about 2010, it's become increasingly difficult to get a read on the Minnesota Vikings. After Brett Favre's memorable 2009 campaign, the Vikings have been in large part identity free, building their team first around a dominant rusher and then an excellent defense.
These new identities have done little to carry the franchise, though, and since Brett Favre's final retirement, the Vikings have only made the playoffs twice, never advancing past the wildcard round in either attempt.
Part of that is due to Teddy Bridgewater's catastrophic injury prior to the 2016 season. The 2014 first round pick had been promising to that point, but he's been on the shelf since then. Even though he may return this season, it's an open (and fair) question as to whether he'll even be close to the same player this year, next year, or ever again.
Such is the team the Packers will take on this Sunday as they head into the meat of their divisional slate. The Vikings defense is no less formidable, but beyond that it's hard to put a finger on exactly what the Packers are going to get when they step onto the U.S. Bank Stadium turf for their first midday kickoff of the year.
Make no mistake, though: while the Vikings may not have an overarching identity, they're still dangerous. Assuming he's healthy, Stefon Diggs is more than capable of making life difficult for the Packers' secondary, and Jerick McKinnon is a very good running back. With the Packer still rounding into form both on offense and on defense, victory over their foes to the west is hardly assured.
5 stats to think about during Sunday’s game
1. Sunday will kick off a stretch for the Packers of three NFC North contests in the next four games. This week on Blue 58, we broke down how the Packers stack up against their NFC North opponents.
2. Dating back to 2006, the Packers (31-11, .738) hold the second-best winning percentage in the month of October behind the New England Patriots (40-8, .833). Green Bay has won 22 of its last 26 games played in the month of October.
3. Green Bay has started fast this season. The Packers are the only team with four touchdowns on opening drives this season, and leads the league with 27 points on opening drives.
4. As well as starting fast, the Packers are scoring when they’re in the red-zone. Green Bay leads the league in red-zone efficiency this season (15 TDs on 19 drives). Against the Bears and Cowboys, the Packers scored nine touchdowns on 10 red-zone drives.
5. In the last nine games versus Minnesota (including playoffs), quarterback Aaron Rodgers has thrown 20 touchdowns against two interceptions. Rodgers is the only player to have four games with four-plus touchdown passes with zero interceptions against the Vikings. No other quarterback has more than two.
Who could be an X-factor in Sunday’s game?
Jon says the Vikings’ quarterback position.
The Vikings have one of the most unique roster problems in the NFL: they’ve got a bunch of pretty okay quarterbacks who are all in contract years. Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota’s 2014 first round pick, is in the final year of his deal and is still recovering from a horrific knee injury prior to the 2016 season. Sam Bradford, the player the Vikings gave up a first round pick to get (and one of the few players in the NFL who can truly sympathize with Bridgewater’s knee problems), is also on an expiring deal. Case Keenum, the third stringer who has played well in relief of Bradford this year, hits unrestricted free agency this offseason.
Bradford and Keenum have put up very good numbers so far this season, producing more than enough to keep the Vikings in games and frequently doing enough for them to win it. At his best, Bradford is more than just a “game manager” type, but he’s far from fully healthy and may not play Sunday. If the Vikings could get one guy and stick with him, their entire season could be different, but as it stands the uncertainty around the quarterback position itself is a huge x-factor for Sunday.
Gary says Aaron Jones.
Over the past two games, rookie running back Aaron Jones has looked the part of a starter. Green Bay’s offense was in perfect balance last week against the Cowboys – 29 passing attempts and 29 rushing attempts. Jones led the way with 19 carries for 125 yards and a touchdown, and will likely get the start Sunday against the Vikings.
Last season, when Ty Montgomery had a breakout performance against the Chicago Bears, he was stuffed the following week by the Vikings for just 23 yards on the ground. If Minnesota is able to stifle Jones like they did Montgomery last year, the Packers offense will once again need to adapt mid-game.
What happened the last time the Packers and Vikings played?
The Packers and Vikings had dramatically different 2016 seasons. While the Packers stumbled out of the gate and struggled through the first half of the season, the Vikings came out hot, winning their first five.
But after their bye week, the Vikings crumbled, losing eight of their last eleven to close out the season. The Packers, meanwhile, righted the ship after their 42-24 embarrassment in Washington in Week 11, running the table to finish the regular season with six straight wins.
Those two trajectories crossed paths in Week 16, when the Packers and Vikings met at Lambeau Field on Christmas Eve. The feisty Vikings pestered Aaron Rodgers to a poor game in their Week 2 matchup, but he was having none of it the second time around, blowing the doors off the Vikings defense with a scorching 347 yard, 4 touchdown passing performance. Rodgers also ran in a score as the Packers cruised to a not nearly as close as it looked 38-25 win.
Who will win Sunday’s Packers-Vikings game?
Jon says the Packers in a frustratingly close game
Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer seems to know exactly how to frustrate Aaron Rodgers. Dating back to his time with the Cincinnati Bengals, Zimmer’s defenses have always performed well against Rodgers, holding him well below his career marks in almost every major statistical category.
With a host of capable defenders, Zimmer seems poised to make life difficult for Rodgers yet again. His Vikings squad is ranked 8th in scoring defense and 16th in the Football Outsiders DVOA metric, a good (if not great) ranking. Most importantly, though, is their excellent positioning on third down. The Vikings are currently tops in the league in third down defense, and if they can ratchet up the pressure on third downs, that could make life difficult for the Packers.
I still think the Packers come out on top, but playing on the road after an emotional win over the Cowboys, this seems like a situation where the Packers could be ripe for a difficult day.
Gary says the Packers by a touchdown.
What can we say for certain about the Vikings this year? With injuries keeping their roster in flux, it’s hard to know what exactly the Packers will be facing when they enter US Bank Stadium for the second time on Sunday. With the exception of quarterback, the same can also be said about the Packers, too. Their offensive line has looked different every week, and injuries have shuffled around defensive playmakers.
In a matchup of either a banged up Sam Bradford or a healthy Case Keenum against Aaron Rodgers, I like Green Bay’s chances.
For further listening
We spent a significant chunk of time previewing the Vikings on this week's episode of Blue 58. Give it a listen below and don't forget to subscribe on iTunes.