Line – Packers (-8)
With many angles and players to follow in this game, let’s take a look at the major storylines:
The Return of Greg Jennings, the Probable Absence of Clay Matthews
The Packers are coming a brutal Sunday Night Football beat down, and are looking to totally redeem themselves with a key divisional victory. They are no longer in first place in the division, but a win would put them right back in line to capture a second consecutive title.
Two key pieces have been missing the last several weeks: Jennings (groin) and Matthews (hamstring). The good news is that Greg Jennings is expected to make his return, the bad news is that Matthews is a long-shot to suit up. However, I’m sure Packers’ fans are at least thankful to get one of their stars back.
So how much of an impact will Jennings make?
I think he’ll no doubt get involved in this game with a few grabs, but I’m not expecting an over 100-yard performance by any means. Jennings will likely be eased back into the game, but at the same time, it wouldn’t be that surprising if he did reel off a solid game.
With Matthews likely out again, the rest of the Packers defense will have to step up and play better than a week ago when they gave up 38 points. Even without their star linebacker, the Packers still rank 11th in run defense (99.5), and if they can hold Adrian Peterson under that mark, they’ll likely win this one.
Vikings Battling Many Key Injuries, Trying to Limit Aaron Rodgers in the Passing Game
While I won’t go as far to say the deck is stacked against Minnesota in this one, they don’t have a lot going their way either. They’ve got a second-year quarterback going on the road in one of the toughest places to play in the league, mixed in with lots of key injuries on offense and defense.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph and safety Harrison Smith are probable with concussions, while star wide receiver Percy Harvin is likely to miss his third straight game with a sprained ankle.
The lack of play-makers on offense was very apparent in Minnesota’s week 12 loss, and they desperately need someone to step up if Harvin is again unable to go. Even if Harvin does suit up, he’s likely to be very limited, so someone else will have to make plays. Rudolph has done his job, but beyond that it’s been pretty pathetic at wide out.
I’d like to see rookie receiver Jarius Wright get more involved, and Jerome Simpson less involved in this one. Simpson has done nothing for the Vikings all year, and is coming off a three drop performance a week ago. Wright has shown way more play-making ability, and getting him involved early and often will only benefit the Vikings.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings must control the great Aaron Rodgers. He’s going to get his, it’s just a matter of how much he gets. The Vikings have to limit the damage. They must shut down the run, and force the Packers to throw it all game. If they can make Green Bay one dimensional, they will have a chance at victory.
This is a game the Packers should win. They are clearly the more talented team, but they still are going to have to bring it to defeat the Vikings. Minnesota will pound the ball with Peterson all day, and they will play physical defense. The Vikings can ill afford to turn the ball over, and will have to execute with near perfection to pull out a win on the road.
If Rodgers has an MVP caliber performance and his defense plays well, the Pack should cruise to victory.