The teams split their regular season contests, with Green Bay winning in Week 13 and Minnesota taking the regular season finale. The Packers will be the clear favorites heading into the Wild Card matchup, but the Vikings have surprised everyone this season.
Before the season began, it seemed a general consensus that Minnesota would finish a distant fourth in NFC North. Instead, they followed Adrian Peterson to a 10-6 record and secured a spot in the playoffs over the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions.
The Week 17 game between these two was a crowd-pleaser for all fans of football, and featured 71 points, an early Minnesota lead, a big Green Bay comeback, and a last-second, game-winning field goal. I expect – and hope – the Wild Card game will not be as exciting, but any Green Bay fan would be foolish to write off the Vikings just yet.
The Packers have proved pretty ineffectual in stopping Peterson, who ran for 210 yards and 199 yards in their respective meetings. Last week’s game showed that quarterback Christian Ponder can make plays when he isn’t being pressured and has time to throw. The Vikings have nothing to lose. No one ever expected them in the playoffs; they’re coming off a four-game winning streak, just beat the Packers last week, have the guy who should be MVP of the league, and are feeling pretty confident right now.
The Packers have the best quarterback in the league in Aaron Rodgers and look to have a healthy receiving corps for just the first time since Week 4, if Jordy Nelson remains on track to play (knock on wood!). The defense remains a question mark, as it has had strong performances mixed in with some rather embarrassing ones. They must force turnovers in this game.
But, you know what? Never mind the Xs and Os. What the Packers need to do to win is get out to a fast start. They need a lead. They need to get the crowd into it.
Unlike last season, when jumping out to big leads early was Green Bay’s calling card, this season’s Packers have struggled on both offense and defense early in games. They surrendered a quick 13-0 lead to the Vikings in last week’s game and had to play catch up for most of the game.
If the Packers gain an early advantage, the Vikings are in trouble. As a run-first team, Minnesota is not designed to play from behind. If down by a significant margin, Minnesota will be forced to take the ball out of Peterson’s hands and pin their hopes on Ponder’s arm. Ponder has had some strong performances this season, but he’s also had some very bad ones. He has 18 passing touchdowns on the season, with 12 interceptions, and seven fumbles. If the pressure is on Ponder, he is prone to mistakes, especially when kept inside the pocket. If the Vikings are forced to become one-dimensional and the Packers defense doesn’t have to commit extra defenders to the run, the Green Bay secondary can make plays on the ball.
If the Packers are unable to secure an early lead, this becomes a whole ‘nother ball game that will be much more difficult for Green Bay. With the Lambeau crowd behind them and the playoff experience on their side, the Packers should be able to play to their offensive strengths and put the Vikings in a hole before halftime; that’s going to be their best chance at victory.