When the Green Bay Packers started out the 2005 season with an 0-4 record, most experts and fans wrote off the team's chances of getting into the playoffs. Added to that was the onslaught of devastating injuries that affected the team. WR Javon Walker, arguably the team's biggest playmaker, was lost for the season with a knee injury in game one against the Lions. Since then, the team has had to endure other injuries to other key players like HB Ahman Green (knee/quad), OT's Chad Clifton (ankle) and Mark Tauscher (arch), C Mike Flanagan (hernia) and LB Na'il Diggs (knee). The team also lost key HB reserve Najeh Davenport for the season in the Saints game because of a broken ankle. Still, as the team heads into their match up against the Vikings in Minnesota this Sunday, the 1-4 Packers can unbelievably be tied for 1st in the NFC North if certain things play out. The Packers must beat the Vikings obviously and also hope that the Bears lose at home to the Ravens and the Lions lose on the road to the Browns.
This game is huge for several reasons. For one, this is a divisional game against arguably the Packers biggest rival (sorry Bear fans). The Packers are already 0-1 in the division because of their loss to the Lions earlier this year. They can't afford to go 0-2. The Packers also have the revenge factor playing in their favor. Although the Packers swept the Vikings during the 2004 regular season, Green Bay was embarrassed at home in the playoffs by the Vikes in a 31-17 loss.
The other ingredient that makes this a very interesting game is the presence of former Packer S Darren Sharper as a member of the Vikings. Sharper made his share of big plays as a Packer, but he also gave up his share as well. Packer fans may recall the whiff Sharper had on a tackling attempt early in the playoff loss to the Vikings last year as Moe Williams scored on a 68-yard reception that should have been a short completion. Sharper was also involved in two other infamous and forgettable plays in Packer playoff history. He was right there when Terrell Owens caught a last second TD pass in the 1998 playoff loss to the 49ers and he was also right there on the 4th and 26 play a couple of years ago in Philadelphia. The Brett Favre vs Sharper matchup should be interesting. Look for Sharper to be tested early and often.
Football is a game of momentum. The Packers have a completely different attitude due to their 52-3 shellacking of the Saints two weeks back. They have also gotten healthier because of the bye week. It now appears that Ahman Green will be ready to go for the Packers. Getting the running game going is another key factor in this game. The Vikings have been terrible against the run all season. They are giving up an average of 161 yards a game against the run. That computes to a 5 yards a carry average. The Packers need to exploit that weakness. Green needs a huge game to build on. So does the Packers' offensive line. They showed signs of getting the ground game going against the Saints, but this week the team needs to elevate that effort.
On defense the Packers need to continue to take the ball away like they did against the Saints. Viking QB Daunte Culpepper appears to be just what the doctor ordered.
Culpepper has been a turnover machine with 12 interceptions and three fumbles lost. He has also been sacked 24 times. Culpepper's mobility has been hampered by a knee injury. The Packers must continue to put pressure on Culpepper and cause turnovers like they did against the Saints. Another big factor in this game is the fact that WR Randy Moss is no longer a Viking. There was no bigger offensive threat in the NFC North when he was in Minnesota. Packer fans know that all too well. Another key loss for the Vikings was offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who left to join the Miami Dolphins. The Vikings are really out of synch offensively because of the losses of Moss and Linehan.
The Green Bay Packers have a golden opportunity in front of them this Sunday. They can move into first place in the division, plus put a nail into the coffin of their most bitter rival. Who would have believed that this scenario was possible just a few weeks ago? Mike Sherman got the Packers to believe against the Saints. He now must continue to instill that confidence this week against the Vikings. Again, football is a game of momentum. The Saints found that out the hard way in Green Bay. The Packers need to ride that wave this week and then use it as a springboard for further success as the 2005 season goes on.