Packers-Vikings: Keys to the game

It's a sad commentary on the state of the NFC North when the winner of Sunday's Green Bay Packers-Minnesota Vikings game at the Metrodome could wake up Monday morning atop the division standings.

But here are the Packers, who can't run the ball even a little bit and lost at home to woeful Cleveland, and the Vikings, who can't behave in public and somehow gave up 28 points to offense-impaired Chicago, with the winner improving to 2-4 and grabbing a share of the North lead should Detroit tumble at Cleveland and Chicago lose to Baltimore.

Who will win such a titanic struggle? Here are the five keys to the game.

1. Head games

Perhaps the most important factor will be the mental state of the Minnesota Vikings. They are one of the league's biggest disappointments and coach Mike Tice's head is precariously close to the guillotine. And that was before the alleged sexcapades on Lake Minnetonka.

With the "Lust Boat" scandal swirling last week, the Vikings laid an egg in a 28-3 loss at Chicago. The Bears, who had scored 17 points combined in consecutive losses to Cleveland and Cincinnati, put four touchdowns on the scoreboard despite gaining 192 yards and losing the turnover battle 3-2.

If the Vikings come out in the same state of mind, the Packers almost certainly will win their second consecutive game. If the Vikings come out focused, the Packers could be in for a trying afternoon.

2. Daunte's inferno

What happened to Daunte Culpepper? If not for Peyton Manning's historic year, Culpepper might have won league MVP honors. Not so this year, however. After throwing 11 interceptions in 2003 and 11 more in 2004 — to go with a combined 64 touchdowns — Culpepper has just four touchdowns and a whopping 12 interceptions in six games this season.

Blaming Culpepper's lousy season on the loss of Randy Moss is fair but shortsighted, considering, for example, he went 27-of-44 for 363 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in the Nov. 14 loss at Lambeau Field without Moss.

Culpepper has lit up the Packers the past two seasons. In three games last year (including playoffs), Culpepper was 62-of-96 for 932 yards with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. He hasn't thrown an interception against the Packers in two seasons, throwing 16 TDs in the span.

3. Exploit Sharper

Former Packer Darren Sharper started his Minnesota career with a bang, intercepting a pass against Tampa Bay and returning it 88 yards for a touchdown. He hasn't done much since, however, but he no doubt will be focused on making a big play against his former team.

The Packers know Sharper's weaknesses, and they know he's a gambler. The Packers would be wise to exploit that, with Brett Favre using pump fakes to get Sharper out of position in hopes of striking for a big play.

4. Start fast

This key is linked to the first. This will be the Vikings' first home game since word of the sex scandal became public. If the notoriously fickle fans haven't turned on them yet, a quick 7-0 or 14-0 Packers lead ought to do the trick. Silencing the insanely loud Metrodome is always Mission 1 for visiting teams, so preventing the big play and moving the chains are vital.

The Vikings are a team desperate for something good to happen on the field. While it won't take the focus off the scandal, at least it will take the heat off them for a few hours. If the Packers strike early, however, a distracted Vikings team might not have the wherewithal to rally.

5. On guard

The focus of the Packers' offensive shortcomings this season has fallen squarely on the new starting guard tandem of Adrian Klemm and rookie William Whitticker. They have struggled mightily this season, and because of that, the once-vaunted Packers running game now ranks near the bottom of the league.

Packers line coach Larry Beightol says Klemm and Whitticker are improving. They will be tested Sunday by Vikings defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, who, with Detroit's Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson — a tandem that dominated the Packers in Week 1 — form perhaps the best duo in the conference.

If the Packers can't run the ball, the onus will be on Brett Favre to win the game. With a 4-9 career record at the Metrodome, putting the game in Favre's hands this week isn't the best of choices.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com


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