Gameday notebook: Big game in Week 1

The Packers kick off the season in prime time against the rival Vikings tonight.

What an opener.

Monday night.

Prime time.

Under the lights.

Against perhaps the NFL's best running back.

Against the No. 1 rival and challenger to the NFC North throne.

Are you ready for some football?

How intense is this rivalry? Ask linebacker Brady Poppinga.

"It's very intense because we're so close," he said. "I didn't grow up in the area and I knew about the rivalry. You can sense the bitterness, the tension that exists to beat one another and have bragging rights."

This is just one game in 16, and every other cliché you can think of. But it's against the Vikings. While starting the season 0-1 is hardly the end of the world, the Packers obviously would prefer not to lose a home game to their chief challenger in the division.

"It's very important," coach Mike McCarthy said. "You can't deny the fact that you're playing a rivalry that will be very physical, will be very spirited for a lot of different reasons. It's ‘Monday Night Football.' It's the one you point to during your offseason, and every team goes through it. There's definitely a lot more added to the punch, as you could say."

The importance of Week 1 can't be understated. The Packers last year, for instance, played poorly but rode two special-teams blunders by the Eagles to a 16-13 victory.

"If you get off to a fast start, it's huge," tackle Mark Tauscher said. "Last year, I think the Philly game kind of gave us a good springboard to a great season. So, the first game is really important, just from a confidence standpoint."

To be sure, this will be one of the most intense regular-season games of the season. Packers vs. Vikings is about as big as it gets.

"The atmosphere is totally different. It's like a playoff game," tight end Tory Humphrey said. "The fans are going crazy, the Vikings are talking trash. It's a rivalry game."

Inactive lists

There were no surprises when the Packers announced their game-day inactives.

To get to the game-day limit of 45 players, the Packers deactivated quarterback Brian Brohm (No. 3 quarterback), cornerback Patrick Lee, safety Charlie Peprah, center Scott Wells, guard Josh Sitton, tight end Jermichael Finley, receiver James Jones and defensive end Jeremy Thompson.

With Wells out, Jason Spitz will start at guard and Tony Moll will take Spitz's place at right guard.

The Vikings' had John David Booty (third quarterback), safety Madieu Williams, cornerback Marcus McCauley, running back Maurice Hicks, linebacker Erin Henderson, tackle Drew Radovich, fullback Jeff Dugan and defensive tackle Letroy Guion on their inactive list.

It's about execution

Tonight's showdown is big, but it won't define either team's season. Clearly, both teams hope they're playing better in December. That's especially true for Green Bay, which is breaking in a new quarterback and has all sorts of questions along the offensive and defensive lines.

"Rarely does a team come in and beat you," receiver Greg Jennings said. "Typically, if we beat the Vikings, rarely do we just beat them. It's something that they probably did that gave us the edge. And the same goes for them. If they beat us, we probably beat ourselves before they actually beat us, and they took advantage of it."

All systems go

Even though No. 3 receiver James Jones is likely to miss the game with a knee injury, McCarthy said about the only thing missing from his offense will be five-receiver sets. Ruvell Martin has had a big training camp and has chemistry with Aaron Rodgers. The big change will be the amount of playing time for second-round pick Jordy Nelson.

"Jordy Nelson has done a very good job for a young guy, as far as learning all three positions," McCarthy said. "So, I don't feel — just going through the installation we have in so far — there hasn't been any conversation we've had that said, ‘Now we can't do that this week because we don't have James.' That's a credit to both Ruvell and Jordy Nelson, so I don't think we're holding back anything."

The great unknown

Rodgers makes his starting debut tonight, and that will provide one of the major story lines. The Packers think Rodgers will be fine. The Vikings, on the other hand, basically are going into this game blind.

"Do they do some different things because they have a different quarterback?," asked Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. "Do they say, ‘Hey, we have a system?' Do we go after this guy that we knew could fit into our system and just continue as normal? We've been going around and around and trying to figure that out. It's a hard (question) to answer up in that office."

Bill Huber is editor of Packer Report and E-mail him at

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