It can be argued that there hasn’t been a bigger regular-season game for the Vikings since 2009 when the Vikings beat Green Bay on Brett Favre’s triumphant return to Lambeau Field. Sure, the regular-season finale of the 2012 season was huge … for the Vikings. But Green Bay had already won the NFC North, so there wasn’t as much at stake for both teams.
With a win Sunday, the Vikings can do what they did in 2009, put Green Bay in the rearview mirror for the rest of the regular season. There hasn’t been as much at stake for six years, much less the two years Mike Zimmer has been head coach.
These are the 10 points of emphasis that will go a long way to determining who will win and who will lose on Sunday.
Born To Run – Adrian Peterson leads the league in rushing, he’s coming off a 200-yard rushing game against Oakland and has posted some of the best games of his career against the Packers. Don’t be shocked to see the Vikings saddle up A.P. for 25-30 carries and attempt to offensively beat down the Packers defense. Perhaps no player will be more important Sunday than Peterson and it’s time for him to put the offense on his back and pull the wagon.
Not Born To Run – The Packers have struggled to move the ball on the ground. Eddie Lacy showed up for training camp out of shape – earning the dubious nickname “Feast Mode” – and James Starks is an upright runner who doesn’t make many tacklers miss. They have averaged less than four yards a carry and between them they’ve had 50 or more rushing yards just four times – two times each. If the Vikings can continue to bottle them up and make the Packers one-dimensional, they can unleash the beast on defense.
Trial and Aaron – The Packers have lost three straight and quarterback Aaron Rodgers has taken a beating. Despite that, Rodgers is still putting together another brilliant season. He has thrown for 2,270 yards with 21 touchdowns, just three interceptions and has a passer rating of 103.4. If Green Bay is going to win, Rodgers will need to have one of those defining games that have made him a Hall of Fame candidate.
Cut the Cheese Early – It may merely be coincidence that the Packers haven’t won since Mike Ditka has been doing a Mickey-D’s commercial wearing Packers gear, but Green Bay has a habit of getting on top of teams early and dictating the pace. The Packers have outscored their opponents 76-19 in the first quarter. The other three quarters? Green Bay has been outscored 166-143. If the Vikings can keep the Packers from having a strong start, the advantage shifts to them.
Many Happy Returns – In divisional games, special teams can often make the difference between winning and losing. No team in the league is better at not allowing return yardage on punts than the Vikings. Opponents have retuned just 16 punts against them and have averaged a league-worst 4.3 yards per return. Packers return man Micah Hyde has averaged just 5.8 yards per return, at least five yards fewer per return than Marcus Sherels. In a game that could be decided by field position, this could be a huge edge for the Vikings.
Eight Is Enough – TCF Bank Stadium won’t be the Vikings’ home after this season, but when Sunday arrives it will have been 364 days since they last lost a regular season-game at The Bank. Their last home loss? Nov. 23, 2014 against Green Bay. It would seem only fitting that the Vikings would get their eighth straight win at their temporary home against the last team that beat them and complete the NFL circle of life.
Bridging the Gap – Teddy Bridgewater hasn’t had a statistically great season, but he has been doing what has been asked of him in a run-heavy offense. He has been efficient and, when called upon, has been able to make the passes that have kept drives alive and allowed the Vikings to control the clock at critical times of games. With the Packers expected to bring the heat full on to stop Peterson, Bridgewater will need to make a handful of critical plays – whether with his arm or his legs – to allow the Vikings to control the game.
You’re a Grand Old Flag (for others) – The Vikings have been the least penalized team in the league for most of the season, which speaks to their efficiency and is a testament to players buying into an aggressive defense that somehow gets the job done without getting hit with penalties. If someone is going to beat them, it’s not going to be themselves. Dumb penalties have been reduced to a trickle, and if a team is going to beat them, they’re going to have to earn it.
Plusses and Minuses – No team has allowed fewer giveaways than the Packers – just six in nine games (three interceptions, three fumbles). The Vikings have just 11 takeaways through nine games, one of the lowest totals in the league, so expecting to get more than one Green Bay turnover may be asking too much. For a team that is at plus-7 in takeaway/giveaway ratio, Green Bay is on its game in terms of getting the turnover that can change the course of a game. The Vikings don’t need to win the turnover battle, they just can’t lose it.
Go Big or Go Home – The Vikings have scored 41 times through nine games. The Packers have scored 38 times. But of the Vikings’ 41 scores, 22 of them have been field goals and 19 have been touchdowns. Of Green Bay’s 38 scores, 26 have been touchdowns and just 12 have been field goals. In a game expected to be close with points at a premium, when the teams get into scoring range, they will need to finish them off. Clearly, the Packers have done a better job of getting seven points at a time rather than three, something the Vikings will have to change Sunday.