On Sunday night, everything will be on the line for the division title, as the Vikings get a chance to make a statement to the league that there is officially a changing of the guard at the top of the NFC North.
These are the 10 points of emphasis that will determine whether the Vikings leave Lambeau Field as the top dog of the NFC North or as the second-place team in the NFC North that lost the division title because they couldn’t take out the wounded champs.
Finish the Division Sweep – Many things have been uncharacteristic about the 2015 Packers, not the least of which is their loss of dominance at home. For the other teams in the NFC North, heading into Green Bay has been a death sentence. The Packers routinely have swept the other division teams at home. But two of their five losses have come at home against the Lions and Bears. Can the Vikings complete the losing sweep?
Be Strong Early and Late – The Packers have a history of starting strong and finishing strong. In the first quarter of games, Green Bay has outscored its opponents 103-42. In the fourth quarter, they’ve shown the ability to close out games, outscoring their opponents 110-51. It will be incumbent on the Vikings to stay close early and not allow the Packers to gain early momentum.
Plenty of Peterson – Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner aren’t the types that fixate on individual numbers, but Adrian Peterson is one who tends compare success to big numbers. Given that he’s the centerpiece of the Vikings offense, the Vikings fully intend to rush A.P. as often as possible if it’s successful. Peterson is ahead in the race to win the rushing title. He leads Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin by 64 yards and will likely be a primary focus of the Vikings rushing game as he looks to be a rarity in the NFL – a running back over the age of 30 to win a rushing title. In his last 14 games against the Packers, he has scored touchdowns in 12 of them, so expect to see plenty of Peterson.
Leather and Lacy – Packers running back Eddie Lacy has had his share of struggles this season, but, when he plays the Vikings, he’s the bomb. In five games he has rushed 114 times for 534 yards and five touchdowns and caught 16 passes and another TD. He has never rushed for less than 94 yards in any game against Minnesota, has scored six touchdowns and has 25 or more carries in three of the five games. Whether he’s been up or down, he’s been on point against the Vikings and the battle of the week may be between Peterson and Lacy because both are going to fed the pigskin until they get shut down.
Not Your Typical A-Rodg – Whether it has been an injury riddled offensive line or not, Aaron Rodgers is having arguably the worst season of his career. Since becoming a starter in 2008, he has never thrown for less than 4,000 yards in any season that he’s played all 16 games. To reach that total, he’ll need to throw for 470 yards on Sunday night. He has a career passer rating of 104.4 and the only time he had a passer rating of 101.0 or less was his first season as a starter in 2008. That year, his passer rating was 93.8. His current passer rating is 93.7. He isn’t the Aaron Rodgers that struck fear into defensive coordinators. Blame the O-line if you must, but his passer rating speaks for itself. In four of his last nine games, he has posted a passer rating of 70.0 or below. Clearly there’s a reason for this bottom out.
Lordy, Lordy, Where Is Jordy? – It’s a good thing they don’t let us vote for MVP. Last year, Peterson would have won. We view MVPs by how much not having them impacts their team. This year, our vote would split between Jordy Nelson and Tony Romo. Last year, Randall Cobb caught 91 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns with Nelson occupying an opponent’s top corner. Nelson caught 98 passes for 1,519 yards and 13 TDs. Cobb leads the Packers with 73 catches for 792 yards and six touchdowns. If you take away the three games played in September, in the last 12 games, Cobb has 53 receptions for 547 yards and two touchdowns. That’s the go-to receiver? Nelson wins the 2015 MVP at our house.
It Takes Two – We’ve brought this up before, but it warrants repeating. In 14 of their 15 games, the Vikings have allowed two touchdowns or fewer in 14 of them. That includes potential Pick-Sixes and special-teams blowups. If you come into a game with the reasonable expectation that your opponent is going to score a maximum of two touchdowns, how many points are you going to give up? 14? 17? 20? 23? In their first game with the Packers, they gave up 30 points but allowed just two touchdowns. You do the math on that. If the Packers don’t score three or more touchdowns Sunday night, they don’t win.
The Kaiser’s On A Roll – While the Bears and Giants were driving on fumes when they met the Vikings, unlike other sports, in the NFL, you never tank a game. When you put it on film, it’s there forever. Your coach may be fired, but you’re still under contract and, if you’re mailing it in, it shows up on tape. Both Chicago and New York were looking to make an impression. They did – with their faces in the turf of TCF Bank Stadium. In those two games, the Vikings outscored their opponents 87-34. Momentum has its place.
A Bird In Both Hands – The NFL is a “What have you done for me lately?” league and the Packers are coming off their worst defeat of the Rodgers era, losing 38-8 to Arizona in a game in which they were humbled and dominated in all three phases of the game. The Vikings were able to bounce back from beat-down losses, but the Cardinals exploited all of Green Bay’s weaknesses and late December is the worst time for a team to get a franchise pile driver.
Teddy Time – In his last three games, Teddy Bridgewater has completed 57 of 81 passes for 734 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions – the best three-game stretch of his young career. With defenses selling out to stop Peterson, they have told the Vikings that Bridgewater will have to beat them. He almost did it against Arizona and did it convincingly against the Bears and Giants. If you’re looking for the timing to be right, Bridgewater is playing his best at the right time and will need a fourth straight strong game for the Vikings to bring home the division title.