Packers Preview

Brett Favre has been running for his life behind a patchwork Packers offense that has been killed by free agent losses and injuries. But, despite having a 2-7 record, the Packers could just as easily be 6-3 or 5-4 -- making Monday's matchup far from a cakewalk for the Vikings.

When the season began, the Nov. 21 Monday night game between the Vikings and Packers was one of those games that fans and media alike circled as likely being a game that would have a hand in controlling who wins the NFC North. The Packers are the three-time defending champion and, with all the additions made by the Vikings in the offseason, they could make a claim to being the king of the hill.

Instead, this has become a game of surival. With a loss, the Packers fall to 2-8 with a sweep by the Vikings against them, which would mean they would have to run the table just to finish 8-8 and the Vikings and Bears would both likely have to win just one more game the rest of the way for the Pack to have a shot at the division title. For the Vikings, a loss would drop them to 4-6 – a minimum of two games behind the Bears with a loss against the leaders in hand. This game is important all right, but not for the reasons originally thought.

As always, to beat the Packers, you have to beat Brett Favre, which has never been easy at Lambeau Field. Despite injuries and personnel changes, Favre has put together one of his best seasons under horrible conditions. Five of the Packers' seven losses have been by a combined 14 points thanks to Favre's unwillingness to pack up his bags and give up. While no points are awarded for close losses, this is a much better team than its 2-7 record would indicate. Favre has been forced to throw the ball almost 40 times a game and, while he is among the league leaders in TD passes, he also has 15 interceptions. If pressured early and often, he will try to force passes instead of taking sacks and, if that's the case, the Vikings could turn the game on a key interception or two. If given time, he will pick the defense apart, despite having a sub-standard corps of complementary players around him.

In the backfield, the Packers have undergone a complete overhaul. Starter Ahman Green was lost for the season in the first matchup, as was primary backup Najeh Davenport, who was lost for the year a week earlier with a broken leg. Third RB Tony Fisher has also been sidelined, leaving the starting job to street free agent Samkon Gado. He proved his mettle last week by rushing for 100 yards and three TDs in a win at Atlanta, but is averaging just 3.3 yards a carry. Unless that improves, the Packers will be in a lot of second- and third-and-long situations, which will force Green Bay to pass and throw into the teeth of a defense waiting for the pass.

The receiver corps is equally depleted. The team lost go-to receiver Javon Walker early and Robert Ferguson went down in the first meeting of the teams this season. Ferguson was supposed to be back for Monday's game, but a practice setback last Thursday has put the rest of his season in doubt. Donald Driver has stepped up as the new go-to guy, catching 51 passes for 710 yards. Antonio Chatman has moved into the No. 2 spot, but is averaging just three catches a game. More pressure will be put on the tight ends – Bubba Franks, Donald Lee and David Martin – to pick up the slack. If the Vikings can lock down Driver like they did in the second half of the first meeting this year, it could be a long night for Favre.

One of the few areas that has remained healthy for the Packers this year has been the offensive line, which had to replace two starters at guard. Tackles Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton have anchored the line, but the middle of the line has been suspect – from guards Adrian Klemm and William Whitticker to veteran center Mike Flanagan. If the Vikings can win that battle, they will be able to get Favre where they want him – on his back or on the run.

Defensively, the Packers have allowed opposing teams to run for 110 yards a game and have a passer rating of 94.1 – throwing 16 touchdowns to just six interceptions. Much of the reason for that success has been an inconsistent pass rush, but one that has produced 21 sacks. Defensive ends Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Aaron Kampman – both of whom signed offer sheets to leave that the Packers met – have 3.5 sacks each. In the middle, Grady Jackson and Cullen Jenkins have been decent at stopping the run, but unconsistent from one game to the next. With all the changes the Vikings had made on the offensive line this season, this will be one of the primary matchups to watch, because if the Packers can control the line of scrimmage, the struggling Vikings offense will have difficulty scoring points.

The linebacker corps has matched the up and down quality of the Packers. Nick Barnett is one of the more talented MLBs in the conference, but will play like Lawrence Taylor one week and Laurence Olivier the next. He's flanked by Na'il Diggs and Robert Thomas, both of whom are athletic and can make plays, but occasionally get burned by their own aggression. If any part of the Packer defense is going to hurt the Vikings, it will be this group.

The biggest Packers weakness this year has been the secondary, where teams have routinely scorched the team. The Packers have allowed 16 passing touchdowns while intercepting just six passes. While Al Harris is viewed as one of the better cover corners in the NFC, Ahmad Carroll has been burned a lot and has lost confidence. Look for the Vikings to attack Carroll as often as possible. At safety, veteran Mark Roman has held up his end of the bargain, but rookie Nick Collins, who replaced Darren Sharper, is still a work in progress. If Brad Johnson can get him to bite on playfakes, the deep middle zone could open up.

One thing fans, coaches and players alike have learned over the years is never to expect anything when it comes to the Vikings and Packers. When the Vikes have been on top, the Packers will beat them. The same is true from when the Packers ruled the roost. What can you expect Monday? Start with the unexpected and go from there.

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