The Vikings experienced something last weekend in Pittsburgh that they hadn’t all season: losing. Now they long to spit that sour taste out of their mouths, and once again drink deep the sweet nectar of victory.
But it is no ordinary nectar they seek to partake of this Sunday afternoon in Green Bay. It is, instead, the sweetest of all delights: victory over the Packers.
To be slightly less flowery about it: beating the shit out of the Packers always feels better than beating the shit out of anyone else.
And not just because they’re the #1 rival. There are practical reasons, too, why a victory today would ring louder than most.
First and foremost, a win over the Packers gives you a season sweep and, therefore, a massive tiebreaker advantage against a divisional opponent. You can have a crappy second half and still know, if you somehow end up tied with the Pack, you own them.
Victory today would also make the Vikings 5-0 against the NFC. Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but, conference record is everything when it comes to playoff seeding.
Also, being 7-1 going into the bye would just be damn cool.
Of course, there are a few things standing between us and that seventh victory, and they are all named “the Green Bay Packers.”
I don’t need to remind you that, after kicking the Packers in the teeth for most of their first meeting, the Vikings sort of wilted late, and nearly let Green Bay back in. If nothing else, that game proved that the Packers have plenty of fight in them. If you get them down early you better finish them off.
I also don’t need to remind you – do I? – that Aaron Rodgers was the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Month for October. He is currently second only to Peyton Manning in passer rating in the NFL, is completing nearly 66% of his passes and has only 2 picks against 11 touchdowns despite enjoying arguably the worst pass protection in the history of the cosmos.
In the first Vikes/Packers showdown, you will recall, Rodgers threw for 384 yards and two scores while completing over 70%. And that was with Antoine Winfield shutting down Greg Jennings. Today, we will have someone other than Antoine covering Greg Jennings.
The lack of Winfield didn’t matter last week against the Steelers, but I guarantee you, the Packers will go after whoever is playing left corner, be it Karl Paymah, Benny Sapp or Asher Allen.
Assuming Aaron Rodgers can stay upright long enough to complete the passes.
Yes, pass protection is still a problem for Green Bay. They gave up 5 sacks two weeks ago against a Lions team that was missing three of four starting defensive linemen. True, they gave up no sacks against the Browns, but that was the Browns.
The Packers are fortunate in that, this week, Chad Clifton will play instead of whoever that was they had trying to block Jared Allen last time. Clifton, we remember, completely shut down the Vikings’ main pass rusher in the teams’ early-season meeting in Lambeau in 2008, prompting Allen to declare himself a total suckball.
I expect the Packers’ pass blocking to be better today than it was last time, but I still think the Vikings will get their shots at Rodgers. If they don’t, Rodgers could have a good day.
Speaking of pass rush: the Packers got none on Brett Favre during the big Monday night meeting, the result being a 3 TD, 135.3 passer rating performance for Brett. I’m assuming the Packers will make a more concerted effort to put pressure on the passer today. Of course, the Packers know better than anyone else the sort of carnage that can ensue when you blitz Favre and don’t get him down.
Actually, I’m not that worried about Brett. Yes it’s possible he could get carried away by the moment and have one of those awful Favre performances, but I think he will be fine in spite of the emotionally-charged atmosphere. The guy I’m looking squarely at is Adrian Peterson, who I’m sure wants redemption after a 25 carry/55 yard/1 fumble-for-touchdown effort in game 1.
Sometimes, when Adrian gets angry, he runs people over (just ask William Gay). But sometimes when he gets angry he starts coughing it up.
My hope is that Brad Childress and Darrell Bevell will try to use AD like they did last week, mixing in some throws out of the backfield. Despite his reputation as a powerful, hard-running back, Peterson is really at his best when he’s got room to work.
The other big issue for the Vikings is the health of the receiver corps. Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin are both expected to play after battling physical problems all week, Berrian a pulled hammy and Harvin an illness of undisclosed nature. These are two explosive players who have a bad habit of not finishing games.
Of course, The Favre’s #1 weapon these days is Sidney Rice. At last, the Vikings have found a receiver the other team must at least consider slapping a double-team on.
The Packers have a lot to deal with defensively. They didn’t do a great job overall during the first meeting, but it is a tough defense, one that has allowed just 3 points the last two weeks, and is high up in the rankings against the pass.
Weather will not aid the Packers in their efforts this week at least. It’s expected to be around 50 in Green Bay with no precipitation and a light wind.
And then of course there’s the little matter of fan reaction to Favre. I expect boos. Lots of boos. But I don’t expect the boos to affect Favre adversely; in fact, knowing this guy, they may only fuel him. He was on top of his game in the first meeting at the Dome, largely because it was the Packers and he wanted to show them he could still get it done.
Now, Favre will want to show his old fans he can still get it done. If emotion once again guides Brett to a great performance, the Vikings will win. But it will not be easy. The Packers are a worthy opponent with a quarterback who can also get it done.
It’s rare that a Packer/Viking game doesn’t turn into a nerve-wracking experience. I expect this one will also have us biting our nails to the quick.
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Tags: Aaron Rodgers Adrian Peterson Antoine Winfield Asher Allen Benny Sapp Bernard Berrian Brad Childress Brett Favre Chad Clifton Cleveland Browns Darrell Bevell Detroit Lions Green Bay Packers Greg Jennings Jared Allen Karl Paymah Minnesota Vikings Percy Harvin Peyton Manning Pittsburgh Steelers Sidney Rice William Gay