In roughly one calendar month, the Green Bay Packers open the somewhat uncertain 2020 season against perhaps their biggest rivals, the Minnesota Vikings. Green Bay got the best of the Vikings in two meetings last season. The Packers jumped to an early lead in a Week 21-16 victory, and later routed the Vikings by the score of 23 to 10 in a game dominated by Aaron Jones with 23 carries for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns. Kirk Cousins threw for just over 100 yards in the loss. The Packers look to extend Matt LaFleur’s undefeated record against the Vikings on September 13th.
The September 13th match up will be our first look at the newly shaped rosters of both Minnesota and Green Bay. A lot has changed with these two teams, especially the Vikings. So how can we expect these roster and coaching changes to effect the outcome of the game?
Green Bay Packers: Key Additions & Departures
Additions: LB Christian Kirksey, OT Rick Wagner, WR Devin Funchess (opted out)
Departures: OT Bryan Bulaga, LB Blake Martinez, CB Tramon Williams, TE Jimmy Graham, OLB Kyler Fackrell, OT Jared Veldheer, LB BJ Goodson, WR Geronimo Allison (opted out)
The Packers had two big areas to address this off season in the opinions of most. Those areas were run defense along the interior and receiver/tight end. A look at the additions and departures shows that no big moves were made to shore up these needs.
At inside linebacker, the Packers essentially subbed Blake Martinez for Christian Kirksey. When healthy, Kirksey has the physical capability to be a better run defender than Martinez, while also already being a big upgrade in pass coverage. With Kirksey likely to be fresh in this game to open the season, the Packers will likely get a small boost at inside linebacker compared to last season.
The team’s personnel at interior defensive line remains almost identical to last season. The Packers hope for growth from players like Montravious Adams and Kingsley Keke to provide depth. Additionally, the Packers may expect a bounce back year from Dean Lowry after a disappointing season following his contract extension. It was reported that the Packers offered Damon Snacks Harrison a competitive contract this off season, but a signing was never made.
The Wide Receiver position saw a low key signing with some upside when the Packers added Devin Funchess on a one year deal. Funchess would later opt out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The Packers are now left with the receiver group they had last year, swapping out EQ St. Brown with Geronimo Allison. This is a very young group of wide receivers led by Davante Adams. Young third year players Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdez-Scantling & EQ St. Brown will be relied upon heavily for production.
The Packers front office clearly plans to fill voids created by the departures of Tramon Williams, Jimmy Graham, and Kyler Fackrell with the likes of Chandon Sullivan, Jace Sternberger, and Rashan Gary. They take the next man up mentality with a trio of players who showed flashes of starter quality play last season.
Minnesota Vikings: Key Additions & Departures
Additions: DT Micheal Pierce (opted out), WR Tajae Sharpe, WR Justin Jefferson (rookie), CB Jeff Gladney (rookie)
Departures: WR Stephon Diggs, DE Everson Griffen (remains unsigned), CB Trae Waynes, CB Xavier Rhodes, DT Linval Joseph, OC Kevin Stefanski
Assuming the Everson Griffen signs elsewhere, the Vikings lost 4 starters on defense and a star wideout on offense this off season. Additionally, the teams offensive coordinator departed to become the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. The Vikings will welcome their 3rd offensive coordinator in as many years with Gary Kubiak taking the reins of the offense. The Vikings biggest free agent acquisition Micheal Pierce recently opted out of the 2020 season as well.
These key departures will be a lot for the Vikings to overcome, especially on defense. Minnesota will have to rely on young players and rookies to fill the voids. Without a preseason, this will be especially difficult.
Match ups to watch:
Dalvin cook and the Vikings run game vs. the Packers run defense
Packers fans still have a bad taste in their mouth from the NFC Championship loss the 49ers. As we all know, the 49ers had no trouble running the football all over the Packers defense. The Vikings run defense will be as potent as ever next month. It will be interesting to see if Mike Pettine and company can counter and hold Cook in check.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers receiving corps vs. the Vikings newly depleted secondary
This will be a battle of weakness versus weakness. Davante Adams will undoubtedly see his fair share of opportunities against whoever the Vikings roll out to cover him. Apart from Adams, there is a lot of inexperience within the Packers group of receivers. On the other side of the ball, the Vikings will be featuring 2 new starters at cornerback following the departure of Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes.
The Vikings Offensive line vs. the Packers Pass rush
In the final meeting of these two teams last season, Kirk Cousins was sacked 5 times by the Packers pass rush with just 31 pass attempts. Za’Darius Smith would be credited with 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss in a career game. With personnel remaining similar between the two groups, the Vikings offensive line will have to be on their A game to keep the likes of Kenny Clark, Preston Smith & Za’Darius Smith out of the backfield.
Vegas’s Take on the Game
As you can see by the graphic above from SportsBettingDime.com, the Vikings are viewed as the Week 1 favorites. If you are not familiar with sports betting, home field is usually worth 3 to 3.5 points depending on where the game is being played, meaning Vegas sees the two teams as pretty much evenly matched under normal circumstances. With fans not being in attendance at NFL games at this point in the season, home field is worth less than normal, meaning the Vikings are getting a slight nod from Vegas as the better team.
Both the Packers and Vikings had key departures on both offense and defense. Partially due to cap space concerns, both teams also took the route of utilizing depth within their roster to fill the snaps that these departures left behind. The Vikings parted ways with more starters than the Packers and were unable to fill any of the open spots with quality free agents after the opt out of Micheal Pierce.
The Packers had the better off season from a “win now” perspective. With that said the Vikings will be on their home field in this game, with or without fans in the stands. That said, the Vikings had a very solid draft in my opinion. This game should be very evenly matched and fun to watch.