I have to be honest. Without a preseason, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that there is real, meaningful Packers football this week. It’s been a weird year, but here we are. We’ve made it to September. We’ve made it to football season. On Sunday, we can all collectively exhale, at least for a few hours.

There will be not be a single fan in attendance, but fake crowd noise will be piped into US Bank Stadium when the Packers and Vikings kick off on Sunday. So at least there’s some continuity there.

According to the Week 1 NFL Lines, the Packers open as slight underdogs, but this is really anyone’s game. The Packers, coming off another NFC North division title and another NFC Championship game disaster, will be coming in hot, hoping to build off the surprising success they enjoyed last year. But the Vikings will be looking to reclaim the NFC North crown.

PASS RUSH

The Vikings recently acquired Yannick Ngakoue, a defensive end from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Typically paired with Danielle Hunter, the Vikings should possess one of the best pass rushes in the NFL.  But wait, Danielle Hunter was placed on IR today, and therefore will not be playing on Sunday. The Packers, however, can also claim one of the best pass rushes in the NFL. With the Smith Brothers returning, and Rashan Gary looking like a strong year two breakout candidate, Kirk Cousins is likely in for a long day. Not to mention the recently resigned Kenny Clark. Green Bay has the clear edge in pass rush with Hunter sitting on the bench this Sunday.

Furthermore, neither team has what anyone would consider to be an elite offensive line. The Packers lost Bryan Bulaga, and the injuries at right tackle have started to pile up. Meanwhile, the Vikings haven’t had a good offensive line in as long as anyone reading this post can remember.

Expect a lot of pressures and sacks, and two teams to rely on their running games to keep the opposing pass rush at bay.

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RUSHING ATTACK

As I mention just a few words ago, the running games will likely feature heavily for a few reasons. Firstly, to keep opposing pass rushes under control, as mentioned above. Secondly, both team offenses are likely to be built around it this year. For the Packers:

  • Rodgers is getting on in years and isn’t the great QB he once was.
  • The Packers don’t doesn’t have a great group of receivers, but dos have a great group of running backs. They’ll use the running game to open as many easy passes as possible for Rodgers.
  • The Packers will want to control the clock as much as possible, giving breaks to their defense.
  • No preseason means the QB and receivers are likely to have some timing issues. Expect a lot of running early on.

For the Vikings:

  • Kirk Cousins is maddeningly inconsistent.
  • They have one of the best backs in the game in Dalvin Cook.
  • With that bad offensive line, they’ll need to focus on balance.

COACHING

This is what will likely determine the outcome of this game. Matt LaFleuer had this team outperforming expectations a year ago, and with an offense built a little bit more in his image, I expect another good season. Last year, he proved capable of coming up with varied game plans to win in different ways when necessary.

Mike Zimmer is an established veteran in the coaching ranks. Has proven he can properly motivate his team throughout a season. I would guess he’s on the hot seat this year if the Vikings don’t make the playoffs, so expect a fiery opponent on Sunday. He did, however, lose his offensive coordinator to the Cleveland Browns, with the familiar Gary Kubiak taking over. This gives the Packers a bit of an edge, since he hasn’t had any preseason time to implement his new tactics.

PREDICTION

I think the Packers squeak this one out. They will run the ball down Minnesota’s throat to slow down their weakened pass rush, and that will open some Play Action opportunities – That’s where Rodgers truly shines.

Packers – 31
Vikings – 20