After a thrilling victory last week in Dallas, the Packers travel to Minneapolis to face a hungry Vikings team looking to capitalize on their win last week at Chicago.  Each team is dealing with key injuries but will still both trot out plenty of play-makers on both sides of the ball capable of changing the face of this game. The winner will sit atop the NFC North and find themselves in good position early on in the season.  Let’s take a closer look.

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Mike Zimmer vs. Aaron Rodgers

It’s easy to talk about the brilliance of Aaron Rodgers.  It was once again on display for everyone to see last Sunday in Dallas.  In Mike Zimmer’s own words, in his 20 plus years in the league, he has never seen a guy put it all together the way that Rodgers does, “his arm strength, his intelligence, his escapability, the way he sees things.”  High praise from one of the best defensive coaches in the league.

These two have faced each other 8 times and have both come any with victories four times.  However, since Zimmer has become the Head Coach for the Vikings, Rodgers has the edge, taking four of the six match-ups.  Zimmer is a master of disguising defenses.  Rodgers is a master of diagnosing defenses.  This leads to a great matchup of two very good football minds.  Zimmer has built a play-making defense in Minnesota and it has the ability to win games, regardless of the opponent.  But time and time again, Rodgers is able to make the extra plays and find ways to win games.  It was on display last week against the Cowboys when he single-handedly got the Packers into a position to go not for the tying field goal, but have multiple shots at the game winning touchdown.

Zimmer has to rely on multiple players to execute his plan, where Rodgers is in control of his own destiny. You have to like our chances when he is lining up under center on our side of the ball.

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Vikings Defensive Front and Pass Rush

Everson Griffin, Danielle Hunter, Linval Joseph, Tom Johnson.  This defensive front of the Vikings is the real deal.  All four of these players can get after the quarterback, with Everson Griffin leading the way this season, already accumulating six sacks.  This front four going against the mix and match offensive line of the Packers is the match-up of the game.  On the road, with crowd noise most definitely a factor, the Packers ability to pass block and keep Rodgers upright will be the key for the Packers.  The Vikings are extremely good at disguising coverages and blitzes which means, even with Rodgers ability to diagnose and change the play at the line, it still will be a chess match between the front seven and Aaron Rodgers. 

A key factor to this on Sunday will be the availability of David Bakhtiari.  As we get closer and closer to game time, it appears that the Packers will once again be lining up without their best offensive lineman, left tackle Bakhtiari.  Without Bakhtiari, the blind side of Rodgers becomes vulnerable, and even more so since it is Everson Griffin we are talking about here.  The Vikings will try to stop the run early, forcing the packers to attack more through the air.  This in turn, allows the Vikings to pin their ears back and go hard after Rodgers.  It will be important to stay balanced on offense to try to neutralize the Vikings pass rush.

It’s worth mentioning that it seems that the Packers have been more willing this year (and at the end of last season) to work a more “dink and dunk” offense when they are facing upper echelon defenses.  Long sustained drives are so beneficial, not only to allow our defense to stay fresh, but also to wear down opposing defenses and allow longer developing plays to have a chance once the game gets into the critical fourth quarter. 

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Dealing with Adversity

Divisional battles on the road are no given.  This Vikings defense is as good as any defense we’ve seen this season.  They are skilled at every position, have playmakers all over the field and have one of the best, in Mike Zimmer, drawing up the plays.  The Vikings win games when their defense scores.  Last season, the Packers travelled to US Bank Stadium in week two, for the Vikings first game in their new stadium and the Packers were unable to play spoiler.  It was a close game and it came down to a great play by Tre Waynes, intercepting Rodgers in the final minutes of the game and sealing the 3 point victory for the Vikings. 

We saw last week the cost of penalties while playing on the road when during the first series, a phantom penalty was called on Blake Martinez on third and goal, giving the Cowboys a new set of downs and eventually resulting in a Cowboy touchdown.  On the next series, another phantom call – this time a no-call – as Cobb was drilled out of bounds.  The Packers have shown great ability when it comes to dealing with adversity like this, harkening back to last season playing the second half of the season with their back against the wall.  It has toughened this team up and created a confidence that they are able to come back from anything.  “It’s what we do,” in the words of Rodgers heading back to the locker room last week in Dallas.  This is a strong mentality, a championship mentality, and it is very early on in the season for the Packers to be overflowing with it. 

But already this season, they’ve have overcome.  They’ve overcome bad losses to injury — Bulaga, Bakhtiari, Montgomery, Cobb, Jordy, Adams, Daniels, King, Burnett, Brice.  They’ve overcome major halftime and fourth quarter deficits.  They’ve overcome horrendous calls from the referees.  They’ve overcome good squads, going 2-1 against perennial playoff teams.  There is no doubt that the Packers will once again have to deal with adversity this weekend — pass rush, crowd noise, injuries.  The ability to overcome these things will be the difference between 5-1 and 4-2.

CONCLUSION

As Aaron Rodgers goes, so do the Packers.  He faces a major test this weekend on the road in Minnesota against one of the best defensive minds in the game and the defense that he has constructed around him.  Everything will be disguised, designed to confuse Rodgers.  Winning games against divisional foes on the road is essential for the Packers to achieve their goal of home field advantage.  But this is also a big game for the Vikings, looking to capitalize on their win last week at Chicago with a win against the Packers and a spot at the top of the NFC North.  It seems like each week, the Packers opponent is giving their best shot.  I expect nothing less from the Vikings, with a classic NFC North grinder on tap for noon.

PREDICTION

Packers – 27
Vikings – 20

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