By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers will play for the third time this season. It will be only the second time ever that will happen. The previous time was in the 2004 wild card round. The Vikings won that meeting by 14 points.
The Packers and Vikings split the season series, with each team winning at home. Green Bay had won four consecutive games before losing to the Vikings last Sunday at Mall of America Field. The Packers went 7-1 at home this season, but four of the wins were by single digits (including a nine-point victory over the Vikings).
Packers on Offense
The Packers are still a dominant passing offense that uses the run to keep defenses honest.
The best matchup is Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway vs. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the league with quick, well-timed passes. He also is one of the best quarterbacks at making plays on the move. Greenway finished third in the NFL in tackles. He is the Vikings best linebacker and best response to Rodgers’ scrambling ability.
The matchup the Vikings need to take advantage of is its defensive linemen vs. Packers offensive line. Everson Griffen had a huge game against Don Barclay last Sunday with three sacks. Saturday should be no different for him and Brian Robison. According to Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus, if Barclay struggles early, the Packers could shuffle the offensive line to get T. J. Lang back out to tackle and insert Jeff Saturday at center. If the switch is made, then Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion and Fred Evans need to take advantage of Saturday, who has struggled this season.
The worst matchup for the Vikings is its back seven vs. Packers passing combination of Rodgers to wide receiver Greg Jennings. Antoine Winfield’s health is a big key for the Vikings to slow down the Packers passing offense. Jennings had a huge game Sunday and the Vikings were unable to keep him from getting open.
Packers on Defense
The Packers are a 3-4 scheme by name, but use multiple formations and styles throughout every game.
The best matchup is Vikings running back Adrian Peterson vs. the entire Packers defense. The Vikings offense runs through Peterson. The MVP candidate ran for 409 yards in the two games against the Packers, including 210 at Lambeau Field in Week 13. The Packers are healthier on defense, including the return of defensive back Charles Woodson.
The matchup the Vikings need to take advantage of is tight end Kyle Rudolph vs. Packers linebackers and safeties. The second-year veteran is becoming one of the top receiving tight ends in the league and is quarterback Christian Ponder’s best target. Physically, the Packers do not have an answer for him.
The worst matchup for the Vikings is its wide receiver’s playmaking ability vs. the Packers’ defensive back’s playmaking ability. It is no secret that the Vikings need to upgrade its wide receiver corps. The wide receivers have shown improvement of late, but it is pretty safe to say that the Packers defensive backs (Morgan Burnett, Casey Hayward, M.D. Jennings, Sam Shields, Tramon Williams and Woodson) have better ball skills and possibly better receiver skills.
Packers Players to Watch
Wide receiver Greg Jennings: The seventh-year veteran had a breakout game against the Vikings on Sunday with eight catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns. If Winfield is unable to play and Marcus Sherels remains the slot cornerback, Jennings could have another big game.
Defensive end C.J. Wilson: The third-year veteran may be the best run-stopping defensive player on the Packers roster. He returned from an injury in Week 17 after missing four games, including the first meeting against the Vikings.
The Vikings won just three games on the road this season, but nearly beat two playoff bound teams away from Mall of America Field. The Packers will be hosting a playoff game at Lambeau Field for the second time with Rodgers as its starting quarterback. The only previous time was 17-point loss to the New York Giants in 2011. Vikings long snapper Cullen Loeffler, Williams and Winfield all have more playoff wins at Lambeau Field than Rodgers. The Packers have won just one playoff game at Lambeau Field since drafting Rodgers in 2005, but the future MVP was backing up Brett Favre at the time.
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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.