The Past: The last time the Packer met the Vikings was on week 12 of the 2013 season and was headlined by the “triumphant” return of Matt Flynn. Much like the parable of the prodigal son, Flynn left the Packers with a spectacular 460 yard, 6 touchdown performance in 2011 to a lucrative deal with the Seattle Seahawks. However, Flynn didn’t find much success outside the Packers and eventually ended up a free street agent after the Bills cut him. The Packers, dealing with their own quarterback injuries in Aaron Rodgers and Seneca Wallace, welcomed the return of their prodigal son to 3rd string quarterback Scott Tolzien. Flynn made an impact within 10 days, taking over for Tolzien in the 3rd quarter down by 23-7 and lead the Packers to a 26-26 tie after both teams converted field goals in overtime, despite the fact that everyone and their mother is an expert on the NFL officiating nowadays, two entire teams found out the hard way that you can indeed play a game to a tie and many players on both sides were genuinely surprised. Outside a disaster on all fronts against the Lions on Thanksgiving, Flynn was able to right the ship and keep the Packers afloat until Rodgers came back for the last regular season game to win the division.
The Present: With a short week, all eyes are on the health of rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who had to be carted off the field on Sunday against the the Falcons. The Vikings are one of the worst offenses in the league, only behind Cleveland and Jacksonville, with a -29.2% DVOA while ranking 30th in passing and 22nd in running. Of course the headline of the Vikings (and maybe the NFL as a whole at the moment), is the loss of Adrian Peterson, who is currently on the exempt list on child abuse charges. While the Vikings do have some decent running backs in Matt Asiata and Jerrick McKinnon, there really is no substitute for All-Day and defenses have not be showing as much fear against the Vikings running game, which makes the passing game all that more important. In terms of passing, traitor Greg Jennings, Cordarelle Patterson and Kyle Rudolph lead the teams receiving unit but uncertainty at the quarterback position almost definitely gives the Packers defense the advantage. Historically, Christian Ponder has been incredibly inconsistent against the Packers (he’s graded from 2.1 to -5.4 according to PFF against the Packers), but being demoted and then not released certainly doesn’t bode well on his psyche.
On defense, the Vikings are about average, ranking 20th in defensive DVOA, with a considerably better run defense than pass defense. the Vikings most significant change is the loss of Jared Allen, who joined the division rival Chicago Bears (but did not play on Sunday due to pneumonia) but the Vikings still have some talented pass rushers in Everson Griffin and Brian Robinson. Overall, the Packers would appear to have an advantage in both passing and running the football; head coach Mike McCarthy has vowed to put more emphasis on the running game (as he does almost every week after falling back on his pass-first mentality) and hopefully the Packers can start fielding a more diverse offense that forces defenses to account for all players.
The Vikings right now are a very beatable team for the Packers, not only do the Packers get some luck with the murky availability of Teddy Bridgewater and the loss of Adrian Peterson but the Packers should be able to win both on offense and defense, which is something that hasn’t been the case this season so far.
The Future: Of all the NFC North teams, the Vikings are the only team in an identity crisis. At the moment, the Vikings are unsure if they have their quarterback of the future (which has probably been the case since Dante Culpepper) and their current identity as a running team highlighted by Adrian Peterson is almost certainly over as Peterson will likely never play for the Vikings again. Just as the Packers were in disarray when Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone last season, the Vikings are still trying to find out what team they have and it’s not been pretty. One would think that the Vikings would begin to shift towards a most aggressive passing team in order to keep up with Detriot, Chicago and Green Bay, however the Vikings biggest problem has been finding a quarterback and it’s not completely certain that Bridgewater is the guy either; keep in mind while Bridgewater is a 1st round pick, even the Vikings passed on him once, selecting Anthony Barr with the 9th overall pick and only trading back up with the Seahawks for the 32nd pick in order to nab him later.
In terms of salary cap, the Vikings have the 3rd least dead money at $6 million in the NFC North and have ample room to re-sign pending free agents or sign injury replacements should they occur. Free agency also looks quite good, they have no outstanding pending free agents until 2016; the only big name is Christian Ponder in 2015, who certainly won’t command a huge contract for any team, and Matt Asiata who may see his stock rise depending on how well he does this season. The first big name free agent that comes up is Harrison Smith and perhaps Chad Greenway in 2016, but its likely that Greenway might be relegated to a lower contract since he will be 33 by then.
Finally in terms of the draft, the Vikings have seen mixed results. First round pick Anthony Barr has had a quietly good season so far but only has 2 sacks and 18 tackles so far. Teddy Bridgewater has been good in limited snaps, but figures to be the starting quarterback from here on end with incumbent Matt Cassel on IR with a foot injury. The rest of the 2014 draft class has largely been invisible; 3rd round pick Scott Crichton, 6th round pick Antone Exum and 7th round pick Jabari Price have seen 8 snaps or less while 7th round linebacker Brandon Watts hasn’t played a down on defense and 6th round rookie Kendall James isn’t even on the roster anymore. Outsider of 1st round pick Barr, the only rookie on defense to play any significant amount of snaps is 7th round defensive tackle Stephen Shamar, who has graded out negatively. On offense, 3rd round pick Jerrick McKinnon has been the only rookie to see any snaps as 4th round pick David Yankey, once thought to be one of the best guard prospects coming out of college, is currently a backup behind Charlie Johnson and Jets castoff Vladimir Ducasse.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.