The Green Bay Packers will play an outdoor game against the Minnesota Vikings this Sunday. That alone isn’t news. In fact, leading up to this season, that statement led to the assumption that the game was taking place at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. If only that were true. The Packers have outscored their opponents at an astounding pace over their last three home games and are 5-0 so far this season on the frozen tundra. There truly is no place like home for the Pack.
Speaking of homes, the Vikings are awaiting the completion of their new digs and have taken refuge at TCF Bank Stadium, where they’ll play their home games for the next two seasons. The Packers are no strangers to playing in strange places. In 2002 while the Chicago Bears were renovating Soldier Field, they played their home games in Champaign, Illinois, home of the University of Illinois. The Packers had a Monday night showdown with the Bears and won that game. They’ll look to make it two straight in “homes away from home”.
Maybe that’s a stretch for a storyline but try to cut me some slack. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson won’t be playing in this game and so all of those narratives, headlines and hyperbole are out the window. Beyond that, it’s the struggling and last-place Vikings facing the red-hot Packers. So red hot that, according to Bovada Sportsbook in Las Vegas, they’re the top favorite to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLIX and have the second-best odds in the NFL to appear in the Big Game (tied with the Denver Broncos and behind the New England Patriots).
Sounds easy like a Sunday morning (and on the West coast, kickoff truly is in the morning), right? Not so fast. Divisional game, on the road against a coach who has had success against the Packers as a coordinator. While I don’t think that all will be enough for the Vikings to beat the Packers, it does at least cause me to pause and ponder the makeup of this contest.
On the one side, you have Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback for Minnesota. The Packers didn’t see him in the first meeting and he can get out and run around a bit. On the other hand, you have a Packers defense that seems more disciplined, better in pursuit and tackling better this season. They’re not a great defense but they are good, which is an upgrade over recent seasons past. Defensively, the Vikings have the talent to be potent up front against a banged up Packers offensive line. Unfortunately for Minnesota, that banged up O-line has held its own two weeks in a row now and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers looks as healthy has he has since his 2011 MVP season.
While there’s talent on both sides of the ball, the question is, who plays and who doesn’t? The injury report for this game looks like a five-year old’s Christmas wish list. For the Vikings, running back Matt Asiata, who has taken the bulk of the carries in Peterson’s absence, is out with concussion symptoms. Minnesota signed Ben Tate this week. Receiver Greg Jennings, offensive tackle Matt Kalil and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd are all listed as questionable while a slew of other Vikings players are noted as probable, including cornerback Xavier Rhodes, linebacker Anthony Barr and tight end Kyle Rudolph. For the Packers, tight end Brandon Bostick is out with a hip injury. Questionables are cornerback Jarrett Bush, linebacker Nick Perry and defensive end Datone Jones. Jones had just returned from the ankle injury and was said to have turned it in practice this week. It’s getting later in the season and these types of injuries start to pile up and take longer to heal. If the Packers can’t reel in some luck, they’ll have to hope that what’s left is good enough to carry the torch.
I see this game as the classic “trap” between games against the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots, who had a combined four loses coming into last weekend. Call it whatever you want, this isn’t one the Packers can afford to let slip through their hands. Some of us just saw an 0-10 Oakland Raiders team beat the previously 7-3 Kansas City Chiefs. The same Chiefs who had previously beaten the Patriots and Seattle Seahawks this season. Oakland came out more intense and ready to go. It can very easily happen to any team and while Packers head coach Mike McCarthy preaches the right mentality and habits to avoid such a letdown, the Packers are far from exempt. A loss would mean the road to the postseason gets steeper and bumpier. The Detroit Lions hold a tie-breaker over the Packers and there are five games before the two teams meet in week 17 at Lambeau Field. Green Bay wouldn’t mind getting some help along the way and as fate would have it, the Lions face the Patriots in New England this very Sunday. A Packers win and a Lions loss would leave the Packers alone atop the NFC North and in control of their own destiny to win a fourth-straight division title.
There’s still four quarters to be played and while I am preaching humility and preparation above, I see no reason why this Packers team can’t take care of business in Minnesota tomorrow. Green Bay is dialed in and still has many players from the 2010 team. A few that weren’t seem to be filling in for some of those departed play makers. Linebacker Julius Peppers has been making plays a la Desmond Bishop and defensive lineman Letroy Guion has come on lately to fill the roles of Howard Green and Cullen Jenkins. Obviously both guys are not directly comparable to those listed but in a general sense, some of that lost production is finally back.
From the play on the field to the media coverage to the looks in their eyes, you get the feeling that this team senses that something great is in front of them. It is said that a trait of great or elite teams is easily handling teams that aren’t as good as they are. This Sunday may not be seen as an overall test for the Packers, but can they continue to impose their will on a team that they should? Nothing is certain but I am certain that I’m glad I’m not Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer and his staff, who have to try and stop one of this season’s front-runners for MVP. I’m also glad that the outdoor atmosphere will likely drown out the sound of the Viking horn, not that we should hear too much of it to begin with.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: