Saturday, January 5, 2013

Wild Card Preview: Vikings, Packers Meet Again

The second of two Saturday wild card match-ups features yet another "rematch" of two teams. The 6-seeded Minnesota Vikings (10-6) and 3-seeded Green Bay Packers (11-5) have only met in the postseason once (Vikings won 31-17 in the 2004 Wild Card round), but they meet twice in the regular season every season.

Green Bay traveled to Minnesota to face its NFC North division rivals just last week. In dire need of a victory to fight for its playoff chances, Minnesota knocked off the Pack with a late field goal from rookie kicker Blair Walsh to snag the second wild card slot in the NFC, 37-34.

A 1-1 regular season split further adds fuel to the postseason fire. Who will get the last laugh in the NFC North tonight?

Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers
8 PM, Lambeau Field
Favorite: Green Bay by 8

Adrian Peterson fell just eight yards shy of tying Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record of 2,105 after his 199 yard, 2 (total) TD performance in last week's victory. The near-200 yard performance gives AD 409 rushing yards and 3 TDs against the Packers this season. For his career, Peterson has 268 yards and 5 rushing TDs in three postseason games (1-2 record).

Green Bay will have a tough day against Minnesota's run game, that is for sure. Ranking 17th in the league against the run, 457 of its 1,896 allowed rushing yards this season have come against these Vikings. That's basically a 1/4th of the yardage allowed in just two games. But at the same time, when Minnesota played in Green Bay and lost on December 2, the temperature was around 45 degrees. Tonight's forecast for Green Bay, WI: 25 degrees (wind chill of 16), 30% chance of snow flurries and winds at about 10 MPH. That's no walk in the park for a group of guys who play 8+ times a year inside a dome.
Offensive 2012 Stats

Minnesota: 14th-ranked scoring, 31st-ranked passing, 2nd-ranked rushing
Green Bay: 5th-ranked scoring, 9th-ranked passing, 20th-ranked rushing

Defensive 2012 Stats

Minnesota: 15th-ranked scoring, 24th-ranked passing, 11th-ranked rushing
Green Bay: 11th-ranked scoring, 11th-ranked passing, 17th-ranked rushing

Clearly Green Bay has struggled stopping AD, but Clay Matthews III came out and said earlier this week that there was no way they were giving up another 200 to him. The GB defense's focus is on stopping the run, which means they're challenging second-year quarterback Christian Ponder to step up and make plays. Considering Ponder isn't really a cold-weather QB (plays in a dome and played college ball at Florida State), it's going to take some adapting to this sub-freezing weather at the Frozen Tundra. I don't trust Ponder to step up and make the plays necessary to keep up with Aaron Rodgers' high-powered offense.

It has already been proven that it's possible for the Pack to defeat this Vikings team even if Peterson comes in to Lambeau and runs for 200 yards and a touchdown. December 2 they proved it after Peterson's 210 wasn't enough to put up any more than 14 points on the board. In that game Ponder completed just half of his passes for 119 yards and two INTs. What do you think will happen if he steps into Lambeau, stakes even higher and weather even colder? I don't like this match-up at all, even though Peterson is likely to accumulate around 150 yards once again.

The Packers' key on offense always surrounds around protecting Rodgers in the pocket and getting the ball down the field to Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley. Unfortunately in last week's loss the Packers were unable to protect Rodgers for very long and he was sacked 5 times. Despite the pressure, however, Rodgers still managed nearly 400 yards and 4 TDs. The key for Minnesota on defense will be to force turnovers. That's the only way to get Rodgers & Co. off the field is forcing turnovers, which is a rare event (Rodgers has combined for just 14 interceptions the last two seasons).

Minnesota will be running the ball heavily, while the Packers? Not so much. Ranked in the bottom half in the rushing yards category this season, the run game has been lacking since the injury to Cedric Benson. So putting pressure on Rodgers will once again be the key focus for Minnesota tonight.
Things to Remember While Watching

*Green Bay went 7-1 at Lambeau this season (Minnesota 3-5 on the road), and is 11-4 at Lambeau in the postseason during the Super Bowl era.
*In four of his last five road games, Ponder has completed less than 54% of his passes and never recorded a quarterback rating higher than 83.9. The Vikes went 2-3 in those games.
*During Minny's current four game win streak, Adrian Peterson has accounted for 49.2% of the team's total yards. Peterson ran for more yardage than Ponder threw for twice during the four game span.
*The Vikings are 3-5 this season in games that Ponder throws at least 1 interception, but are 4-2 in games that he throws for multiple touchdowns.

Key Players for Each Team


*Christian Ponder: Like I said, the Packers are keying in on stopping Peterson and the ground game. This gives Ponder the perfect opportunity to set the tone early in the passing game. A couple of deep play-action passes could be the difference between 14 points and 28 points by the end of the game. The Vikings have seemed to live and die by Peterson all year, but as I showed with the numbers above, the Vikings have a much better shot in games when Ponder is effective. If he doesn't show up today, Minnesota will not get out of Lambeau alive.

*Jared Allen/Everson Griffen: Aside from 199 yards on the ground, it was the defensive front that helped win the game for Minnesota last week. The third-year defensive end Griffen sacked Aaron Rodgers three times last week and the Vikes combined for 5 sacks total of Rodgers in the victory. The two ends Griffen and Allen combined for 6.0 sacks in two games against Rodgers this season, and they can set the tone on defense with early pressure on Rodgers tonight.

Green Bay

*DuJuan Harris/Ryan Grant: Green Bay hasn't had a true No. 1 back this season. At least not since the injuries to Cedric Benson and James Starks. The Packers O has had to rely on the vet Ryan Grant and two young guys in Alex Green and DuJuan Harris. Harris broke out for a career-high 70 yards on 14 carries in last week's loss, and I expect him to once again take a bulk of the carries this week (I guess you could consider 14 carries the "bulk").

*Clay Matthews III: Matthews has missed a significant amount of time this season (four games for Matthews is considered a significant amount of time), but now that he's back and healthy I'd expect him to get back to doing what he does best: bruising quarterbacks. Stopping the run is a total team effort, but when it comes to sacking and putting pressure on quarterbacks, Matthews can do that all on his own. If Matthews is in tip-top shape today, and can punish Ponder with a couple of hits, the passing game has potential to basically be non-existent for Minnesota.

It's really tough to pick against the Packers at Lambeau Field, especially in the postseason. And I have yet to trust Christian Ponder with the ball in his hands. After watching the Packers knock off Minnesota 23-14 despite Peterson's 210-yard performance a month ago, it's obvious that the Vikings need Ponder to make some plays too. Peterson ran the Vikings all the way to the postseason with his 2,097 yards on the ground, but they're gonna need a little more than that to get past the first round. Sounds a lot like Eric Dickerson's 1984 L.A. Rams, doesn't it?

No upset here, I'm taking the Packers in a near-blowout at Lambeau.

Final Prediction: Packers 35, Vikings 14

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