This Sunday, the Green Bay Packers will travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings. This will be the first meeting between these two teams since Green Bay’s 38-25 victory in week 16 last season. However, the Vikings did manage to pull off the upset and defeat the Packers 17-14 at home last year. If the Vikings plan to win this contest, they will have to find a way to slow down MVP frontrunner Aaron Rodgers.
There are three specific matchups that can decide this game:
1. Case Keenum vs. the Packers’ Secondary
Going into this season, the Vikings had high hopes for quarterback Sam Bradford. After setting an NFL record last season by completing 74% of his passes, the Vikings hoped that Bradford would be able to carry this team to a playoff berth as well as a potential NFC North division title. However, Bradford has fallen victim to several leg/knee injuries and will miss this game as a result, and replacing him is backup quarterback Case Keenum. In four games this season, Keenum has four passing touchdowns and zero interceptions while completing 64% of his passes. Along the way, Keenum has developed a strong connection with star receiver Stefon Diggs, who has 395 receiving yards this season and will be Keenum’s favorite target in the game.
2. The Packers’ Offensive Line vs. the Vikings’ Defensive Front
So far this season, Green Bay’s offensive line has looked decent at times but has been extremely inconsistent as a whole. The Packers have allowed 19 sacks in their first five games which ranks 31st in the league. On Sunday, this injury-ridden offensive line will have its hands full, as it has to face an elite defensive line which includes defensive end Everson Griffen, who already has six sacks this season including at least one sack in each game. Minnesota currently is tied for 12th in total sacks and will look to add to that total on Sunday. The Vikings also have a plethora of speedy linebackers who can get after the passer in a hurry. If Green Bay is not careful, linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks will put Aaron Rodgers on his back multiple times in this contest.
3. The Packers’ Defense vs. Jerick McKinnon
After losing future hall of fame running back Adrian Peterson to free agency this offseason, the Vikings looked to rookie running back Dalvin Cook to be the workhorse for this team. Through the first few games, Cook looked poised to fill AP’s shoes and was in the running for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Through three and a half games, Cook had 354 rushing yards and was averaging around five yards per carry. However, Cook tore his ACL against the Lions in week four and was placed on injury reserve shortly thereafter.
Replacing him was offseason signing Latavius Murray who signed a three year contract worth $15 million with the Vikings. Murray struggled mightily against the Lions and only averaged three yards per carry before getting benched by management. Third-string running back Jerick McKinnon received a ton of snaps against the Bears in their Monday night contest last week and excelled under the bright lights. McKinnon rushed 16 times for 95 yards and also had 51 receiving yards. With no superstar running back on the active roster, it is likely that Vikings’ coach Mike Zimmer will “ride the hot hand” and give the majority of the touches to McKinnon this week. McKinnon’s speed and versatility can cause some serious matchup issues for the Packers. If McKinnon has a great game, expect this contest to come down to the wire.
As for my prediction in the contest, I expect the Packers to win by double digits. The Packers’ offense, specifically quarterback Aaron Rodgers, looks unstoppable and should continue to play well as long as the offensive line does not implode. The Packers also have developed a bit of a running game with rookie running back Aaron Jones, who had 125 rushing yards against the Cowboys last week. This offensive balance will keep the Vikings’ defensive line off guard and should lead to several big plays. At the same time, I have little to no faith in Case Keenum outperforming Aaron Rodgers. Keenum has played well this season, but I think that the Packers will do a good job neutralizing the running game and forcing Keenum to beat them with his arm which he will likely be unable to do.
Prediction: Green Bay Packers 27, Minnesota Vikings 17