As of about 7 p.m. CST on Friday, September 9th, the Green Bay Packers are 1.5-point favorites over their hosts, the Minnesota Vikings. While I must say I’m slightly offended we aren’t favorites at home, I have to think the Vikings love this as bulletin board material.
Vikings Poised To Prove Themselves In The North
While the spread is close, it still symbolizes the fact that the Vikings are considered a definite second-best in the NFC North. That being said, there seems to be a significant buzz gaining steam for this iteration of Vikings football. Under Kevin O’Connell, many are predicting that Kirk Cousins can lead this offense to great success. Even Kyle Brandt of Good Morning Football has predicted an MVP for Captain Kirk. But the Vikings have to unseat the current MVP in the division to prove they are real contenders.
I believe they are poised to do this, and their quest starts Week 1. Most of the offseason talk for the Packers has revolved around back-to-back MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his WR room. Some think that the loss of Davante Adams will hit hard, while others seem to gloss over this, instead thinking that Rodgers will find a way regardless. Rightfully so, if anyone can overcome the loss of possibly the best wide receiver in football, it’s the four-time MVP who has been in charge of the NFC North for the past few seasons.
In regards to this Week 1 matchup, I like the Vikings to assert themselves as contenders to not only win the division, but to throw their name in the ring of Super Bowl contenders. Rodgers has thrown 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions against the Vikings over the past two campaigns, but he hasn’t always won the games. I think the loss of Davante Adams will set the Packers back, especially early, and the Vikings can seize an early season opportunity. The Packers’ stout defense may have a say in this showdown as well (see their EDGE rushers and secondary), but I think the offense will have a harder time staying on the field. I’m not sure the Packers’ D can hold this Vikings offense as they get more tired throughout the game.
The Edge Of The Lines
Speaking of this matchup of the Packers’ D and the Vikings’ O, the matchup I’m watching the most this weekend is our tackles vs. their ends. Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill will definitely be tested by going against Rashan Gary and Preston Smith, the Packers’ top edge rushers. A lot of people have been talking about Kevin O’Connell’s outside zone running scheme, as well as his quarterback bootlegs. While the Vikings will undoubtedly work in some variation, the edge of the line will need to be solid if we are to be as prolific as we think we can be on offense.
The Packers have an excellent secondary as well, but even the best coverage can be beaten by an unsupportive pass rush. Not to mention, if Garrett Bradbury gets overpowered at times, it will become imperative to get Kirk Cousins out of the pocket and on the move. For more on this matchup, as well as the other key positional matchups, be sure to check out Episode four of The Daily Skol Podcast. Special guest Zach Simmons of the Cheesehead Checkdown joins my guys Eli and John to explore these Week 1 matchups in depth.
In a heated divisional clash such as this one, the result sometimes hinges on the play of a lesser-known contributor. For the Packers, I was tempted to mention their special teams as their x-factor. In case you needed a reminder, you can see here the special teams blunder that helped knock them out of the playoffs last season. But in all reality, it has to be someone from their receiving corps.
In addition to the loss of Davante Adams, Allen Lazard is doubtful for Sunday’s game. We expect Rodgers to have the ability to hit any of his receivers, but who will be open? One of the Randall Cobb, Sammy Watkins, Romeo Doubs, and Christian Watson crew, will have to find space in the Vikings’ defensive backfield. My money is on Cobb, if any of them, due to his experience and rapport with Rodgers. Also, I am leaving Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon out of this discussion because I think the offense will run through them. These two RBs with Rodgers will be central to the Packers’ offensive game plan, which eliminates them from the “x-factor” discussion.
For our Vikings, I had a harder time coming up with an x-factor, simply because I believe in most aspects of this team. I will settle, though, on Irv Smith, Jr. Again, this is an “x-factor” discussion. I fully expect Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen to have good games. I even expect timely production from K.J. Osborn, because all of these guys have proven it when it matters. Dalvin Cook is excluded as well, so I am looking at Irv Smith to prove himself right away in Week 1.
There will be times when our receivers are not the best option for Kirk Cousins, and Irv is going to need to make some big plays. He may not get over 60 yards and a touchdown (though that would be nice for my fantasy team), but he needs to convert some first downs. We need him to catch a six-yard pass, and then battle for another three yards to convert a third and nine. Even early in the game, a clutch play like this can help us build momentum and keep the Packers on their heels.
Game Flow Prediction
I focused on the offensive side of the ball for x-factors, because I am expecting a high-scoring affair. I think our offense can score on anyone, and no one should be betting against regular-season Rodgers until proven otherwise. I like a lot of players on both defenses, and key turnovers may play a role, but I’m leaning toward a shoot-out in this one.
I’m expecting both teams to trade scoring drives throughout the first half, for the most part, leading to a slight lead for the Vikes. Then, I picture a key momentum play by our defense early in the third quarter. US Bank Stadium’s faithful will get themselves involved, and the Vikings will extend their lead. The Vikings will work their way to a 10 – 14 point lead, and they will hold that line until the game clock hits triple zeros. The Vikings win 38 – 27.
Final Injury Report
The Vikings have two notable players that are questionable: S Lewis Cine and DL Jonathan Bullard. Of course, we want them on the field, but I don’t think either of them is necessarily the type of impact players that can change a game individually. I think Cine will eventually, but not in his first game.
The Packers have slightly more to worry about in the injury department after WR Allen Lazard was stepped on in practice. As the receiver with the most recent experience with Rodgers, his absence will be sorely missed. Additionally, G/T Elgton Jenkins and T David Bakhtiari are both listed as questionable. Both would be key absences, especially Bakhtiari, so we will need to monitor their situations as we get closer to game time.
I’d love to hear your game predictions and insights! Hit me up @Jlime8 on Twitter. Also, don’t forget to check out our latest player spotlight on John Randle, written by John Boyd! And stay on Stadium Rant for all of your NFL content needs!