Here’s a preview of what to watch for when the Packers travel to Minneapolis for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff Sunday.
1. Who will play quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings?
Much was made about the Vikings trading for Sam Bradford after Teddy Bridgewater went down with a brutal knee injury late in training camp. But unlike when the organization threw Josh Freeman to the wolves, Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer resisted the temptation to rush his newly acquired quarterback into the starting lineup. That resulted in an opening-day victory for the Vikings on Sunday down in Tennessee.
Veteran backup Shaun Hill got the nod for that game, but when asked Monday what his plans were at quarterback for Sunday night’s showdown with the Packers, Zimmer refused to name a starter, quipping, “I just figured it’d be good for sports-talk radio.”
Joking aside, Zimmer is smart to keep the Packers guessing.
Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Monday that he’ll be studying the Vikings' scheme more than he will a particular quarterback. But Minnesota’s cloak-and-dagger routine will mean lots of extra work for the Packers’ defensive staff this week.
2. Offensive communication for the Packers, or lack thereof
Aaron Rodgers was measured in his postgame comments when asked about the readily apparent, repeated miscommunications the team suffered on the offensive side of the ball against the Jaguars. But his response was also pointed, using words such as “disappointing” and “embarrassing.”
On Monday, Packers coach Mike McCarthy tried to take the blame for the offense being out of sorts, though perhaps not for the reason he should have.
While McCarthy may have been responsible for a particular substitution issue Sunday, in the bigger picture, his decision to sit his starting quarterback as much as he did during the preseason might have played a significant role in the offense looking so out of sync in Week 1.
McCarthy, Rodgers and the Packers' offense need to find their rhythm heading into what is sure to be an extremely hostile environment when the Vikings open their new stadium on Sunday night.
3. The Vikings want to prove they are the true kings of the North.
“We need to beat them a lot more often for it to be a rivalry,” said the Vikings coach, and by most objective measures, he’s right. The Packers have been the top dog in the NFC North for a long time and beat the Vikings on the road last year.
Of course, Minnesota returned the favor in Week 17 and took the division crown by winning 20-13 at Lambeau Field.
Zimmer may not want to talk about the rivalry publicly, but this is the same coach who handed out “Beat the Packers!” T-shirts to his players before losing to Green Bay last year. The Vikings looked out of their league in that game, but in Week 17, when all was quiet in the Vikings' camp, they looked every bit the challenger to the Packers’ throne.
Zimmer knows the intensity of the rivalry. And he also knows the perception persists that the Packers are the team to beat in the division. A big win over Green Bay on a national stage while opening up the franchise’s $1.1 billion stadium would go a long way to legitimizing the Vikings' claim to division superiority.