Here’s a preview of what to watch for when the Green Bay Packers host the Minnesota Vikings for a noon kickoff Saturday.
1. Can the Packers figure out a way to get to the quarterback?
Much will be made about the porous Vikings offensive line this week, and for good reason. They are most certainly a liability on a team that has been on a downward spiral throughout much of the second half of the season.
With that said, the Packers have made a habit of making poor offensive lines look competent this season. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has had to increase his pressure calls throughout the second half of the season, mostly because he simply cannot get home rushing four.
An ineffective Clay Matthews has been the headline, but the entire defensive front shares in the blame. Outside of Mike Daniels, no one applies much of anything resembling interior pressure. Julius Peppers has given the Packers a sack seemingly every week during the team’s winning streak, and his big play of a sack, strip and fumble recovery in Chicago was huge.
But there just isn’t anyone applying pressure on a consistent basis. Perhaps the Vikings’ struggling offensive line will open the dam. Sacks do tend to come in bunches. The Packers could use a few on Saturday afternoon.
2. Will Adrian Peterson be a factor at all?
Even before going down in Week 2, Adrian Peterson wasn’t doing much of anything behind that Vikings offensive line, and that was when they were still relatively healthy.
In a much-ballyhooed return to the field Sunday, Peterson promptly went nowhere. His longest run of the day ended in a fumble. He looked, to put it politely, rusty: 22 yards on six carries wasn’t exactly the dramatic return to action most were probably expecting.
However, Peterson has made a career of making Packers defenders look silly. If there’s a team he’s going to be amped up to face and get on track against, it’s Green Bay.
3. Can the Packers tune out the playoff noise?
Mike McCarthy is desperate not to talk about the playoffs. As he does every year, he has repeated his mantra of getting to 10 wins until entertaining any notions of postseason play.
Unfortunately for the Packers coach, playoff talk is suddenly everywhere in the NFL’s smallest city. The Packers were left for dead by many, if not most, of their fans back when the team was 4-6. Now one can’t move without hearing talk about wild-card scenarios and a possible NFC North crown.
The Packers are big early favorites for Saturday's game. The playoffs suddenly seem like a given. It all points to the potential for a massive letdown at Lambeau on Christmas Eve against the Vikings.
McCarthy will do anything and everything this week to keep his players focused on the task at hand.