Packers vs. Vikings preview: Predictions, 5 things to watch
TEAMS: Green Bay Packers (7-7) vs. Minnesota Vikings (11-3).
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Lambeau Field.
RADIO: AM-620 in Milwaukee, AM-1360 in Green Bay; Packers Radio Network.
SERIES: Packers lead, 59-51-2.
LINE: Vikings by 9.
WEATHER: Partly cloudy, low of 4 degrees.
COACHES: Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy (131-76-1) vs. Vikings' Mike Zimmer (37-26-0).
LIVE GAME BLOG: Join Tom Silverstein for analysis and lively discussion
NFL: Live scoreboard, box scores
ROSTERS, STATS: Packers | Vikings
5 THINGS TO WATCH
SEEKING CONSISTENCY: Around the NFL, rookie punter Justin Vogel has caught the eye of players and coaches. How else do you explain Vogel being a Pro Bowl alternate? Although Vogel ranks fourth in net average (42.6), the coaches are reluctant to heap praise on him for a couple of reasons. First, the Packers’ coverage units are outstanding. Receiver Jeff Janis is almost unstoppable as a gunner and continually forces fair catches. Second, Vogel leaves the ball in the middle of the field too often. Directional punting is essential in the NFL and he needs to improve in that skill. “I've said this before, he's still got to become more and more consistent, which he will,” special teams coach Ron Zook said. “I think that's the great thing, he's been able to do some really, really good things and being a rookie.”
SAFETY LAST: When the Packers assess their season, they’re going to lament the lack of production they got from their three top safeties, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett and Josh Jones. They have combined for only four interceptions, two sacks, one forced fumble and zero fumble recoveries. They have been responsible for five passing touchdowns. Considering the three have played a combined 1,873 snaps, that’s a season full of just taking up space. The Vikings watched the Carolina game and probably are wondering whether they could put up 42 points. “Our guys are working their butts off and (I) have no issues with their work ethic,” safeties coach Darren Perry said. “We’ve just got to get a little better results and we’ve just got to keep plugging away.”
BIEGEL TIME: With Nick Perry (ankle/shoulder) doubtful and Clay Matthews (hamstring) questionable, it’s likely that rookie outside linebacker Vince Biegel will see a lot of action Saturday night. The most snaps Biegel has played in a game is 22 against Pittsburgh. The coaches already think they know what they have with their fourth-round pick. “I’m excited about Vince,” outside linebackers coach Winston Moss said. “Every single game, every single day, little better, little closer, stepping his game up. I feel confident he’s going to be a person that pays off. He’s going to definitely make it in this league.”
HOME WRECKER: Backup quarterback Brett Hundley is 1-3 and has yet to throw for a touchdown in four starts at Lambeau Field this season. He has completed 73 of 122 passes (59.8 percent) for 655 yards and five interceptions. His passer rating is 57.2. On the road, Hundley is 2-1 and has completed 88 of 130 passes (67.7 percent) for 879 yards and eight touchdowns with three interceptions (97.6 rating). It’s going to be tough to turn that trend around against the Vikings. “I try to play my best every week,” Hundley said. “I could care less if it’s at home, if it’s away. Just trying to put this team in the best position to win. I try to bring it and give my best performance every week.”
BACK TO BACK: The Vikings are known as a defensive team, but they rank eighth in total offense and have gotten far more out of their running back combination of Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon than most people realize. The two have combined for 1,652 total yards from scrimmage, easily filling the hole in the offense that rookie Dalvin Cook left when he tore his ACL on Oct. 1. As a group, the Vikings backs rank fourth in the NFL in yardage this season and that production has made the offense far better this year. “They’re operating on all four cylinders, whether it’s the run, the pass, the deceptive,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “The protection’s been good. They’re playing at a very high level. They’re a very well-rounded football team.”
I don’t expect the Packers to lay down, but the talent gap between them and the Vikings is huge and that will mean a Minnesota victory. The Packers ought to just run, run and run and see what their three rookie backs can do. Vikings 31, Packers 17
With Aaron Rodgers shut down for the season, the Packers are a nine-point underdog against the best team in the NFC North and not having Davante Adams (concussion) only makes things worse. Coach Mike McCarthy has a better feel for how to play with Brett Hundley at quarterback, but points figure to be a little too hard to come by against one of the NFL’s better defenses. Vikings 27, Packers 20
It figures to be a long, cold night for the Packers as they host a division rival with legitimate Super Bowl hopes. The Vikings have won the NFC North in two of the last three years. The balance of power might be shifting. Vikings 27, Packers 13
For the first time since Dec. 28, 2008, the Packers will play a regular-season game with no playoff implications. The Vikings will be playing to improve their postseason seeding. With a renewed focus on the run game and home-field advantage, the Packers can prevent this from becoming a blowout. But there’s too much at stake for the Vikings to lose. Vikings 27, Packers 21
The Packers are outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, outplanned. While Mike McCarthy's rag-tag group undoubtedly will fight the good fight, especially with an early swell of emotion from a home crowd bent on revenge against the team that essentially ended their season back in October, the Vikings are fighting for a No. 1 seed for a reason. They're a really good team. The Packers are not. Vikings 34, Packers 20