Packers at Vikings preview: Predictions, 5 things to watch
TEAMS: Green Bay Packers (4-5-1) vs. Minnesota Vikings (5-4-1).
WHEN: 7:20 p.m. Sunday.
WHERE: U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis.
TV: NBC with Al Michaels (play-by-play), Cris Collinsworth (analyst), Michele Tafoya (sideline).
RADIO: AM-620 in Milwaukee, FM-101.1 in Green Bay; Packers Radio Network.
SERIES: Packers lead, 60-53-3.
LINE: Vikings by 3.
WEATHER: Domed stadium.
SURFACE: Field turf.
COACHES: Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy (135-83-2) vs. Minnesota's Mike Zimmer (45-31-1)
LIVE GAME BLOG: Join Tom Silverstein for analysis and lively discussion
5 THINGS TO WATCH
UNLEASHING JONES: There is more than one way to get the ball to running back Aaron Jones, but the Packers have pretty much limited him to carries. Last week against Seattle, Jones showed he isn’t one-dimensional, catching five passes for 63 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown. He might have scored on another completion if quarterback Aaron Rodgers had seen him wide open during a second-half drive that ended at the 12-yard line. In the Packers’ offense, the backs often must block because the tight ends are lined up like receivers, leaving just five to protect Rodgers. “If you look historically 2011, 2010, 2009, we were probably a three-wide receiver team and maybe a six-man protection team,” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “Not that we haven’t free released the back, we have. But I think if you say, hey what was our identity back then, we were a six-man drop-back pass team.” What has changed is the addition of a breakaway back like Jones, who can make a team pay if it loses sight of him. It might be time to change their philosophy now, too.
WATCH OUT FOR SACKRELL: The last time the Packers and Vikings met, outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell played 13 snaps and had one tackle. Reggie Gilbert was the No. 3 guy off the bench behind Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. That was Week 2. Heading into Week 12, Fackrell is a starter and leads the team in sacks. Once considered a draft bust, Fackrell has 23 tackles, eight sacks and two pass breakups in the last seven games. “Guys just take time to get used to the speed of the game and how to approach it,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. “I thought he came into training camp in great shape. It’s just taken time for all that to click in. Obviously, you’re seeing the results.” Fackrell will get a considerable amount of snaps against left tackle Reilly Reiff, who had a rough game against Khalil Mack last week and will be looking to bounce back.
SAFETY FIRST? Facing the division’s best combination of receivers/tight ends, Pettine probably won’t have starting cornerback Kevin King, who has missed two straight games with a hamstring injury. He has to consider whether to move Tramon Williams from safety back to cornerback so he can have his two best cover men – Williams and Jaire Alexander – on receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. The problem this week is that safeties Kentrell Brice (ankle) and Raven Greene (ankle) are hurt. Moving Williams back to corner would mean starting Josh Jones and Ibraheim Campbell at safety. “It goes back to what I said earlier, (which) is, who do we have available and what do we need to do to win this football game?” Pettine said. “We’re very fortunate to have someone with that type of flexibility that allows us those options.” In other words, tune in Sunday to find out how Pettine lines up his players in the secondary.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN: This will mark the fourth time in five weeks the Packers have played on the road and the results have not been good. At 0-5 on the road this season, this could be the first Packers team to lose its first six away from Lambeau Field since the 1979 team coached by Bart Starr. Two of the Packers’ three remaining road games are against the Vikings and Chicago Bears, so they can salvage something out of their road schedule if they can win those two games. Though they’ve had a chance to win late in all but one of their road games, they can’t ever seem to get over the hump. “It’s hard to put my finger on that,” receiver Davante Adams said. “We had the one in L.A. obviously where that one didn’t go our way at the end. We didn’t play a complete second half in New England. So now it’s just completing that game, making plays all game and staying aggressive. If we go up late, keeping our foot on the gas and keep it going.”
DOME OF DOOM: The Packers are 0-2 at U.S. Bank Stadium and the loss last season all but ended their season. Rodgers broke his right collarbone in the first quarter after escaping the pocket and taking a hit from linebacker Anthony Barr, and the team never recovered. The Packers were coming off a big win in Dallas the week before and appeared to be gaining momentum when Rodgers got hurt. If they’re going to salvage something out this season, Rodgers needs to avoid big hits and play like a healthy quarterback. “I feel good,” he said. “My body feels good. I'm able to move around the way I want to move around. It's been a frustrating season at times injury-wise. But you don't think about getting hurt. You just think about playing and trying to avoid some of those hits outside the pocket.”
This is a must-win game for the Packers because they can’t afford to let other teams dictate whether they make the playoffs. The chances are too slim. Unless Aaron Rodgers plays at an MVP level, the Packers are doomed for another close loss on the road. The season is on the line Sunday night. Vikings 24, Packers 23
The Packers have a little extra rest coming off their mini-bye, but the “questionable” status of cornerbacks Kevin King (hamstring) and Bashaud Breeland (groin) doesn’t bode well for slowing Vikings receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. The guess here is that with a playoff tiebreaker on the line Minnesota’s defense (No. 6 in defensive passer rating) gets enough stops to win a tight one at home. Vikings 31, Packers 27
The Packers have been knocking, knocking, knocking on the door all month. They could’ve beaten the Rams in Los Angeles, but didn’t. They could’ve beaten the Patriots in New England, but didn’t. They should have beaten the Seahawks in Seattle, but didn’t. You notice a theme here? The Packers certainly can beat the Vikings in Minnesota. Here’s guessing they won’t. At some point, a team is what it is: close but not quite. Vikings 23, Packers 19
Even though the Packers are in desperation mode, anything that can go wrong has gone wrong on the road. And, the offense can’t seem to score 30 points when needed. Vikings 28, Packers 21
Just like at Seattle, there's no reason to think Green Bay can win at Minnesota, especially if cornerback Kevin King isn't available to help against Vikings receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. But the Packers played well enough to beat the Seahawks (should've beaten the Seahawks), so here's a hunch that they will have a "galvanizing moment" Sunday night in Minneapolis. Packers 28, Vikings 27