Packers at Vikings preview: Predictions, 5 things to watch
TEAMS: Green Bay Packers (11-3) at Minnesota Vikings (10-4).
WHEN: 7:15 p.m CT on Monday.
WHERE: U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis.
TV: ESPN with Joe Tessitore (play-by-play), Booger McFarland (analyst), Lisa Salters (sidelines).
RADIO: AM-620 in Milwaukee, FM-101.1 in Green Bay; Packers Radio Network.
SERIES: Packers lead, 61-54-3.
LINE: Vikings by 5½.
WEATHER: Domed stadium.
SURFACE: Artificial turf.
COACHES: Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur (11-3) vs. Minnesota's Mike Zimmer (58-38-1).
5 THINGS TO WATCH
1. DOOR OPEN TO TOP SEED: The Packers clinch the NFC North with a victory, but even if the Vikings win they'd still need the Packers to lose next week to win the division. Since the Packers beat the Vikings earlier this year, head-to-head competition would not be applicable in the division tiebreaker if both teams finish 12-4. Next would be division record and if the Packers beat Detroit in the finale, they would finish with a 5-1 record. The best the Vikings can finish is 4-2. A victory against the Vikings keeps the Packers in the running for a first-round bye. If they win out, they are guaranteed no lower than the No. 2 seed. The Packers will be the No. 1 seed if they win out and the Seahawks beat the 49ers in Seattle next Sunday.
2. RODGERS NOT AT HOME IN DOMES: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers used to feel right at home playing indoors, but of late his record in domes has taken a dive. Including playoffs, Rodgers is 20-19 overall indoors but over his last nine games he is just 3-6. Three of those losses were inside U.S. Bank Stadium, including the 2017 game in which he broke his right collarbone. In regular-season games, Rodgers has completed 705 of 1,051 passes for 8,707 yards and 68 touchdowns with 13 interceptions (108.9 rating) in domes. He has been sacked 96 times. One aspect at which Rodgers excels inside is dealing with crowd noise. He has mastered the silent count and giving hand signals to his receivers, and coach Matt LaFleur has not changed a thing. “Typically, you don’t want to mess with what the players are doing, what they’re comfortable with in that regard,” LaFleur said. “If you have something to add to it, great. But they’ve been doing it here for a long time at a really high level.”
3. WINNERS ALWAYS PROSPER: If there is a knock on Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins — and there are probably several — it’s that he doesn’t do well in big games. Cousins comes into this Packers matchup having lost all eight of his games on Monday Night Football, including a 37-30 decision this season at Seattle. The Vikings do not have a victory against a team that has a winning record. Using data from a Sports Illustrated story earlier in the year, Cousins is 6-28 lifetime against teams with winning records. Still, he’s having the best year of his career statistically (111.1 rating) and his rating at home is a whopping 126.2. “If you give Kirk — if you give any quarterback time — but specifically a guy as accurate as Kirk with those weapons on the outside, it’s a pretty good recipe to have success for them,” LaFleur said.
4. KENDRICKS EXCELLING AS MIDDLE MAN: The Packers have known about inside linebacker Eric Kendricks’ talents for a while, but they’re going to have to pay special attention to him because he is playing at a new level, especially in pass coverage. Kendricks leads all linebackers with 12 pass break-ups and is tied for 19th with 110 tackles. He also has a half sack and two forced fumbles. If the Packers intend to use running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams in the passing game, they’re going to have to deal with Kendricks. “It’s one of those things he can diagnose really quickly, because you can’t fool him,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “You try to affect him. Not only does he read out of it quick, but he’s got that athletic ability to be able to turn around and make a play.”
5. VIKINGS RUNNING GAME NOT DEAD: Even though Minnesota will be without the NFL’s seventh-leading rusher, Dalvin Cook (chest), they still have options. Backup running back Alexander Mattison, who is questionable with an ankle injury, averages 4.6 yards per carry and would provide a big boost if available. Even if he can't play, third-string back Mike Boone, a second-year undrafted free agent out of Cincinnati, is coming off a 13-carry, 56-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Chargers. The 5-10, 206-pound Boone has had carries in only three games this year and five last year, so he’s a relative unknown. “They’re going to run their system,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. “They ran it when he was in there and even when they had Mattison in there, the backup. They don’t change. They’re going to try to run the football.”
Even without running back Dalvin Cook, the Vikings have plenty of offense to get the job done in a game they badly want. The Packers have to establish the run early and make the Vikings devote extra bodies to the line of scrimmage. But that’s easier said than done and if they get behind early, they’re in trouble. Vikings 24, Packers 21
Kirk Cousins has great numbers (111.1 rating) but Dalvin Cook’s absence could be a big problem because the Packers’ now can zero in their game plan on the Vikings’ quarterback. Still, the guess here is the Vikings’ solid defense will hold down the Packers’ choppy offense, and that plus the home field will be enough for Minnesota to prevail. Vikings 20, Packers 17
If all things are equal, these teams are fairly even. In that case, you take the team playing at home. But all things are not equal this week, not with Vikings running back Dalvin Cook ruled out and talented backup Alexander Mattison less than 100 percent at best – if he plays at all. Add the fact this game means much more to a Packers team playing for a first-round bye – the Vikings are likely stuck in the sixth seed even if they win – and this suddenly becomes a game the Packers can and should win on the road. Packers 24, Vikings 20
Injuries to the Minnesota backfield could really alter its offensive effectiveness, while Aaron Rodgers and his group will be able to dent the end zone a handful of times against a familiar opponent. But like nearly every Packers game, it will come down to turnover and the final quarter. Packers 27, Vikings 24
The Packers are going up against one of the best defenses in points allowed in the Vikings. Despite their formidable defense, the Vikings' offense will be without Dalvin Cook, who powers their run game. I’m not convinced the Vikings can rely on Kirk Cousins to be a playmaker. Packers 23, Vikings 20
The Vikings earned a playoff berth when the Rams lost, and the Packers can clinch the NFC North with a win here and the No. 2 seed by winning out. So the game means more to Green Bay, yet Vegas favors Minnesota by a hefty 5½ points despite the absence of Vikings star Dalvin Cook. Look for either a blowout Vikings win or a dramatic Packers escape. Packers 27, Vikings 24