Playoff Preview: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
In what will be their third matchup this season, I expect this upcoming playoff game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers to play like the others from this past season. Minnesota forced it’s way into the playoffs last week with a home victory against the Pack, however Green Bay won the division. Like their other games, Saturday will be feature Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson running wild on the Packer’s defense, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will complete a ridiculously high percentage of his passes, and ultimately the home team will win by the final score of 34-16.
Green Bay comes into Saturday as heavy favorites; they won nearly 81% of the simulations conducted by AccuScore. Behind the accurate arm of Rodgers (simulated averages of 295 passing yards, almost three touchdowns), the Packers averaged a 31.5 to 18.5 victory, beating the spread of 9.5. Minnesota has a low chance of beating the +9.5 spread, as they achieved this just 38.8% of the simulations. The team beat the over/under of 46 points 58.4% of the time, while Green Bay won an astounding 61.2% game big. A Minnesota blowout seems highly unlikely as they won big just 6.5% of the simulations.
While Adrian Peterson had a brilliant week 17 against this same defense, his 199 yards last week weren’t the difference maker. Young quarterback Christian Ponder finally had a good game as he completed 16 of 28 for 234 passing yards and 3 touchdowns. Despite averaging 106.2 yards in his career at Lambeau Field, the Vikings have one just one game with Peterson in the lineup. While the Packers have let Peterson compile gaudy numbers in the past, they have always seemed to come out on top despite such an unproportional run to pass yards allowed to Minnesota. Peterson simulated somewhat low numbers considering he averaged more than 200 yards in his games against the Packers; AccuScore predicts 111 rushing yards and one touchdown. If he stops close to these figures, Minnesota would have likely abandoned the run in favor of the pass.
Green Bay has shut down the Vikings and the rest of their divisional rivals; last week’s loss was just their first in the last two seasons. While Ponder had a great game this past Sunday, I expect him to replicate numbers closer to those he accumulated in their December 2nd loss. Ponder completed under half of his attempts and threw two interceptions. Ponder simulated 205 passing yards with one interception and one interception. In that 23-14 loss at Lambeau. In his career against the Green and Gold, he has thrown for just three touchdowns and five interceptions.
Green Bay’s Rodgers has been the polar opposite of ponder; he’s again in MVP discussion after this past season and has 16 touchdowns to one interception in his last five games against Minnesota. Rodgers finished the season with 4,295 passing yards and a 39:8 touchdown to interception ratio. He also added 259 yards rushing and increased his total touchdown mark by two. Minnesota’s lockdown corner back Antoine Winfield is questionable for this game, but I doubt he would make a huge difference against this loaded Packer’s receiving core. Rodgers has thrown the ball with surgical like accuracy, once again leading the league in quarter back rating.
Though he’s expected to get little help from the run game (running back Dujuan Harris simulated just 38 yards rushing and 0.3 TDs), Rodgers looked confident in returning wide receiver Greg Jennings. Though he finished the season ranked fifth on his own team in receptions, Jennings had a solid game last week recording eight receptions for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
Adding gasoline to the fire will be the return of CB/SS Charles Woodson, who will finally suit up for the first time since week 7. Woodson and outside linebacker Clay Matthews (who returned last week) should greatly improve the Packers pass defense. Matthews especially will aid this unit as he generated 13 of the team’s 47 total. These two late season additions will future the home team’s side; Green Bay’s defense has already improved these past few weeks (tighter and more cohesive), it stands only to get better.
Defensive stars aren’t the only returning players for the squad who won nine of their past eleven games. Leading receiver Randall Cobb has returned to practice from a ankle injury, while starting receiver Jordy Nelson practice this week after re aggravating his knee in Sunday’s loss. Combined with other receivers Jennings & James Jones (they go five men deep if you include tight end Jermichael Finley), the packer’s offense should be firing on all cylinders against the porous Vikings secondary.
The one ailing area in Green Bay’s team would be their offensive line, where the Packers have struggled to replace right tackle Bryan Bulaga since his week 9 injury against the Cardinals. Rodgers was sacked 51 times in 2012, ranking last. Fortunately for the Vikings, they have a clear advantage for their elite pass rush. Expect the Packers to respect Minnesota defensive end Everson Griffen; the former USC Trojan recorded three sacks in his team’s victory last week. Despite recording 12 sacks (a down year), DE Jared Allen had a fourth of his season total against their rivals. Green Bay tackles Marshall Newhouse and Don Barclay should be ready for a dogfight on Saturday; things could get dirty. Minnesota simulated almost three sacks and 1.2 turnovers; that number could be significantly higher if Green Bay controls the clock like they’re expected to.
I’m not expecting Saturday to be close; although the Vikings defeated their nemesis this past week, the Packers are too hot and have home-field advantage. Expect Adrian Peterson to have a huge game, but also expect the Green Bay secondary to pick apart Ponder and create multiple turnovers. Historically, even if they can’t protect him, Rodgers has put up huge numbers against the Vikings secondary. The Packers beat the spread and win 34-16.