PACKERS FOOTBALL FRIDAY: Step Two

Years ago Vikings executive Lester Bagley envisioned the opening of this new US Bank Stadium.  He wanted everything to start off with an Adrian Peterson touchdown after breaking a Clay Matthews tackle.  The Vikings will get their chance, as underdogs, to open their new digs in just that manner.

Prior to the season, this game at Minnesota looked like the only contest in which the Packers would not be favored this season.  Green Bay (according to last season’s records) has a very favorable slate.  The preseason loss of Teddy Bridgewater may have changed all that.  The Vikings have since mortgaged their future for journeyman quarterback Sam Bradford, and there’s a question whether or not Bradford will be ready to go.

This is a big game for Green Bay as well.  The Packers could very well start their season 2-0.  On the road.  With the exception of last season, the Packers have made a habit of dominating at home and scraping by on the road.  If Green Bay can survive Jacksonville and Minnesota early, They just have Detroit and Chicago (considered pre-season to be the weakest two teams in the division) and Atlanta, Houston, Philadelphia, and Tennessee on the road schedule.  Not a 2016 playoff team among them.

A 2-0 start would be an excellent beginning to this season, but maybe even beyond that having a “W” in the ledger in the Minneapolis half of the “border battle” would be a key step for the rest of the season.

Why the Packers will win: same reason as last week, they’re the better team.  They also might be the healthier team.  Minnesota might be without Xavier Rhodes, Matt Kalil, and Shariff Floyd might not be able to go.  Green Bay is only worried about cornerback Sam Shields against a team that isn’t much of a threat to throw the ball.  Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs is a legit playmaker, but after that there isn’t much.  Minnesota’s receiving corps is a far cry from Jacksonville’s.

(Besides the quarterback position), the Packers are going to win this game in the trenches.  Minnesota has a very good defensive line, (and honestly a very talented front seven in general), going up against a strong, healthy Packers offensive line.  Where the Vikings will struggle is against an emerging Packers front seven that matches up very well against their weak offensive line.  Minnesota struggles at multiple spots on the line, and the addition of Alex Boone from San Francisco looks like a troubling one.

From a talent perspective, I don’t see much difference in Green Bay’s defense and the Tennessee defense that shut down Minnesota almost completely.  I don’t anticipate much of a difference in quality of play from Shaun Hill, (who completely understands Norv’s playbook) and Sam Bradford’s first game as a Viking.  Bradford won’t rescue that offense in one week. Minnesota just isn’t going to be able to score enough to keep up.

Why the Vikings will win: They are talented, and the game is in Minnesota.  It’s also the grand opening of a brand new swanky stadium and the energy level is high.  For what it’s worth, they’re also the defending division champions.  They’re capable of beating Green Bay.  It just happened in week 17 of the 2015 season.

I think it would take a superhuman effort from Adrian Peterson, who is now 31, to give the Vikings a chance to win this game.  Kyle Rudolph presents a matchup problem, and as I mentioned Stefon Diggs is a playmaker, but none of the other pass catchers worry me, considering how good the Packers secondary is (with or without Shields).  The worst match up for Green Bay remains Peterson.

Minnesota’s defense is capable of slowing the Packers down, but they’re also capable of giving up points to Aaron Rodgers.  Rodgers carries a higher passer rating against Minnesota than he does against any other opponent.  The Vikings, a well respected defense, have allowed 44, 42, 24, 30 and 13 points in the last five games against Rodgers.  That 13 point output was without Jordy Nelson and a completely re-shuffled offensive line.

It’s not likely that Minnesota wins, but it has happened before and it is possible.  The Vikings are only about a three point underdog.

Bottom Line: People probably give the Vikings a little too much credit for last season’s success.  Everything outside of a Rodgers injury that could go wrong for Green Bay a season ago, did.  Minnesota also played one of the easiest NFL schedules, especially on defense.  That lauded Vikings D was actually ranked 14th in DVOA by Football Outsiders and needs to make a big step to elite status to give a Shaun Hill/Sam Bradford led offense that is largely dependent on a 31 year old running back a chance to win.  If the Packers are truly one of the best two or three teams in the league (and the national media seems to think they are), they need to win this game against a Vikings team still in transition. Packers 31 Vikings 23

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Ross Uglem is a writer at PackersTalk.com. You can follow Ross on twitter at RossUglem

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