I did say last week that if the Packers found a way to lose to the Lions at home, I was going to panic. They did, and I am. The Lions aren’t a good team. The Packers are supposed to beat every team at home, especially the bad ones. That’s how the franchise is built. That’s the program. You sweep your home games and split the road games. That’s 12-4. You get to play home games in the playoffs when you are 12-4. When you have the aforementioned home field advantage you win those games. It’s a hell of a formula.
Not only that but somehow the Minnesota Vikings have won five consecutive games. I didn’t think the Vikings were going to be bad this season. I picked them to go 9-7. Football Outsiders actually has them a little worse than that. Minnesota is currently 19th in DVOA. All things being equal that’s an 8-8 or 7-9 team. All things are not equal and the Vikings have played the second easiest schedule in the league. That doesn’t mean that they’re bad, they’re probably just not quite this good.
The problem is that this five game winning streak from Minnesota, and the three game losing streak from Green Bay has put the Vikings in first place in the NFC North. Boy do Vikings fans not handle success well. The way the schedule works this year the first Vikings/Packers game is in Minnesota. It’s a big one.
If Green Bay wins, they right the ship and move back into first and grab the tiebreaker. Given that Minnesota is very unlikely to win in Green Bay in January it would put the Vikings in a tough spot. If Minnesota wins they’re two games up on Green Bay and they would hold the tiebreaker. Green Bay would then need to get themselves in a position to make the week 17 game matter.
Why the Packers will win: Top to bottom the Packers still have a better team. Both DVOA and film study would tell you that. This is also kind of a must-win game. I’d much rather have Mike McCarthy and his 3 NFC Championship game, Super Bowl Champion resume in a big game situation than Zimmer. Zimmer’s a very good coach but the best team he’s ever beaten as a head coach was either the Raiders last week (4-5), the Rams recently (4-5) or last year’s Panthers (7-8-1).
Green Bay is 9-1-1 in their last 11 against Minnesota. Not having Adrian Peterson last year isn’t an excuse, either. He’s been involved in a LOT of losses to the Packers, often rushing for huge yardage totals in losing efforts. A lot is made of Zimmer’s defense and what it does to Aaron Rodgers but Green Bay scored 66 points on Zimmer in two games just a season ago.
Why the Vikings will win: this isn’t that Packers team. This Packers team is a mess. Specifically this isn’t that Packers offense. If you would have asked me after the Chargers game, getting all those players back from injury what I thought of this game I’d have told you the Packers were 8-1 and would be picking them by 4-7 points. They aren’t. They’re 6-3. They’re sputtering. The team is turning on the media, the media is turning on the bloggers and the world seems to be falling down around us.
I don’t think that much of the Vikings. I really do think they have the talent and operation of roughly a 9-7 team. They’ve played an easy schedule, but winning is a skill. They stole a game from the Bears in Chicago. They beat the Rams in overtime. They are winning. Not losing. It seems simple, and it is. Rookie receiver Stefon Diggs is an exceptional player. He has a chance to be one of, if not the best value pick of the Spielman era.
The key for the Packers is either limiting Adrian Peterson or completely taking away the Vikings passing game. They’ve beaten the Vikings both ways. Peterson is having a fantastic season, leading the NFL in rushing by more than 200 yards. “AD” has shown a penchant for comeback seasons, playing exceptionally well in 2012 after tearing his ACL in 2011, and this year after being suspended for beating his son with a switch in 2014.
Bottom line: this is the first time this season that the Packers are underdogs. Normally I wouldn’t have a problem with that, but they way they have played since the bye I’m not picking them against a competent team. I’m damn sure not going to pick them on the road. No matter how little I think of the Vikings 7-2 record, you have to be at least a competent team to win 7 NFL games. Green Bay hasn’t done it yet.
Green Bay’s defense played well against Detroit and were unnecessarily stressed by a stretch of nine consecutive punts. The Vikings are 24th in offensive DVOA, and might be without left tackle Matt Kalil. Kalil isn’t a good player but he’s starting over somebody, and that somebody is going to have to play. I can’t see the Vikings scoring any more than 23 or 24 points. The problem is that against this version of the Vikings defense (though only 20th in DVOA because of their trash schedule) this version of the Packers offense probably won’t get there. Until I see the Packers play well I need to adjust my expectations. Packers 20 Vikings 23