The Division is on the line and 2016 will enter the Packer history books with either a major surge or the decline of a Super Bowl favorite. With the rapidly ascending Vikings coming into Lambeau, now could be a major step for the Pack to regain their mojo and start to look like the Super Bowl contenders that many predicted.
But as with every possibly bright spot with the Packers, there are some issues of concern. The offensive line continues to be banged up as each of the five starters was listed on the injury report and we await official word about the status of David Bakhtiari, who is now arguably the most important lineman after the debacle in Arizona. Also, the defensive line is nicked up as BJ Raji just started practicing again after his concussion and Mike Daniels is questionable. If they can’t play, this could get ugly.
And besides injuries, there is a major disconnect with this team. Something is just off about the chemistry of the Packers that is usually the envy of the NFL. Aaron Rodgers is struggling to trust his receivers, the running backs aren’t finding the holes that get created, and the linebackers aren’t communicating over the middle of the field. Time is running out rapidly for these to be improved even a little bit, let alone corrected. But there is still that time, which leads us to the final regular season version of 3…2…1…
For those of you who are new, please feel free to go into my archives to read past countdowns, and keep up with reading this series as the season goes on. For those who are consistent readers, feel free to skip down to the next subheading. But 3…2…1… is a series in which I will countdown ways for the Packers to win their game each week. I will highlight 3 key matchups, make 2 bold predictions, and then focus on 1 key stat. So let’s dive in.
3 KEY MATCHUPS
- Adrian Peterson vs Mike Pennel
- It’s been harped on for years, and it is no different in 2015. Defenses have to stop Adrian Peterson to be able to stop the Viking offense. He will likely be the rushing champion again this year but struggled against the Packers in Minnesota earlier this season. He will be facing a weakened defensive line featuring the likes of Letroy Guion and Datone Jones but Mike Pennel has really stepped his game up recently. He has been stout at the point of attack and has been able to bring down the ball carrier with better consistency. If he can penetrate the line he can be a serious factor in this game.
- Stefon Diggs vs Sam Shields/Damarious Randall
- I have Randall listed in case Shields suffer a setback but I am expecting to see Sam out there this week after missing the last two games with a concussion. Diggs has been a revelation for Minnesota after being drafted out of Maryland but he has been slowed down recently now that there is more game tape of him out there. And the talent of Shields will be a major advantage for the Packers. He matches up with Diggs in every way, from speed to strength as well as improved tackling. I expect Sam to shut down Diggs. Hopefully it spreads throughout the secondary.
- Blair Walsh vs Jeff Janis
- This one will be fun. Depending on the weather conditions, this could be the prototypical “field position wins” situation. It won’t be warm but it won’t be miserable either Sunday which could help the footing of the kickers and the returners. Walsh has been a good kicker in this league since he was drafted but at times he hasn’t been as strong on his kickoffs as you would expect. Janis always seems to be on the verge of taking one back, and while I don’t expect a touchdown, I do expect him to get a big return that will strike fear in the Vikings.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
- The Packers will outrush the Vikings by 50 yards
- This one is my riskiest as the Vikings have the best running back in football carrying the ball, but this is the final chance for Lacy and Starks to get their minds right and start playing like their talent dictates, and I expect them to have a strong performance. Combine that with my prediction that AP will be held to under 100 yards and I have no faith in Jerick McKinnon or Matt Asiata to do anything on the ground, it leads to a 170-120ish advantage for the Packers once you factor in Rodgers’ runs and the occasional Kuhn dive up the middle.
- The Viking receivers will catch less than 10 balls combined.
- The Vikings receivers have been disappointing outside of Diggs this season. From Charles Johnson to Mike Wallace, I have not been impressed at all by these guys, but Kyle Rudolph has re-emerged as a threat for the Vikings this year, which scares me. He should get the most targets, and rightfully so as he will likely be covered either by an overmatched linebacker, Jake Ryan, or Morgan Burnett. I don’t expect too many completed targets to receivers against a young, talented Packers secondary, but I expect a big game out of Rudolph.
1 KEY STAT
- Yards after first contact
- Tackling is key in the elements, and the Packers have been a failure the past couple weeks at that. They were almost unwatchable against Arizona when trying to take down David Johnson, and now they get Adrian Peterson. But if they can hold the gains to a minimum and negate any extra yards, that could bode well. And if they can do the opposite on offense, break tackles and fall forward like they did in the past, they can control the clock and win this game. Hopefully Lacy has got a new Hulk shirt because he HAS to get back to his tackle-breaking form early in this game.
Mike Wendlandt is originally from Iola, Wisconsin and graduated from Drake University in 2015 with a degree in History. With a significant journalism background both in writing and broadcasting, Mike can be heard as the play-by-play voice of Central Wisconsin High School sports on WDUX FM 92.7 and on Twitter @MikeWendlandt.
Mike Wendlandt is a writer covering the Green Bay Packers for PackersTalk.com.