After months of waiting, games that matter are finally here. The Packers season opener sends them straight into the fire with a key game on the road against rival Minnesota. It’s a new era for the Vikings, with new head coach Kevin O’Connell taking the helm. He brings with him the Ram’s growingly popular offense. They do return veteran quarterback Kurt Cousins and emerging star Justin Jefferson, so they have the offensive firepower to make some noise. The Packers will be looking to win several key matchups so they can start the season a quick 1-0 in the division.
Packers Tackles vs Vikings Edge Rushers
Easily one of the biggest question marks going into the season is the availability of Packers tackles David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins. Both are completing their recoveries from similar, albeit different knee injuries. At this time it’s unclear if either one will be able to play Sunday, although things are looking up for Bakhtiari to start. Unfortunately, the Packers start off with a tough matchup with Danielle Hunter and the familiar Za’Darius Smith.
Two extremely talented players offer a stern test for the Packers tackles. Pressure ruins any gameplan, and if Green Bay can’t contain the Vikings edge rushers, it will be a long week one for the Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense.
Justin Jefferson vs Jaire Alexander
One of the marquee matchups of week; Justin Jefferson lining up across from Jaire Alexander is must see TV. In the last game against the Vikings, with Alexander on the sideline, Jefferson had his way with the Packers, racking up 8 catches 169 yards and 2 touchdowns. Now the Packers have Alexander back. How well Alexander can shut down Jefferson will be a one of the defining factors determining who wins this game. It’s likely that the Vikings will test early to see if Alexander is up to the challenge. If Alexander can show that he can play Jefferson one on one early, then the Packers will not be forced to move coverage to bracket Jefferson, giving the Packers opportunities to thrive defensively.
Aaron Rodgers vs Harrison Smith
How Aaron Rodgers performs any game is going to be a key measure of victory. As he goes, so does the team. This season, he’s going to have to adapt to having new weapons across the offense. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get a lot of time to get settled before going against a defense with Harrison Smith in the secondary. Rodgers has had his share of struggles against roaming Smith, having thrown 5 interceptions to him.
Last season, Rodgers said that he’s the most difficult player to determine what he is doing on a play. That’s high praise for the Viking’s safety. To combat him, Rodgers is going to need to spread the ball around his pass catchers, meaning he will need to keep Smith off of his scent. This is trickier with the limited in-game reps he has had with most receivers on the Packers. Look for Rodgers to get multiple players involved early with a quick passing game to get into a rhythm before taking any deep shots downfield.
Jordan is a lifelong Packer fan who grew up in Idaho and now lives in Seattle, Washington. You can follow him on twitter at @jordantwolf.