MINNEAPOLIS - NOVEMBER 21: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers is chased from the pocket by the Minnesota Vikings at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on November 21 2010 in Minneapolis Minnesota. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Despite the past history and close rivalry between the Green Bay Packers and the Vikings, and the back-and-forth nature of the rivalry (the Packers have a slight lead in the series all-time), I expect Sunday's game will look a lot like their two match-ups from last season.
The Vikings had a shot at beating the Packers in Lambeau last October, but Brett Favre had a horrible game with 3 INTs. Where the Vikings did their damage was on the ground as they rushed for 196 yards in part because the Packers were undermanned on the defensive line (Cullen Jenkins was held out at the last minute and Ryan Pickett was in for only a couple plays). In their game last November, the Vikings ran well again (5.2 ypc), but Brad Childress decided to have Favre throw 38 passes vs. 18 runs, and again Favre threw 3 INTs. The Packers had nearly the same total yards in both games (379 to 374) while scoring 28 points in Lambeau (one score on a pick-six) and 31 points at Minnesota. With Christian Ponder making his first career start on Sunday, it would be a wise decision to let Adrian Peterson carry the offensive load. However, their best chance to win would appear to be with a strong ground game anyway.
The Vikings are averaging 5.1 ypc as a team this season, but it's not necessarily because of Peterson (4.4 ypc). When they have utilized Percy Harvin in the running game, he's been dynamic (14 carries for 158 yards). Harvin also ran for a touchdown last October in Green Bay. While the Packers run defense is 5th in yards allowed, that's more of an indication that teams aren't running often (4.0 ypc allowed). Ponder is going to have to pass the ball, and throw it deep to keep the defense spread out. They can't win if the Packers aren't forced to respect the pass. But there is a danger here that the Packers won't be able to stop their running game. As good as the Packers offense has been this season, they've scored 27, 25, and 24 points over their last three games, they've relied on the defense to keep their last three opponents under 20 points.
This is a hard one to predict. Ponder has some issues with accuracy and inexperience that could keep their offense grounded. But if he can complete a couple big passes, he could open things up for a good ground game that the Packers have had trouble stopping. I'll keep my prediction optimistic, but I see some danger here. The Vikings secondary hasn't proven to be a shut down unit (87.2 QB rating allowed and only 6 INTs), and Aaron Rodgers is going to lead the pass offense on multiple scoring drives, even if the Packers have trouble against their run defense (3.5 ypc allowed).
Packers 27, Vikings 10.