My pessimism level is high for the game at Mall of America Field next Monday night. For two reasons: 1) the offensive line has looked bad, at times; and 2) the team really struggled in their game last season in Minnesota. But I'm coming around to the fact that it could be a heck of a game. Their last three meetings under the dome have been close, within one score. But what really turned me into an optimist was when looked at the stats.
I took a hard look at the stats available at Football Outsiders. Team passing ranks out of 32 teams:
|OL Pass Protect
|DL Pass Protect
|4 and 19
|20 and 38
According to FO, the 4th best WR so far this season is WR Donald Driver. Despite all the 50 yard catches by WR Greg Jennings (ranked No. 19 overall), Driver has outplayed him this season. The top two receivers for the Vikings are WR Percy Harvin (No. 20) and WR Sidney Rice (No. 38).
The Packers pass offense has done well, in large part because they've avoided any INTs this season, but the Vikings pass defense is very good and they've been getting after the QB. That is a bad matchup for the Packers, who currently are the worst team in the NFL at protecting the QB.
The same can be said for the Vikings. The Packers don't have as many sacks, but the Vikings aren't doing a good job at stopping the pass rush either. QB Brett Favre has been playing it safe in the passing attack, and he'll have to avoid taking any risks because the Packers' secondary has been very opportunistic this season. Both teams will struggle to pass the ball.
The analysis of the running game, and the rest of the preview, are after the jump.
More stats from Football Outsiders:
|OL Run Block
|DL Run Block
This might not make much sense at first. How can the Vikings be the No. 14 run offense when RB Adrian Peterson is the 5th best RB? How can the Packers be so much better when RB Ryan Grant is only the 17th best RB? The answer: Peterson is getting no help from his teammates. RB Chester Taylor is averaging only 2.4 yards/carry. Meanwhile, Rodgers has 88 yards rushing (5.9/carry avg.) and a TD. Also, FB John Kuhn ran for a TD on his only carry of the season. The Packers run defense has allowed two 100 yard rushers in their first three games, but that's still good enough for just below average. The Vikings will have some success against them, when they're handing the ball off to Peterson, but the Packers can be productive too despite the excellent Vikings run defense.
For an added edge, despite the blocked FG attempt that the 49ers returned for a TD last week, Football Outsiders currently has the Vikings ranked 2nd best on special teams. The Packers are way down at No. 26. The one thing both teams have in common is that they are among the worst when punting and on punt coverage. K Mason Crosby is ranked low right now due a missed PAT. For the Vikings, their strength is in the return game. WR Percy Harvin had a kickoff return for a TD last week, and WR Darius Reynaud is one of the best punt returners in the league, although he might be hobbled by a leg injury.
Neither team is an offensive juggernaut at the moment. The Packers offense has played better over the first three games, but the Vikings present the biggest defensive challenge they've faced so far this season. Still, it's hard to tell if the Vikings defense is really as good as their stats indicate. Their first three games were against three of the worst offenses in the NFL, and the best offensive player they've faced so far this season, RB Frank Gore, was injured on the first series of the game. Still, the Vikings offense could easily outplay the Packers, but only if Peterson carries the offense on his back.
The Packers offense is going to have to produce if they are going to win this game. No lead will be safe until the Packers score 30+ points. I'm still not overly optimistic, but there's no way I'm picking the Vikings. Packers 31, Vikings 27.