Several weeks ago, it appeared a near-certainty that the NFL would flex this game out of Sunday Night Football, but lo and behold, here we are with two weeks left and massive playoff implications on the line for both teams. If Green Bay loses, they are, for all intents and purposes, eliminated from the playoffs, as they would have just a 2% chance of making it. If the Green Bay Packers win against Minnesota and Chicago, they’ll have a near-lock at 94%. Minnesota sits in a similar position, with a loss leaving them at just 3%, and a win against Green Bay making it a true 50/50 toss-up, per the New York Times playoff simulator. Both teams have everything to play for, but could not be more different. So how do they compare?
The Packers have, once again, become a team driven by their passing offense. Despite a very shaky run earlier this season, Jordan Love is up to 9th in both DVOA, DYAR, and EPA-per-play. That has been buoyed by an eight-week run of Love being one of the NFL’s most efficient quarterbacks. Over the past half-season, Love ranks third in DAKOTA (which is an EPA and CPOE composite), behind only Brock Purdy and Dak Prescott. He ranks fourth in EPA-per-play and fourth in Ben Baldwin’s CPOE model at +4.1%. There were questions abound early on, but it’s looking more and more like Green Bay has found their answer at quarterback. It’s all the more impressive as he’s put this together with a rotating cast of characters as weapons. Aaron Jones has missed most of this time, and Christian Watson has been out for weeks, again. Luke Musgrave has missed extensive time. The list goes on and on, and yet, only a bit of a dud against New York is a blemish over the past couple of months. This good passing offense is going to run into a good and quite aggressive passing defense.
The Vikings, both over the past eight weeks and for the season, rank as a solid top-ten unit. Stylistically, the Vikings are very unique. No one blitzes more than they do with a blitz-rate of nearly 50%. The Vikings bring a lot of extra bodies, but they don’t actually generate pressure at a uniquely high rate, coming in at eleventh in pressure rate generated. They also do not generate a turnover rate that is much higher than league average, coming in at 13th in the league. Where the blitz-heaviness shows up is actually in their aDOT allowed, where they have the fifth-lowest in the league. By sending more players on the blitz, they are forcing offenses to get the ball out quickly and they’re relying on their secondary players to make tackles in the open field, and that has been a successful strategy so far this season. The most similar defense to what Minnesota runs is the New York Giants, whom Jordan Love did struggle more against. The Packers' season will quite literally rely on whether Love can be a bit more composed and more accurate in delivering the ball against Minnesota than he was against New York.
The Vikings' run defense has been solid, which has been plenty good enough to slow down the Packers’ rushing attack this season, though the return of Aaron Jones has helped a bit in that regard. Jones looked much better against Carolina, racking up 46 rushing yards over expected on his 21 carries, against an admittedly horrendous run defense. The challenge will be steeper this week, but a healthy Aaron Jones changes what the run game and the offense are capable of.
On the other side of the ball, the Packers' defense is just a mess. A disaster. They rank 28th in success rate allowed. Over the past three weeks, no team has been worse against the pass. Green Bay has allowed +.439 EPA-per-dropback, which is like if you took 2020 Aaron Rodgers and dropped 2023 Jordan Love on top of that. A truly apocalyptic level of pass defense. And this week they will face off against... a backup quarterback of some variety. It appears the Vikings are growing tired of the Nick Mullens chaos as well, as his constant turnovers have finally worn them thin. Josh Dobbs caught lightning in a bottle when he first came in, but then was so bad that he got benched. Jaren Hall was benched for Dobbs earlier this season. All three of these quarterbacks present different skill sets and challenges for a beleaguered and putrid defensive unit, but at what point does it not even matter? The Packers just let Bryce Young, who did not have a single game with a positive EPA-per-play this season, to post an efficiency akin to 2020 Aaron Rodgers against them. The defense cannot be relied upon to do anything.
While the Packers' run defense is nothing to write home about, it has actually become the strength of the defense simply by just being below-average across the board. Thankfully, the Vikings run game is one of the worst in the league, ranking 28th in rushing EPA-per-play. They are a solid twelfth in success rate, but there aren’t many big plays being generated here. Alexander Mattison ranks as one of the worst backs in the league in rushing yards over expected per carry, and is likely to get the majority of the carries this week. If the Packers can keep the Vikings behind the sticks and in third and medium to long, perhaps the pass rush, really the only part of the Packers defense that hasn’t played at a below-average level, can do enough to either generate turnovers or force a punt or two.
Because of how unreliable the defense is, this game will almost certainly come down to whether Jordan Love can carve up Brian Flores’ aggressive defense. After struggling against Wink Martindale’s Giants defense, this is a growth opportunity for the young quarterback. According to DraftKings, the Vikings are currently one-point favorites in this matchup. Playoff hopes are on the line, can the Packers’ first-year starter pull out yet another strong performance as a road underdog?