Heading into week 17, there are still playoff spots and division titles up for grabs. One division that is up for grabs is NFC North, between Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. Due to the Packers losing Sunday to Arizona Cardinals, and Vikings winning vs New York Giants, these two teams are going to play each other in a winner takes all matchup for NFC North title. The winner of the matchup takes the 3rd seed in the NFC, and a home game in Wildcard round. While the losing team has to play on the road in the wildcard round. The NFL changed the time of kickoff to 8.25 pm for Sunday night football. Here is a breakdown of each matchup, and prediction of who I think has the advantage in each matchup leading up to kickoff Sunday Night.
Packers have one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Aaron Rodgers. Even though he played poorly Sunday, Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the league for a reason. He has great arm strength in the pocket, he is good at throwing the ball downfield for deep passes. If Rodgers feel pressured, he can run out of the pocket for a good few yard run. Rodgers is the leader of the offense since Brett Farve left the team in 08. The offense has looked inconsistent the past few weeks, Rodgers plays a big part of that, with his offensive line as of late not protecting him with all the injuries the team has suffered this season. When the teams needs him in the clutch, Rodgers knows how to get the job done and win a game.
With the last pick of the first round in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Vikings took a risk on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who slipped in the draft. Heading into his second season, the risk of picking Bridgewater is paying off in a playoff birth right now. He is not be the same quarterback as Rodgers, but he is still a good quarterback. In only his second season, Bridgewater has shown that he can make big plays with his feet and his arm. He can throw the ball well, but when he is pressured he can run for a good few yards. In the past three games, Bridgewater and company has been playing good football. Riding on a two game winning streak, he has gone three straight games throwing six touchdowns with no interceptions. Already throwing for over 3000 yards this season, the sky is the limit for Bridgewater. He is still new to the league the guy can still get better. Passing does rank 31st in the league, but that is due to the lack of receivers that Bridgewater has to work with
Advantage: Both teams have franchise quarterbacks but right now, the advantage has to go to Aaron Rodgers. Everyone knows how good this guy is right now, with him throwing for over thirty touchdowns and ton of passing yards. Bridgewater still has to prove himself in the league, two seasons is not enough time to tell if Bridgewater is the type of quarterback that Rodgers is. Only time will tell, but right now Green Bay has the advantage over Minnesota at Quarterback.
Vikings Running Backs
The team has one of the best running backs in the league in Adrian Peterson. Just last season, Peterson was involved in a scandal and missed most of the season due to a suspension. Peterson did not miss a beat this season, proving that he still has the same speed and the same ability to make big plays. Running for over 1000 yards and double digit touchdowns. Peterson is a big reason for the teams success this season, and has been a vocal point of the offense since the team drafted him. If the team wants to win this weekend, the team needs to give the ball to Peterson. Giving him a good amount of carries, to make an impact during the game. Peterson is one of the best for a reason, he has great speed, good ability to make big plays. He uses his speed to has advantage, making defenders miss and finding a hole in the defense for a big run.
Packers Running Backs
Packers have a two headed running back committee with Eddie Lacy and James Starks, with Lacy leads the pack as the number one running back. A lot of people thought Lacy were going to have a big season, but that was not the case. With him not rushing over 1000 yards yet this season, and sharing snaps with Starks does not help at all. Since Lacy has been inconsistent this season, leading towards getting benched for Starks in a game or two this season. In the past few weeks, Lacy has been well. Maybe getting benched for Starks, made him play better to get back the starting job. Packers are not a running team, the team is known for passing. Do not look past the running game, since it could turn it on at any time during the season. This game would be the perfect time for the running backs of the Packers to have a big game, to get some pressure off Rodgers and the rest of the wide receivers.
Advantage: It is a no brainer here, Peterson is ten times better then the running back committee of Lacy and Starks. Peterson has proven that he is one of the best running backs in the league, season after season since entering the league. Last season was an off year, since he was suspended. That did not slow him down one bit. Packers running game is average, but it is no where close to being as good as Peterson. Right now Vikings have the advantage at the running game over Packers.
Packers Wide Receivers
The receiving core took a big blow during the preseason, when star wide receiver Jordy Nelson suffered a torn ACL ending his season. The team has filled that void with solid numbers from receivers like Randall Cobb, who has six touchdown receptions this season and James Jones who has eight touchdown receptions. Sure the team does not have the deep threat number one target like Nelson this season, but the wide receivers right now has not been doing bad during his absence this season. The receiving core has to produce good numbers this weekend, if the Packers want to win this game and take the NFC North. It helps when the team has a great quarterback like Rodgers to throw them the ball.
Vikings Wide Receivers
The receiving core is not as impressive as Packers receiving core, but it has potential to do damage with players like Mike Wallace and Stefon Digs. These two combine for six touchdowns, not a lot of good productions combined from the two this season. Digs had a couple of games this season where he went on a hot streak, but during the past few games Digs has been quiet. Vikings receiving core really has to have a really big performance, if the team wants to win this game and take the NFC North.
Advantage: Cobb and Jones have combined for double digit touchdown receptions. Which is a lot better production then what Wallace and Digs has been producing this season. It helps that Cobb and Jones have Rodgers as the starting quarterback, but that does not take away that these two has been great season. Outside of these two the team still have a solid receiver in Davante Adams, who has been putting up good solid numbers this season. Packers have the advantage over Vikings in the wide receiver spot.
With a good defense, ranking 9th in passing, 19th in rushing, 9th in sacks, and allowing 19.3 points per game. Vikings main strength are where it counts, the team is good at stopping the passing game. Which will be really important with Rodgers being one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Getting after Rodgers and pressuring him, will be something the defense has to focus on. If the defense can pressure Rodgers, and cause him to make mistakes then the team will have a great chance at winning. Look for Everson Griffin and Eric Kendricks, two of the best players on defense. To get after the quarterback and take advantage of the Packers offensive struggles that the team has shown the past few weeks.
Ranking 13th in passing, 21st in rushing, 7th in sacks, and allowing 20.2 points per game. Stopping the run is something the team has struggled with this season. The defense has to come up big in stopping the run this weekend, with Peterson being one of the best running backs in the league and can break out a big run anytime during the game. Keeping the guy in check, will be the main target for the defense this weekend in order to win NFC North. If the team can keep this guy under 120 yards rushing, then the team will have a good chance of winning this weekend. Look for players like Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers to go after Peterson attempting to stop the run.
Advantage: Tough to say here, but Vikings but not by a lot. The team is better in pass defense, rushing defense, and allowing lower points per game then Packers. Both teams have good defenses, so it is a really close one to call right now. For right now, Vikings got the advantage in the better defense then Packers.
What To Watch For
Teddy Bridgewater and Vikings Offensive Line vs Aaron Rodgers and Packers Offensive Line.
Rodgers and Bridgewater are two different style of quarterbacks. One thing that is the same about the both of these guys, is the offensive line for both teams has been awful this season. Allowing teams to sack Rodgers 41 times and Bridgewater 41 times as well. So both offensive lines has to be playing at top level this weekend, to keep the quarterback from getting sacked and getting pressured. The quarterback that has the better offensive line during the game, will have the better chance of winning the game then the other.