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Vikings/Packers: What a Difference One Loss Makes

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So, in case nobody has said anything about it thus far, apparently the Beloved Purple are making their annual pilgrimage to Green Bay this weekend to take on the Packers.  There's something different about this week's game, though. . .can't quite put my finger on what it is. . .

Oh, yeah. . .it's that guy on the right over there, isn't it?

It's pretty amazing how much the perception of the Minnesota Vikings seems to have changed after one loss to the defending world champions in their house.  If we take a look around the interwebs, six of the seven "experts" at The Sporting News have picked the Packers to beat the Vikings this weekend.  Five out of ESPN's eight prognosticators have also picked Green Bay to beat Minnesota.  Even the bloggers of SBNation have chosen the Packers to beat Minnesota this weekend, for crying out loud (and we should know better).  The folks in Las Vegas have. . .for entertainment purposes only. . .made the Packers a three-point favorite, although that means they consider the two teams to be even since home field is generally considered a three-point advantage.

Not to sound arrogant, but. . .did any of these people see the game that took place in Week 4 between these same two teams?

I know that I did.  I seem to remember the Vikings bouncing Aaron Rodgers off the turf like a super ball lots of times, Ryan Grant not doing very much, and most importantly the Vikings winning the football game.  Honestly, not a whole lot has changed in the three weeks since that took place.

Yes, the Packers got a week off, and then went out and beat the Lions and Browns by a combined score of 57-3.  Remember back in Week 3 or so when the experts out there said that everybody shouldn't get too excited about the Vikings "only" beating the Browns and Lions to open the season?  Also, one needs to keep in mind that the Packers faced the Lions at home without Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, and they also still managed to give up five sacks to a Detroit defense that was playing without their top three defensive linemen.  And, yes, I suppose that the Packers' 31-3 victory over the Browns is more impressive cosmetically than the Vikings' 34-20 win.  The starting defense still didn't give the Browns any touchdowns (they got one on a Josh Cribbs' punt return and one against the Vikings second-team defense after the game had long been decided).

Thus far over the course of the season, the Packers have beaten one team with a record of .500 or better.  That team was the Chicago Bears back in Week 1.  Point #1. . .they won that game against Chicago despite Jay Cutler throwing four interceptions (and hitting Packer defenders in the hands and/or chest many more times than that), and they still needed Nathan Vasher to fall down in coverage to eek out a last-minute victory.  Point #2. . .did any of you watch Bears/Bengals last week?  Man, that was a thrashing unlike anything I've seen in a while.  The Bears didn't look like they could beat the University of Cincinnati, let alone the Cincinnati Bengals.

Green Bay's other three victories this season?  Against the Lions, Browns, and Rams. . .the three teams that everyone said not to get too excited about the Vikings beating.  I'm sure that Green Bay fans could counter that by saying that we needed miracles to beat the Niners and Ravens.  But, hey, the Vikings won those games, and that's what counts.  I can't tell you the number of Bear and Packer fans I've heard complaining about how the Vikings "haven't played anybody," though.

The Packers are going to look a little different for this one, too.  They're currently down to three healthy receivers in Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and James Jones.  I realize the Vikings will (likely) be without Antoine Winfield, but after the play of the secondary last week in Pittsburgh (holding Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward to 3 catches for 62 yards, including just 1 for 3 for Ward), that doesn't sound quite as scary as one would have originally thought.  Tackle Chad Clifton is listed as doubtful, and his prospective replacement, rookie T.J. Lang, got pretty thoroughly eviscerated by Jared Allen a few weeks ago when he got his shot at him, including allowing Allen to record yet another safety on Rodgers.  Jermichael Finley, who torched the Vikings for 6 catches, 162 yards and a touchdown in Week 4?  Yeah. . .Packers' coach Mike McCarthy said he's a "long shot" to play this week.

And, unless the Packers have magically discovered a pass rush that works against teams with offensive lines that grade out better than "awful," they're still going to have a hard time getting to the quarterback.  Let's not forget. . .Brett Favre is 6-0 lifetime against teams that have either been coached by or had their defenses coordinated by the overrated Dom Capers.

Seriously. . .what's changed since Week 4?  Not a hell of a lot that I can see.

A Green Bay win this weekend turns the NFC North into a dogfight the rest of the way.  A Minnesota win should, essentially, lock up the NFC North for the Vikings.  Just like in investing, past performance is not always an indicator of future gains. . .but, if I were a betting man, I'd certainly go with history in this one.  Brett Favre owned Lambeau Field for sixteen years, and he should own it one more time this Sunday afternoon.