This Saturday, Christian Ponder and Aaron Rodgers will both be looking for their first career playoff victory at Lambeau Field.
The Vikes don’t have a chance, they got lucky, and they’re just happy to be there.
Don’t buy any of that.
What the Vikings have done the last month of the season has been nothing short of remarkable. I find it funny, in some ways, that everyone is looking at the Packers and calling them the ‘hot’ team heading into the playoffs.
That hot team just lost to this team that ‘ isn't supposed to be here’.
Over at Fox Sports, former Vikings offensive coordinator Brian Billick ranks the 12 teams in the playoffs, and not surprisingly, he has the Vikings at #12.
The Vikings have won their past four games and quarterback Christian Ponder is playing his best football of the season. Still, I think they are the worst team in the playoffs and will get exposed by the Packers at Lambeau Field — even with Adrian Peterson.
Hmmm, okay. Let’s see. The Vikings lost 23-14 at Lambeau back at the beginning of December, true. In that game, Christian Ponder couldn't hit air if he fell out of a plane, and he threw two interceptions in the Packers red zone. Aaron Rodgers also had a Jared Allen interception nullified on a Vikings penalty, which would've set the Vikings up deep in Green Bay territory.
And we all know what happened at the Metrodome this past Sunday.
But apparently, 409 rushing yards in two games against Green Bay really don’t matter to Mr. Billick, because of the Packers, his #3 playoff team, he says:
Saturday's NFC wild-card game will be the third time the Packers play the Vikings in six weeks. Green Bay will do some serious self-scouting and make the necessary adjustments to stop Adrian Peterson.
Yes, yes, let’s ignore recent history, to include a four game winning streak over the Bears, an improving Rams team on the road, the #2 AFC seed on the road, and our arch rival and NFC North division winner, and just go ahead make shit up to fit your narrative, shall we? Because all the adjustments and scheming they did to prepare for Peterson worked so well, he went from 210 yards rushing in the first game to…199.
Look, the Vikings have a tough draw, and I give all due respect to Green Bay. But it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think the Vikings could win this game. Let’s consider: Just last year, the New York Giants, a 9-7 team with as many flaws as the Vikings have, went into Lambeau and quite frankly dominated them, 37-20.
I’ll be the first to concede that Eli Manning was the star of that game, and his 330 yards passing and three TD passes were a big reason as to why they won, but that vaunted Packer offense, which was tops in the NFL in scoring with 35 points a game, was stonewalled. Rodgers only had 264 yards passing, was sacked 4 times, coughed up the ball on one of those sacks, and was also intercepted. In the Vikings victory against Green Bay on Sunday, Rodgers was hurried and harassed, and had a shaky first half. Not surprisingly, the Vikings jumped out to a 10 point lead. In the second half, Rodgers found his groove, but the Vikings offense counter punched every time Green Bay punched, and forced a key Rodgers turnover in the third quarter that lead to a TD.
The Minnesota Vikings can win this game; there is no doubt in my mind. A few things worry me about this game, though, and Christian Ponder is not one of them. Let’s discuss those first.
The Vikings, a team from Minnesota, fergodsakes, struggles outside in the elements. It is because of games like this, right here, that the Vikings should play outdoors, but I digress. Dome teams historically have a hard time in games played in the elements, and how they handle the weather will be a big factor Saturday night. The last time the Vikings went on the road and beat a team in weather conditions at 32 degrees or below were 2010, in the Tuesday night game against Philadelphia. Before that? The 2004 Wild Card playoff game against…Green Bay, in Lambeau.
Let’s talk injuries. We’ve all known for a long time that Antoine Winfield is the key guy for the Vikings secondary, and it was made painfully obvious Sunday. Tom Pelissero, the hardest working beat man in show business, told us as much in his film review of the Packers game over at 1500espn.com:
Rodgers repeatedly targeted CB Marcus Sherels, who replaced Winfield as the nickel and had almost every ball thrown to his side the rest of the way. Sherels ended up surrendering 123 yards on six completions, including a go ball to WR Jordy Nelson that went for 73. Sherels always competes, but he's no match for the way Rodgers can attack the middle of the field.
In the first half of that game, Rodgers was not all that good. He only had 82 yards net passing, was sacked twice, and at times seemed unsure of what the Vikings were doing coverage-wise. When Winfield went out midway through the second quarter, it’s no coincidence that Rodgers got hot, ending up with 365 yards passing and 4 TD’s. If Winfield can’t go, the Vikings will be in big trouble. Thankfully, though, defensive coordinator Alan Williams thinks Winfield will play, which would be HUGE for the Vikes.
On the flip side of that, both Randall Cobb and Charles Woodson will be back for Green Bay, and they will be at full strength. I thought the Vikings secondary had a matchup advantage last week until Winfield went out, but the return of Cobb could negate that. Again, with Cobb back, if Winfield can’t go, just be prepared for a long night.
Let's talk special teams, specifically Blair Walsh. A cold football doesn't travel is far in sub-freezing weather as a room temperature football indoors. Anytime the Vikings get to the opponents 40, essentially, they've got a better than average chance to come away with three points. I don’t think that will be the case Sunday. Had Sunday’s game been in Lambeau, I don’t think his first field goal has enough distance to clear the crossbar. No, the Vikings are going to have to get to at least the 30, I would think, to be assured of three points, and that could play a huge role this weekend.
The Vikings have a couple things going for them, though, make no mistake about that. For one, they can play the ‘nobody respects us’ card. It’s old, it’s trite, but by God, it works. It’s amazing how much mileage a team can get from a belief that no one thinks you should be where you are. Take Brian Billick’s comments, for example. I’m sure the ‘no respect’ card has been mentioned in the locker room more than once.
Secondly, the opponent isn't one the Vikings should be afraid of. The Packers are a good team, but they’re a beatable team. That was proven Sunday, and it was proven last year in the divisional playoffs, and going back to 2002, the Packers are a less than spectacular 2-5 at home in the playoffs. If the Vikings can pressure Aaron Rodgers and make his day miserable, the Vikings will win as long as Ponder doesn't reciprocate.
Finally, no team is hotter than the Vikings entering the playoffs, at least in the NFC. After dropping their first two divisional games coming out of the bye, the Vikings have won ugly (Bears), won impressively (Texans and Rams), and won dramatically (Packers). This is one of the more resilient Vikings teams in recent memory, and for once in my life, when they needed to make a run to make the playoffs, they did exactly what they had to. The four opponents they beat to get here were an ungodly 40-23-1, a winning percentage of .625.
I don’t care who you are, any team that can do that is a team that can play with anyone in the NFL, and has as good a chance as anybody.