My apologies for having been a little more scarce than normal this week, ladies and gentlemen. Had some "real world" stuff going on that's gotten in the way of things over the course of the past few days.
I'm probably not the only one that feels this way, but this whole week (as it relates to the Vikings) has just felt a little. . .weird. Everything says that fans of this team are supposed to feel confident going into Sunday's game at TCF Bank Stadium. . .and I am, don't get me wrong. . .but it still feels strange in any case.
Perhaps it has something to do with reading some of the other predictions on this game from around the internet. There's a not insignificant number of online pundits picking Green Bay in this one, even though
-a) Minnesota might have the NFL's best defense, and they're a better team at home
-b) The Vikings are one of the hottest teams in the league, and
-c) Green Bay has struggled as much over the past few weeks as they have any time in recent memory
A lot of the logic displayed by the experts making these picks seems to be along the lines of "Well, I know the Packers are having issues on offense and Aaron Rodgers looks like he's a bit off and their defense really doesn't stop anybody. . .but I'm certain that this is the week that they'll FIGURE IT ALL OUT!" It's no wonder that Mike Zimmer continues going back to the "nobody is impressed with what we've done" card. . .lord knows he gets enough fresh material along those lines every week.
On paper, everything in this match-up points to Minnesota. The Vikings' defense is playing at an incredibly high level, anchored largely by Linval Joseph up front and Harrison Smith in the secondary. Those two certainly aren't the only contributors on defense, but if you were to name a defensive MVP for this team, they'd probably be 1-2 in some fashion. They're taking on a Packers' offense that looks markedly different than it has in past years, and Aaron Rodgers has spent the last few weeks looking as bad as he's looked since the early part of his career. I haven't watched a lot of Green Bay football this year, but from what I have seen, it appears that defenses have finally figured out how to defend a Packers' offense that doesn't have Jordy Nelson as a part of it.
We've often heard about how Rodgers makes his receivers better, and he does, but the absence of Nelson has really thrown a wrench into Green Bay's offense. Teams are devoting more attention to Randall Cobb, and Cobb is not a #1 receiver. The Packers gave him a truckload of money to, essentially, be Nelson's sidekick, and Nelson's absence has shown why. Additionally, Davante Adams. . .who many expected to slide into Nelson's spot. . .has been relatively terrible by just about any metric this season. James Jones, who started the season as hot as anybody, has cooled down significantly. I'd expect that Cobb is going to see a lot of Captain Munnerlyn (who has been having a great year in his own right) on Sunday, with Jones and Adams matching up with Xavier Rhodes and Terence Newman. The Vikings should win those match-ups. Couple that with a front seven that has been killing it this year matching up with a struggling Green Bay offensive line, and it looks like the Vikings should have no issues with an offense that, last week, struggled to score against a less-than-stellar Detroit defense.
When the Vikings have the ball, they have the ultimate X-factor in this game in Adrian Peterson. Peterson is currently ahead of the pace he set in 2012, when he came nine yards short of setting a new NFL single season rushing record. He's coming off a 200-yard performance against the Raiders and, after knocking off some early season rust, appears to be ready to go off again. Peterson has had more success against the Packers than he's had against any team in his NFL career, and the Packers have once again struggled against the run this season, so he could be in line for another big afternoon.
In the passing game, as Arif went over in great detail earlier this week, the criticism of Teddy Bridgewater thus far has been relatively ridiculous. Yes, Bridgewater hasn't been putting up eye-popping numbers this season, and everyone can see that. However, Bridgewater is running one of the few NFL offenses that's centered around a player that isn't the quarterback. I think that if the Vikings' offense was centered around Bridgewater that he could put up the same sorts of numbers that his contemporaries like Derek Carr and Blake Bortles are. But, as long as Adrian Peterson is in a Vikings' uniform, the Minnesota offense isn't going to be centered around Teddy Bridgewater. As Mike Zimmer said earlier this week, Teddy Bridgewater hasn't been playing "okay" or acting as a "game manager." When the Vikings have needed Teddy Bridgewater to make a play this season, he's made them, whether with his arm or (increasingly) with his legs. What he has not been doing is killing this team with boneheaded plays or stupid throws. That's what this offense needs him to be right now, and that's what he'll continue to be this Sunday.
It's strange to feel confident about the Minnesota Vikings going into a game against the Green Bay Packers. But right now, I do. . .and, you know, it's something that I think I could get used to.
I'll go Vikings 27, Packers 17 to give our favorite football team as firm a grip on the NFC North as they've had in years.
How about you, folks? Who are you going with in this one?