Before the Week 11 tilt between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers, we Vikings fans were a hyped up bunch. Minnesota had just rattled off five consecutive victories and were about to host the reeling Packers, losers of three straight. The Vikings were suddenly leading the NFC North just over halfway through the season and we didn't really know how to handle ourselves. Like many fellow Vikings fans, I took full advantage of my bragging rights over the course of the week leading up to the game. And I mean full advantage. I went a little overboard, spending most of my preview going all in on trashing the Packers and (especially) their fans. The game (and possibly the division) were there for the taking; it was the Vikings' time to shine at home. Everyone in purple was amped to take down the 4-time defending division champions for the first time in six tries. We wanted it more.
Of course that didn't work out so well, did it? The Vikings looked too hyped up and couldn't get out of their own way. After 110 yards of penalties and disastrously executed game plans on both sides of the ball, the Packers waltzed out of TCF with a 30-13 victory and the normal NFC North pecking order restored.
The Vikings players and coaches have since admitted that they came out with too much enthusiasm for their first bout with Green Bay. They were too focused about what was at stake to consistently execute. Nerves and emotions got the better of them. The game became too big and they couldn't cope with it.
It's a different tune this week. Mike Zimmer isn't handing out any now-infamous "Beat Green Bay" t-shirts. The players seem to have a calm confidence about them. Because it isn't about who they're playing anymore; it's about how they're playing. The Vikings know if they mind their own business and execute like they have over the past few weeks, they can hang with any opponent in any venue.
Teddy Bridgewater reiterated the sentiment on Wednesday:
You can't let the game become too big...We know that we're playing for a lot right now but at the same point you just have to go out there and be ourselves. Don't have to do anything extra, don't have to put any S's on our chests, capes on our backs. We just have to do our job and do our job well.
So I'm going to follow suit for my Week 17 preview. As much as this game means on so many levels, there will be no taunting or name calling of the players or fans of that team to the east this time around. (Even though taunting and name calling is one of my favorite things to do.) Instead I'll just mind my own business and break down how the Vikings can claim the NFC North crown in the final game of the 2015 NFL regular season.
For starters, getting Adrian Peterson more than 15 touches would probably be a good idea. All Day certainly wasn't used all day in Week 11--he was on the field for only 39 snaps and was virtually invisible once things started getting out of hand in the second half. I'm not saying they should hand him the ball on every first down (the Vikings have run on 41 of their 47 first downs over the past two weeks) but they need to stick with him even if the Vikings fall behind early.
Jerick McKinnon should certainly continue to get looks as well. After his performances the past couple of weeks, the Packers will have to respect Jet's jets every time he's on the field. It doesn't necessarily have to be at the expense of AP either. Lining McKinnon up in the slot like they did on his negated touchdown last week should be a great way to keep the Green Bay defense on their heels and prevent them from relentlessly attacking Peterson and Bridgewater in the backfield.
Last time around it was the Vikings that were constantly kept guessing by the Green Bay defense; it's time to flip the script in Lambeau. Norv Turner needs to keep the decoys and misdirection coming in order to prevent a repeat of the beating they took in November. At TCF the Vikings looked confused by where the pressure was coming from which led to lots of broken plays and sacks.
To Dom Capers' credit (I can't believe I'm typing those words), much of the pressure was well-disguised and well-timed. But the Vikings played right into his hand by not getting the ball out of Teddy's hand quickly enough. Since then Turner has done a much better job of customizing the offense to prevent so many breakdowns in pass coverage. We should see a quicker and more varied passing attack from the Vikings Sunday night.
What doesn't need to be more varied is the success that Eddie Lacy has against the Vikings compared to every other team. For some reason Lacy has dominated the Vikings in the three years he has been in the NFL. Here are his career averages by opponent:
|Opponent||Games||Touches per game||Total yards per game||Touchdowns per game|
|All other teams||40||16.8||81.5||0.58|
That's downright ridiculous. Why does Lacy suddenly morph into the Round Mound of First Down when he faces the Vikings? Perhaps it's because Minnesota's usually sound tackling seems to go by the wayside whenever they face the big fella.
Hopefully they have learned by now that you don't bring down that kind of mass with arm tackles.
As crazy at it sounds, the Vikings' best bet on defense might be forcing Aaron Rodgers to wing it down the field. Pro Football Focus pointed out earlier this week that Rodgers has an NFL best 117.3 QB rating on screens, a play that Green Bay has killed Minnesota with since the Brett Favre to Dorsey Levens days. But on non-screens Rodgers' rating ranks only 23rd. The Vikings need to attack at the line of scrimmage but be careful not to over-pursue and allow screens and Rodgers scrambles. Oddly enough making one of the game's best passers stay in the pocket and launch long passes might be the way to beat him.
Especially if those long passes are to Davante Adams. Rodgers has a quarterback rating of over 100 this season when targeting his other two main receivers, Randall Cobb and James Jones. When targeting Adams, it falls all the way to 68.6. If you want to know how Green Bay fans feel about their second year wide receiver, just go to any Packers site and check the comments. It will make our opinions of Mike Wallace and Cordarrelle Patterson look like love affairs.
Even if Rodgers is able to connect on a few long passes, Bridgewater might be able to keep up with him this time. Teddy's throwing the ball much better over the past month. He hasn't made major changes in his approach or (admittedly kinda goofy) delivery, but he's doing the little things very well. Bridgewater did an excellent job with his eyes to throw the safety off on the touchdown to Kyle Rudolph and this long pass to Jarius Wright:
Insert whatever cliché you want here about Bridgewater: "he's starting to figure it out," "the game is slowing down for him in this offense," or maybe "playing well at the right time." They all work. However, nobody can complete passes on their back, and this game could likely come down to which quarterback can stay upright the longest. The formula to beat both the Packers and Vikings this season has actually been pretty simple: get to the quarterback often. Here's a breakdown of how many times the quarterbacks have been sacked in both teams' wins and losses:
|Team||Sacks allowed in wins||Sacks/game||Sacks allowed in losses||Sacks/game|
That's a pretty significant split. With all things being equal--which Vegas seems to believe since Green Bay is only getting the requisite 3 points for the home team in the spread--line play will likely decide the NFC North champion.
And yes, we should all want the NFC North title regardless of what the playoff scenarios tell us. I have heard way too many Vikings fans claiming that they would rather the Vikings lose this game to give them a chance at facing the Redskins in the playoffs instead of the Seahawks. I understand the logic--Washington is the best bad team from the NFC East and Seattle already came to town and destroyed the Vikings earlier this month. But be careful what you wish for. Washington has been coming on lately, especially at home where they went 6-2. Seattle might finish the season .500 on the road. Besides, do you really want Teddy playing on the surface where this happened?
Robert Griffin III shredded what was remaining of his knee in that playoff game because he had hurt it a few weeks earlier on that same field. It's also the field that claimed Peterson's ACL. FedEx Field has been a death trap for years, especially late in the season. Every time you cut on that turf you're practically running through a minefield. I'll take one last game at the friendly confines of TCF Stadium, opponent be damned. Seattle might be a bad matchup for the Vikings, but guess what? It's the playoffs. You're not going to get an easy opponent. I'd relish the chance for the Vikings to avenge their only two home losses of 2015 in back to back weeks, followed by the possibility of avenging their last road loss in the NFC Championship against Arizona.
Before the Revenge Tour can get underway, it has to start with a win in a building where the Vikings haven't won since 2009. And I think there is a pretty good chance of that happening. There are so many positive signs for Minnesota heading into this 111th Border Battle...yet I can't help feeling so very Minnesotan about the outcome. Remember, we liked our chances heading into the first Packer game too. I'm trying to remain positive about this game but the dread of this team letting me down at the worst moment is basically ingrained into my DNA at this point. Every time I talk myself into the Vikings taking care of business, that quarterback I love to hate ends up giving them the business. Rodgers has been nearly flawless against the Vikings in his career. That said, I certainly don't think Rodgers is playing flawlessly this season (he was only 16 for 34 in Week 11) and I certainly think the Vikings will be more formidable on Sunday night.
So formidable that I won't even mention that the Vikings are 1-16 in primetime games played outside of their home stadium since 2009. (Oh. Crap.)
I wish I could just warp to 11:00 PM Sunday night for a few seconds, assess how I feel, warp back to present time, and then plan accordingly. Unfortunately that isn't possible so I guess I'll just have to keep the faith and hope that the recent trends will continue. I have to trust that the Vikings will make the proper adjustments from Week 11, not beat themselves, and do just enough to break their three-year losing streak to Green Bay.
Because if the Vikings win the NFC North, we can finally start telling everyone else to mind their own business.
Vikings 27, Packers 24
For more on the Packers
And now for the rest of my Week 17 NFL picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):
Saints over FALCONS
Atlanta blew their wad last week and it might be Sean Payton's last chance to prove he's overrated with New Orleans.
BILLS over Jets
If Rex Ryan gets Buffalo to 8-8 and sweeps his old team, is that the franchise's greatest accomplishment this century? I'm not even being that sarcastic. Plus if New York wins and Pittsburgh doesn't get in, here are the possible starting quarterbacks in the AFC playoffs:
I don't know about you, but I'm not sure I want to watch that go down. Get Big Ben in the playoffs, Rex.
BEARS over Lions
Because you never bet against Detroit when last place is on the line.
BENGALS over Ravens
Steve Smith is already un-retiring? More like Stavre Smith am I right?
Steelers over BROWNS
Johnny Manziel is going through the "concussion protocol". Here is the play where Manziel may have sustained his "injury":
That's quite a self-inflicted shot to the head. Let that be a warning to all you young players out there: protect yourself. Don't drink and dab. Actually, never dab.
COWBOYS over Redskins
Washington has nothing to play for and I want to see Jerry Jones try to explain how sweeping the NFC East champions makes this season a success.
COLTS over Titans
A team that might start Josh Freeman--yes, THAT Josh Freeman, who most recently played in something called the FXFL and completed 9 of 16 for 32 yards, threw an interception, and fumbled FIVE TIMES in his first game--is favored by almost a touchdown. AFC South, you have officially hit rock bottom. It's time for an intervention. We're here because we love you and we just want to see you get better.
(Actually, on second thought, the Vikings play the AFC South next year. Never mind. Keep doing what you're doing, you crazy, terrible division.)
Patriots over DOLPHINS
New England is historically pretty bad in Miami. But the Dolphins are just historically bad in general this season.
GIANTS over Eagles
Is it possible for both teams to get booed of the field?
TEXANS over Jaguars
My Survivor Pool pick of the week, now on an amazing six game losing streak and 7-9 on the season. I'm almost as bad at picking a sure thing than the Browns in the draft.
BRONCOS over Chargers
Conspiracy theory: the Chargers fined Eric Weddle $10,000 for watching his daughter at halftime to make relocation seem less harsh. And since nobody really wants to talk about the Peyton Manning scandal, let's do the Gratuitous Picture of the Week instead.
CHIEFS over Raiders
If the Bills win the early game, Kansas City will have the 5 seed locked up no matter what and I reserve the right to change this pick. Because you never pick against Derek Carr in a meaningless game!
Rams over 49ERS
Out of all the 8-8 finishes that Jeff Fisher has had in his career, this may be his most impressive. Which is saying a lot because he has already finished 8-8 about 37 times.
CARDINALS over Seahawks
The only quarterback that took more hits than Russell Wilson's 13 last week? Aaron Rodgers against this Arizona defense. Rough Seattle up for us, OK Cards? Thanks!
PANTHERS over Buccaneers
Instead of making a snarky comment about my final (and very obvious) pick of the year, I would like to thank everyone for reading and following along with us this season. 2015 has been an incredibly fun year at Daily Norseman and I hope we can all make 2016 even better. Happy New Year everyone!
Last week: 10-6
Season so far: 150-92