Vikings. Packers. Lambeau. Christmas Eve. There was a 114% chance that this was going to be a holiday-themed preview. So let’s get right to it. I bring you "The Twelve Days of Vikesmas." (With corresponding gifs, naturally.)
On the twelfth day of Vikesmas, my true love gave to me:
TWELVE Rodgers retreating:
ELEVEN Smiths a-sniping:
TEN Linvals leaping:
NINE Griffens dancing:
EIGHT Bradford beatings:
SEVEN Sherels shimmying:
SIX-ty eight whiffing:
FIIIIIIIIVE AND OHHHH STARRRRRRT!
FOUR missed XPs:
THREE left tackles:
TWO Lions losses:
AAAANND ONE LAST FUMBLE FROM AP!!!
What a long, strange journey the 2016 season as been. I feel like I could do "The 112 Days of Vikesmas" and still have plenty of material to spare. Even after all the highs, all the lows, all the turmoil, all the turnover, all the injuries (both physical and emotional, both players and coaches), and the collective dump the team took right at midfield of US Bank Stadium last week, a small chance remains at the Christmas miracle of a Vikings playoff berth. All the Vikings need to do is go to Lambeau and take down the surging Packers, dispatch a suddenly feisty Bears team that already embarrassed them two months ago, and have no less than five games all go their way over the last two weeks of the regular season. Stranger things have happened, right?
Sure! Heck, this Vikings season alone has provided at least a dozen moments more shocking than overcoming their current 2.3% chance of making the playoffs. (For example: being so close to overcoming the 2.4% chance they had at MISSING the playoffs after their 5-0 start.) But first things first: how are the Vikings going to upset a Green Bay team that is 2⁄3 of the way to the Aaron Rodgers-prophesized running the table after their 4-6 start?
Well...just do what they did back in Week 2, right? Pressure Rodgers all day while sacking him five times, force four fumbles and pick off a pass, have Sam Bradford make several amazing throws downfield to Stefon Diggs while being hit, and then barely hold on down the stretch for the win. But this time do it on the road with an offensive line that’s even worse against a Packers team that’s on a four-game tear and playing their best football of the season. Simple enough!
We can normally assume that Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, Danielle Hunter and company will make things difficult for Rodgers. It’s what normally happens when these two teams face off. It’s what happened in Week 2. However, Green Bay’s offensive line has quietly improved throughout the year to become one of the league’s better units. (Yes, Vikings fans, it’s true. Apparently the concept of an "improving offensive line" is actually a thing and you aren’t required by league rules to remove offensive linemen every couple weeks Survivor style. Who knew?) They did a number on Seattle’s very formidable front seven two weeks ago.
Giving any quarterback that kind of time to find receivers is dangerous. Giving Aaron Rodgers that kind of time to find receivers is lethal. Left tackle David Bakhtiari has been especially impressive this season. After Josh Sitton departed to the Bears, most figured that the left side of the Packers line would struggle. That hasn’t been the case; Bakhtiari has excelled without a lot of help this year.
Another difference we’ll notice from the Week 2 matchup is Ty Montgomery in the backfield. The former wide receiver has seemed to figure out the whole running back thing over the past few weeks, which blossomed into a 16/162/2 performance last week against the Bears. It makes you wonder what the Vikings could accomplish with Cordarrelle Patterson next year if they add a couple competent blockers in the offseason.
Hopefully we won’t have to wonder what the Vikings will look like without Harrison Smith for a third straight week. If the Colts game wasn’t Exhibit A for why Harrison Smith is the MVP of this Vikings team, I don’t know what is. Anthony Harris actually didn’t have a terrible game overall, but his mistakes and miscommunication resulted in some game-changing big plays for the Colts. On top of being one of the best run-stopping safeties in the NFL, Smith’s ability to play center field and shut down the deep ball might be unmatched. To wit:
The #Vikings on deep passes with/without Harrison Smith— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) December 22, 2016
1 TD - 5 INTs, 24.7 passer rating with
2-0, 130.8 rating without#NextGenStats
Smith returned to practice on Thursday, which is promising. He’s the glue that keeps the defense together; if he can’t go on Saturday, everything might fall apart in a hurry.
Of course you can’t fall apart if you were never put together in the first place. At this point I think we can all agree that the Vikings offensive line and run game are kaput. If the Vikings do pull off the upset, it definitely won’t be via ground and pound. The seventh different starting O-line combination certainly wasn’t the charm against Indianapolis. Nor was the not-so-triumphant return of Adrian Peterson. AP ran the ball only six times before the game’s score rendered his services useless. Six carries is a small sample size, but Peterson looked like...well, a 31-year-old, two-down back that might have rushed back from a serious knee injury. We’re at the point where I don’t think his availability on Saturday will greatly effect the outcome of the game either way. If that isn’t enough to convince any remaining AP truthers that might still be out there, I encourage you to read Chris’ post about Peterson from Thursday morning. Peterson will always be one of my favorite Vikings players ever, regardless of the off-field messes. But I don’t see many scenarios where him remaining on the Vikings roster in 2017 makes sense for anyone involved.
Similarly, I don’t see many scenarios where the Vikings remain in playoff contention by about 3:15 on Saturday afternoon. I’ll be wishing for a Vikings win like the millions of tiny tots hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa’s sleigh on Saturday night, but the chances of either actually happening aren’t great. In the end I don’t think the Vikings will provide enough to resistance to Green Bay’s barnstorming toward an NFC North title that didn’t seem possible a month ago.
And you know what? That’s OK. The 2016 season had "just not our year" written all over it from the moment Teddy Bridgewater went down. Don’t allow another Vikings loss to ruin another holiday. Nobody really expects the Vikings to win, so treat any positives that happen at Lambeau like house money and let the negatives roll off your back. There’s always next season. Enjoy the holidays wherever you may be with as many loved ones as possible. After all, it’s just football.
(And remind me to read this paragraph back to myself when I’m inevitably Tweeting curse words by the dozen on Saturday afternoon.)
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Packers 24, Vikings 16
And now for the rest of my Week 16 NFL picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):
Giants over EAGLES
A surprisingly strong Giants defense is carrying the team while Eli Manning sputters through the regular season and lucks his way into just enough big plays to keep winning. Meanwhile, New England is plowing through the AFC on its way to another seemingly inevitable Super Bowl title. Hmm...this sounds familiar.
Falcons over PANTHERS
While Carolina looked pretty good in Washington last week and Atlanta might be a little overconfident after two easy
bye weeks wins over San Francisco and L.A., I can’t pick against the Falcons when they nearly hung 50 on the Panthers last time around.
BILLS over Dolphins
Because "we still haven’t made the playoffs this century, but at least we avoided another losing season and we’re probably starting over again with another new coach next year!" is about as good as it gets for Buffalo fans these days.
BEARS over Redskins
There are always one or two weird bad teams that get better at the end of the season and spoil the dreams of fringe playoff contenders. I think Washington might be playing two of them in a row. (Or this is just me hoping that the Bears get their upset out of the way before they play the Vikings next week.)
Chargers over BROWNS
My Survivor Pool pick of the week, now 13-2 on the season after the Falcons micturated all over the 49ers last week. I know, I know—sooooo many people are picking this to be the game that the Browns finally win. And it’s absolutely insane to have this Chargers team favored by six points on the road. But get this: over the past six games, Vegas has been giving Cleveland an average of just under nine points per game. THEY HAVEN’T EVEN COME CLOSE TO BEATING THE SPREAD. Do you know how hard that is to pull off? Maybe Cleveland is "due", but for now I’ll keep picking what has been the surest bet in sports this year.
Titans over JAGUARS
I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: I’m really glad the Vikings played Tennessee in Week 1 before they started figuring stuff out.
I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: I’m really sad the Vikings can’t play Jacksonville every week because they’re never going to figure stuff out.
PATRIOTS over Jets
This game is like the school bully telling the nerd exactly how many atomic wedgies he’s going to get at recess and the nerd knows there’s absolutely nothing he can do to prevent it.
Colts over RAIDERS
I know the Vikings made the Colts look waaaaay better than they actually are last week, but did anybody else catch how the Raiders took kneel-down snaps at the end of the San Diego game in shotgun? I have a weird feeling that Derek Carr’s finger injury is worse than they’re letting on and it’ll hurt Oakland at a crucial time this week.
RAMS over 49ers
If Oakland moves to Las Vegas next year, there won’t be any NFL teams left in California next year.
(Before you try to correct me in the comments section: that’s the joke.)
Buccaneers over SAINTS
The ultimate Vikings disappointment would be upsetting the Packers and then losing to the Bears in Week 17. But don’t underestimate upsetting the Packers and then watching the Bucs eliminate the Vikings just a few hours later anyway.
SEAHAWKS over Cardinals
An amazing running back having a great season squandered by a disappointing quarterback with the initials "C.P." Adrian Peterson feels your pain, David Johnson.
Bengals over TEXANS
"OOOOOHHHH YEAAAHHHH THIS IS MACHO MAN TOM SAVAGE, AND YOU GOT JEALOUS EYES BROCK OSWEILER. JEALOUS EYES! YOU CAN’T BEAT ME. YOU NEVER GAVE ME AN AFC SOUTH TITLE SHOT. IF YOU WANNA COME AT ME FOR THE STARTER’S BELT, I WILL BEAT YOU 1-2-3."
STEELERS over Ravens
Speaking of classic pro wrestling tropes, this could be a Loser Leaves Town match!
CHIEFS over Broncos
If the rest of this season is any indication, at the end of this game we’ll probably be saying "how the hell did Kansas City _______ that game?" Since they filled in the blank with "lose" last week, I’ll go with "win" this time around.
COWBOYS over Lions
We have already covered what would be the "most Vikings" way to end the season. But the "most Vikings AND Lions" way to end the season would be the Vikings winning this week, the Lions losing this week, the Vikings winning next week, and the Packers beating the Lions next week. End result: a three-way tie atop the NFC North. The Packers win the division. The Vikings and Lions miss the playoffs. (Detroit could still make it in if a few other results go their way, but let’s just roll with this particular doomsday scenario.)
Holy crap. That’s almost enough to make me switch my pick to the Vikings on Saturday.
Last week: 12-4
Season so far: 139-82-2