It’s the holiday season, which means you’re probably busy emptying your bank account buying last minute gifts, preparing to endure infuriating travel to see family you can vaguely tolerate, and feeling extremely guilty after gorging yourself on that third plate of Christmas sweets. You’re busy. You’re tired. I get it.
Therefore, instead of giving you the usual long-winded gimmick to introduce my weekly preview article, I’m going to switch things up a bit. I’m making the whole thing a long-winded gimmick!
That’s right—for the second consecutive year, I’m butchering the 12 Days of Christmas to preview Vikings at Packers. Last year, I used the 12 days to count all the ways the Vikings season fell apart. Obviously that won’t work this time around. Instead, I’ll use each number to start a talking point about the game.
How will the Vikings, my true love, give to me their 12th win on Christmas? Let us literally count the ways.
The biggest talking point leading up to Saturday night’s game at Lambeau is the absence of Aaron Rodgers. After an injury in the first Vikings/Packers game sidelined him for months, Rodgers came back for the Week 15 game to try and salvage the season. It didn’t work. Rodgers looked rusty and couldn’t hide his team’s other flaws. The Packers lost to fall to 7-7 and get knocked out of playoff contention. Just before the Vikings/Packers rematch on Christmas weekend, Rodgers was shelved for the remainder of the season.
If that sounds familiar to Vikings fans, it should—it’s EXACTLY what happened with Adrian Peterson last year. Except of course for all the death threats from Vikings fans to the guy that legally tackled AP.
11 Rundgrens drumming...
Rodgers’ replacement, Brett Hundley, has had a pretty rough go of it in relief. Hundley has been especially shaky at home. In the four games he has started at Lambeau field, the Packers have scored a total of eleven touchdowns. Which means the Packer faithful have heard their touchdown song—Todd Rundgren’s “Bang The Drum All Day”—less than a dozen times with Hundley under center. And exactly zero of those eleven instances were the result of a Hundley touchdown pass.
While Hundley has run for two touchdowns at Lambeau this season, his home/road splits are ridiculously pronounced.
Brett Hundley home/road splits
|Venue||TD||INT||Comp %||Adj. Y/A||Yds/Game||QB rating|
|Venue||TD||INT||Comp %||Adj. Y/A||Yds/Game||QB rating|
You can create your own theory as to why Hundley has struggled so mightily at home this year. Either way, the difference is real.
10 Jords (not-)a-leaping...
If Jordy Nelson fails to find the end zone on Saturday, it will mark a ten-game scoreless streak for Green Bay’s star wide receiver. It would extend his longest touchdown drought in over seven years. Nelson’s last touchdown came in Week 4, which of course was the last game before Rodgers’ injury.
Throughout his career, Nelson has specialized at getting behind the defense for big plays. That isn’t exactly congruent with his current quarterback’s skill set.
Nelson actually had a decent game against the Vikings back in October with six catches for 60 yards on ten targets. The only problem: he hasn’t surpassed any of those totals in the eight games since. The Packers might be short at wide receiver—more on that in a bit—which means Nelson and Hundley will need to find some semblance of chemistry to improve their shaky passing attack.
9 Doms dancing...
If you want to rile up Packers fans, get them talking about Anthony Barr. If you want to see Packers fans really pissed off, get them talking about Dom Capers. Somehow, this is Capers’ ninth season in charge of the Green Bay defense. He has seemingly danced around a pink slip for about half of it. His current incarnation of incompetence is ranked 19th in defensive DVOA, which is actually one of the better rankings you’ll see when it comes to the Packers defense. The raw numbers aren’t nearly as kind. Green Bay is 26th in yards allowed, due in large part to having some of the worst per-drive stats in the league. The Packers are 29th or worse in time per drive, plays per drive, yards per drive, and points per drive allowed. As long as the Vikings take care of the ball, they should be able to control the clock and wear down the Green Bay D.
The Packers aren’t exactly starved for talent on defense either. Their front seven is littered with great players like Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Blake Martinez, and Nick Perry. Football Outsiders has them ranked 11th in both adjusted line yards and adjusted sack rate. It’s the back end of the defense that has been a mess. As Peter Bukowski of Acme Packing Company pointed out, opposing quarterbacks are having their way against the Capers defense this season.
This touchdown from Cam Newton to Greg Olsen last week is a good illustration of what’s going wrong for the Pack on defense. Ahmad Brooks makes Matt Kalil whiff (ahh, nostalgia) and gets to Newton almost immediately. But the play still results in a score because the secondary miscommunicates and leaves Olsen wide open.
It doesn’t appear that Capers is putting his players in the best position to win, which is a big part of why Capers is Public Enemy #1 (or maybe 1b to Barr’s 1a) in Green Bay. Brooks and Davon House were limited in Wednesday’s practice while Perry and Clay Matthews did not participate at all. If the Packers err on the side of caution with these injuries with their playoff hopes dashed, it could be a long day for their backups.
8 years a-milking...
Speaking of playoff hopes dashed, the Packers couldn’t milk the Aaron Rodgers cash cow for another postseason run. Their playoff streak is over at eight.
I don’t really have any analysis to add here. I just wanted to rub it in a bit.
7 seasons (not)-a-sweeping...
Speaking of streaks, seven seasons have passed since the Vikings last swept the Packers.
I don’t have any analysis to add to this one either. I just really want it to happen again.
6 pressures a-llowing...
As in Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari allowing a grand total of six quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. In 372 pass blocking snaps. He only played 34 snaps in the Week 6 game and obviously wasn’t 100% after missing the previous four games. He still absolutely stymied Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter when he was out there. Having Bakhtiari for the entire game will help the causes of Hundley, Jamaal Williams, and Aaron Jones. Unfortunately for Green Bay, Jahri Evans could miss the game and the rest of their offensive line hasn’t exactly been lights out. The Vikings defense should still have plenty of opportunities to confuse Hundley again with different pressure and coverage schemes.
5 Pro Bowl defenders!
It was great to see the Vikings’ outstanding defense recognized along with Adam Thielen. Griffen, Barr, Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith, and Linval Joesph were all very deserving of the honor.
WHAT?! You mean Smith and Joseph didn’t make it? How on God’s green Earth can a top-3 defensive tackle and the very best safety in the league not make it?! I know the Pro Bowl is largely pointless and arbitrary, but you still want to be recognized and get invited. Kinda like a party being thrown by a coworker you don’t really like.
(Feel free to your favorite “none of them will play in the Pro Bowl anyway because they’ll be busy” response here...but I’m not going to tempt fate like that.)
4 concussions preventing...
The cheap shot by Thomas Davis last week on Davante Adams marked the third major concussion of the past two years for the Packers wide receiver. Adams didn’t miss time after the first two and he seems steadfast on trying to play again this week. I really hope the Packers do the smart thing here and sit Adams regardless of how much he protests. He has a future and a contract extension to play for. As a Vikings fan, I’d rather compete against Adams for years to come than see him risk his long-term health in a game that doesn’t mean anything to his team.
3 OT wins...
While Packers fans are surely lamenting what could have been this season, let’s remember that they’re actually pretty fortunate to be 7-7 in the first place. Three of their seven victories were home overtime wins against teams with a combined record of 9-33. (The first one was with Rodgers too.) The Vikings beat those same three teams by a combined 61 points.
With their backup quarterback. And running backs.
Would the NFC North race have been closer with Rodgers in the picture? Of course. Would the Packers have won with Rodgers in the picture? I honestly don’t think so. The Vikings are still 10-3 in games where they didn’t knock the starting quarterback out of the game, and not even Rodgers could mask some of the other glaring problems Green Bay has had this season. Minnesota is the rightful King in the North.
2 seed locked up...
With a win on Saturday, the Vikings would take a huge step toward the all-important first round bye. No team has reached the Super Bowl without one in the past four postseasons. Regardless of what the final field looks like, the NFC bracket is going to be absolutely stacked this year. Better to have a couple teams taken out before you even take the field. All signs seem to be pointing to a Vikings victory, except maybe one.
...and kickoff at 1 degree!
It is going to be C-O-L-D at Lambeau on Saturday. Weather and rowdy Packer fans wearing their “liquid long johns” after a full day of tailgating can be great equalizers. The most dangerous thing you can do against a team with nothing to lose is give them something to play for. The longer the Vikings let the Packers hang around, the tougher it will be to put them away.
I still think the NFC North champs will leave the Green Bay faithful as bitter as the cold on Saturday night. Case Keenum is playing at a much higher level than he was nine weeks ago; I don’t think you can say the same about Hundley. Points should be tough to come by for a Green Bay team in the unfamiliar position of already looking ahead to next year. A few big plays from the Vikings on either side of the ball should nudge them along just fine.
The 2017 Vikings Holiday Redemption Tour continues. Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals.
Vikings 24, Packers 10
And now for the rest of my Week 16 picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):
RAVENS over Colts
My Survivor Pool pick of the week, now 11-4 on the season after not jinxing the Vikings last week. With home games against Indy and Cincy to end the season, Baltimore would really have to Flacco the bed to not make the playoffs.
SAINTS over Falcons
For playoff seeding rooting interests. (If the Saints win the NFC South, the Vikings get the 2 seed as long as they don’t lose out.) Also because the Saints are out for revenge from that Thursday night game and they aren’t coming off a short week where they barely squeaked by the Bucs.
PATRIOTS over Bills
Death, taxes, and the Patriots preventing the Bills from making the postseason in the 21st century.
BEARS over Browns
Cleveland’s last chance to avoid going 0-16 since they play at Pittsburgh in the finale...and I still can’t bring myself to pick them. Not even against a dead-man-walking coach that refuses to take the training wheels off his rookie quarterback.
Lions over BENGALS
This line is suspiciously low—Detroit is only favored by 5—but as we saw last week, the Bengals packed up and shipped off their season faster than Amazon Prime.
REDSKINS over Broncos
Since Washington beat Denver in the Super Bowl 30 years ago, I’m picking them to win the Lousy Team Trying to Finish the Season Strong Bowl.
Rams over TITANS
Once again, for playoff seeding rooting interests. (If the Rams finish 12-4, the Vikings get the 2 seed as long as they don’t lose out.) And also because the Titans suuuuuuuuuck and I don’t want to watch them on the Saturday afternoon Wild Card game.
CHIEFS over Dolphins
Maybe the 2017 Chiefs aren’t the 2016 Vikings after all. The 2017 Dolphins are still definitely the 2017 Dolphins though.
Chargers over JETS
The Chargers’ only chance at winning the AFC West now: I’m 4-10 picking Chiefs games this year.
PANTHERS over Buccaneers
I’m only on board with Diddy buying the Panthers if Mase is part of the ownership group.
49ERS over Jaguars
Sure, Blake Bortles is actually playing well lately and the Jags defense is world class...but Jimmy Garoppolo HAS NEVER LOST A START.
COWBOYS over Seahawks
Life comes at you fast, eh Seattle? Almost as fast as the pass rush on every Russell Wilson drop back.
CARDINALS over Giants
Fans of both teams will be much more concerned with what the hell they’re going to do at quarterback next year than the outcome of this game.
Steelers over TEXANS
“Oh yeah? Well, just wait til next year! We might actually be good then!”
—Texans fans after this game, probably
EAGLES over Raiders
Well, there’s always a chance of a Christmas miracle I guess...
Last week: 11-5
Season so far: 143-81