It’s time for the second half of this year’s “Border Battles” with the Green Bay Packers, as our Minnesota Vikings will make the voyage on Sunday afternoon for their second-to-last game of the 2022 NFL regular season hoping to complete the sweep.
As we usually do, we sat down with one of the folks from the SB Nation site for this week’s opponent and attempted to get some intel about this week’s matchup. This time around, we swapped questions with Jon Meerdink from Acme Packing Company, SB Nation’s home for everything relating to the Packers. You can see the questions I answered for Jon right here, and here are the questions he was kind enough to answer for us.
1) The last time these two teams played, Justin Jefferson had a monster game (nine catches, 184 yards, two touchdowns). What do you anticipate the Packers might try to do differently to prevent that from happening again?
What I think they’ll do is probably nothing. Joe Barry runs one of the most static, unimaginative schemes in the NFL, and we saw the results of that scheme in Week 1. The intervening few months haven’t given us much reason to think he’ll try anything different against Jefferson in Week 17.
I’d like to see Jaire Alexander at least get a shot at working more against Jefferson, but I have a low degree of optimism that Barry will go that direction. He’s categorically opposed to shadowing opposing receivers, and head coach Matt LaFleur has been vocally supportive of Barry’s approach. I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see Jefferson running amok again.
2) It looked like Green Bay was dead and buried just a few weeks ago, but three straight wins have put them back onto the fringes of the playoff hunt. What are they doing now that they weren’t doing when they hit 4-8 on Thanksgiving weekend?
There are a few factors. For one, Christian Watson has finally arrived after spending all of training camp on the sideline and most of the first half of the season battling a variety of injuries. Since he’s found his feet, he’s shown every bit of the athletic promise that made him an intriguing prospect this spring.
The Packers’ offensive line has also been much healthier in the second half of the season. Until his appendix spontaneously ruptured, David Bakhtiari seemed to have finally shaken his knee issues and had mostly returned to his elite form. Elgton Jenkins has also benefitted from a return to his familiar left guard spot after starting the season at right tackle, and he’s also progressed further in his recovery from a torn ACL late last season.
Finally, there’s a less exciting reason that the Packers appear to be playing better: they’re playing bad teams. Yes, they beat the Cowboys, which was great, but since then they lost to the Titans, beat the under-talented Bears, a hollowed-out shell of the Rams, and the Dolphins with a concussed Tua Tagovailoa. To be sure, it’s good to win, but beating bad teams only makes you a playoff contender in the win column, not on the field.
3) Aaron Rodgers has not played up to his usual standards this season (which, to be fair, are incredibly high for someone coming off of back-to-back MVP awards). Has he turned a bit of a corner during this late stretch or is something still not quite right with him?
A little of both. Rodgers has not played well this season, even accounting for injuries to both his throwing hand and the offensive line ahead of him. He’s been better of late, but still nothing close to his last two seasons. The accuracy isn’t there on a down-to-down basis, he’s missing open receivers, and he doesn’t seem to feel comfortable with the young guys yet, at least not completely. There is a sizeable contingent that thinks he’s completely washed; I don’t know if I’d go that far, but he certainly hasn’t lived up to the massive contract extension he signed in the spring.
4) Give us one “under the radar” player on each side of the ball that you think will play a big role in the outcome of this one for the Packers.
On offense, fourth-round pick Zach Tom is worth a look. He’s an athletic if undersized offensive line prospect who has filled in all over the line this season. If David Bakhtiari is still hampered by his appendix on Sunday (what a weird, entirely true sentence), Tom will start at left tackle, and how he holds up against the Vikings’ pass rushers will be a big determining factor in this game.
On defense, I’d keep an eye on Devonte Wyatt. It’s weird to call a 2022 first-round pick an under-the-radar player, but that’s where we are at this point. His role so far this year has been very small, but defensive lineman Dean Lowry went on injured reserve this week after sustaining a calf injury in the last game, and Wyatt vacuumed up most of his snaps. He’ll probably play a lot again this week, and it’ll be interesting to see how he holds up to a heavy snap load for the first time this year.
5) Our friends at the DraftKings Sportsbook have a weekly special wager for this week’s game, with a bet that both Allen Lazard and Justin Jefferson go over 100 receiving yards sitting at +550. Would you take that bet? If not, which player do you think falls short (or do neither of them break 100)?
I would not, and it’s certainly not because of Jefferson. Don’t take this as me saying Lazard is bad, because he’s a perfectly useful player, but Lazard isn’t a big volume receiver. He has just four career 100-yard games and only one other game where he’s cracked 80 yards. He’s only broken the 100-yard barrier once in the last two seasons. Put me as a no for this particular prop.
Thanks again to Jon for taking the time to answer this week’s questions! We’ll bring you more on Sunday’s game as we get closer to kickoff.