The Vikings enter this contest as the number two seed in the NFC with an outside shot at the number one seed, while the Packers were on the brink of elimination a few weeks ago when sitting at 4-8. Following wins over the Bears, Rams, and Dolphins, the Packers are in the mix at 7-8, but need a win to stay alive. The Packers are 3.5-point favorites at home and look to avenge the 23-7 opening week loss to the Vikings on the road.
Aaron Rodgers Injury
News came out this week about a knee injury suffered by Aaron Rodgers last week in the Packers’ win over the Dolphins. He will play through it, as he did the broken thumb and rib injury this season. There is too much on the line for him to sit out. The Packers should get David Bakhtiari back in the lineup, while Aaron Jones and offensive linemen Elgton Jenkins and Yosh Nijman were back to practice. An injury of concern is to wide receiver Christian Watson, who hasn’t practiced after suffering a hip injury against the Dolphins.
In the first meeting between the teams, the Vikings got to Rodgers four times, but with a healthier offensive line this time around, protection should be much better. On the flip side, the Vikings offensive line has been porous, allowing 11 sacks to Kirk Cousins over the last two games.
Comparing the two teams statistically, the Vikings are 7th in scoring and the Packers are 18th. Defensively, the Vikings are 28th in points allowed, while the Packers are 17th. Minnesota’s point differential of +5 is the lowest of any 12-3 team since the merger, and 44 points less than the 2016 Raiders, who also started at 12-3. Keep an eye on the turnovers. The Vikings are +6 in turnover differential and the Packers are even.
Offensively for the Packers, Rodgers has thrown for 3331 yards and 24 touchdowns, but his 11 interceptions are his highest since 2010. When time to throw, he will look for Allen Lazard, Robert Tonyan, and Romeo Doubs, who have combined for 137 receptions and nine touchdowns. Aaron Jones, currently listed as questionable, could be a big factor. He has rushed for 962 yards and added 54 receptions and five touchdowns in the passing game. Should Jones be unable to go, look for an increased workload for AJ Dillon, who has rushed for 696 yards and six touchdowns this season.
For the Vikings, Cousins has thrown for 4117 yards and 27 touchdowns. The key for the Packers will be to get pressure on Cousins, who has thrown 11 interceptions and been sacked 44 times this season. Should he have time to throw, he will look for All-Pro Justin Jefferson, who has torched defenses for 1756 yards and eight touchdowns on 123 receptions. Adam Thielen has added 67 receptions for 692 yards and five touchdowns. On the ground, the Packers will need to stay disciplined up front to contain Dalvin Cook, who has rushed for 1109 yards and eight touchdowns.
Special teams could be a factor.
The Packers have a top returner in the NFL in Keisean Nixon, who has averaged 27.3 yards on 30 kickoff returns. Kicker Mason Crosby has connected on 20-of-23 tries, but his range is limited at this point, failing on both tries outside of 50 yards. The Vikings have their own threat returning kicks in Kene Nwangwu, averaging 26 yards per return include a 97-yarder for a touchdown. Kicker Greg Joseph has hit on 22-of-27, missing all five from beyond 50 yards.
Kickoff is at 4:25 PM on January 1 with the game airing on CBS.