What to watch for in Packers-Vikings on 'MNF'

Print
  • By Adam Maya NFL.com
More Columns >

The Vikings and Packers are two of the best teams in the NFC. That just doesn't promise anything in 2019, where five of the six seeds are still undecided with just one week and one game left on the docket.

That game, Monday night's showdown between Green Bay and Minnesota, could decide the NFC North. The Packers claimed Round 1 all the way back in Week 2, when they built a three-touchdown lead and then had to hold on for dear life in a 21-16 home victory. It was emblematic of what's been going on lately in this rivalry. The two teams have split their past 11 meetings, which includes a tie.

This is only the second in the overall series, which Green Bay leads 60-53-3, in which both teams have at least 10 wins. So how will it play out in Minnesota? Let's look at some of the key storylines for possible answers.

Breaking down playoff scenarios


Green Bay (11-3), which has won three straight since getting blown out by the 49ers, can finish anywhere from the conference's top seed to sixth seed. If the Packers win out and the Seahawks beat the 49ers, the NFC goes through Lambeau. If G.B. falls to the Vikings (10-4) and then the Lions next week, its path to Miami begins and ends on the road. A win in either of the final two games or a Minnesota loss in Week 17 will give the Packers the division crown.

The Vikings clinched a playoff spot for the third time in six years under Mike Zimmer. The previous two occurrences include a division title. The only way Minnesota can win another one is by winning out and the Packers losing out. Otherwise, Minnesota will be a wild-card team along with whoever loses between the 49ers-Seahawks. Interestingly, the Vikings have beaten just one team currently with a winning record this season, the 8-7 Eagles. The Packers, though, have only two such wins themselves -- the Vikings and a Patrick Mahomes-less Chiefs squad.

Which quarterback is playing better?


It's shaping up to be Kirk Cousins' best season in his eight-year career. But he still has some demons to exorcise in prime time. He's lost all eight games he's started on Monday Night Football, which stands as the worst record for any QB with at least five starts. He's 7-14 in all prime-time games, although five of those wins have come at home.

Aaron Rodgers, for what it's worth, has won his past five starts on MNF. But after inserting himself into the early MVP conversation, he hasn't been quite as productive in the back half of the season. Since Week 9, Rodgers' completion percentage has dropped by five points and his passing yards per game by 100.7. This is in spite of the fact Davante Adams has been heating up since returning from a toe injury. The Packers' quest to establish a second viable receiver continues.

Still, Rodgers has thrown just two interceptions (compared to 25 touchdowns!) in what feels like another underappreciated campaign from the future Hall of Famer. He's gone 265 attempts without a turnover, which is the longest active streak.

Cousins has been comparably effective, posting a 25-5 TD:INT ratio through 14 games. Neither QB has been picked off on a deep throw (20-plus air yards). In fact, they rank first and second in passer rating on such attempts and have thrown eight touchdowns apiece. The Packers, it should be noted, have allowed the fourth-highest completion percentage on deep balls (43.4).

Grounding the run game


What the Packers can do, the Vikings can typically do better. Minnesota ranks higher in total offense, defense, scoring, rushing, third downs, sacks and big plays (20-plus yards) on both sides of the ball. On paper, this game would seem to favor the Vikings. Only Green Bay commits a few less turnovers and creates a few more than its Week 16 counterpart.

The X factor might be which team can run the ball. Aaron Jones' production has really varied from week to week, but he's one of just three players to rush for over 100 yards against the Vikings. Minnesota has surrendered the fewest rushing touchdowns in the league (5). Jones, of course, leads the NFL with 14 of them.

Conversely, the Vikings will be without Pro Bowler Dalvin Cook, who's sitting out with a chest/shoulder injury. He had accounted for the fourth-highest percentage of his team's yards from scrimmage coming into the weekend. Backup Alexander Mattison is also inactive so Mike Boone will be counted on to attack arguably Green Bay's biggest weakness. Its rush defense ranks 24th in the league.

They pack a 1-2 punch


Two of the league's better sack tandems will be taking the field at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Packers' Preston and Za'Darius Smith, and the Vikings' Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen entered Week 16 tied for the second-most QB takedowns among teammates with 21.5. Their efficiency is not equal, however. Green Bay pressures opposing quarterbacks at the second-highest rate in the league (32.2 percent of dropbacks). The Vikings, meanwhile, bring pressure on just 25.7 percent of dropbacks, the 20th-highest rate in the league.

The respective duos will be dealing with two of three QBs without an interception while under pressure (Derek Carr). Per NextGen Stats, Cousins' passer rating in these situations is third-best in the NFL. Rodgers' rating is No. 10, but he's also pressured just 19.6 percent of the time, which is the fourth-lowest mark in the league.

Will the Vikings ramp things up in front of their home fans? The numbers suggest they should.

Print