The Vikings head to Lambeau in Week 17 and can help eliminate the Green Bay Packers from playoff contention. There are a ton of great matchups in this game that will have a Lambeau-playoff feel to it. Here’s what to watch for on New Year’s Day.
What To Watch: The 12:00 Scoreboard
First things first: let’s all take a quick look to see the outcome of the game between Philadelphia and New Orleans. Philly can lock up the number one seed in the NFC with a win, and as a fan, I cannot help myself. I will want to know if we are still playing for a chance at home-field advantage up until the Super Bowl, or if we are playing to end the post-season hopes of the Packers and to hang on to the two seed.
For the record, both scenarios should be sufficient for motivation. So, regardless of who wins the Saints-Eagles tilt, I want to see the Vikings remind the Packers who the better team is this year.
What To Watch: JJ To 2K
Justin Jefferson enters Week 17 needing just 244 receiving yards to hit 2,000 on the year. In a season where he has already set Vikings single-season records for receptions (123) and yards (1,756), it would be the icing on the cake for him to also become the first receiver in NFL history to hit the 2,000-yard milestone.
As the best active receiver in the game, it would be awesome for him to achieve this. Now, he will need game 17 to get to 2,000 (most likely, but he does already have 223 in a game this year), but it would still be an amazing feat. And for the record, I would not call it a “fluke” if it happened, either. For him to get these statistics in the clutch way he has helped the Vikings this season would be epic. Could it potentially mean some MVP votes too?
What To Watch: The Vikings’ Defense
The Vikings’ offense is not without flaws, but it has been much more consistent than the Vikings’ defense. The defense will be everyone’s focal point in the playoffs as well, so I want to see them continuing to improve. I wrote that I wanted the Vikings to hold the Colts under 400 yards in my Week 15 preview, and that is the mark I want them to shoot for.
It was hard to tell as the Colts had 36 on the scoreboard, but the defense played much better in that game. Last week, against the Giants, the defense allowed 445 total yards. While this wasn’t in keeping with my desire for improvement, they sacked Daniel Jones three times and forced two fumbles. This one by Brian Asamoah was great.
This play was going to be a big gain for the Giants, and this is what this Vikings’ defense has done all year; they have been opportunistic while giving up a lot of yards. So, I’m not sure my asking for less than 400 yards is enough. With each game being different, the improvement may have to simply be passing the eye test, and this defense still needs to improve.
What To Watch: The Vikings’ Defense In The Red Zone
The Packers’ offense ranks just 24th in touchdown percentage once in the red zone. Last week against the Dolphins, the Packers scored two touchdowns on five attempts in the red zone. With the way the Vikings’ defense plays, holding the Pack to field goal attempts is going to be huge.
This will be no small task for the Vikings, however, as they are much worse at preventing touchdowns in the red zone on the road. Overall, they are 16th in touchdowns allowed per red zone attempt, but their home and away splits are 44.83% and 75%, respectively. I’m not naive enough to think the Vikings will prevent Aaron Rodgers and the Packers from moving the ball, so we will need to be tough in the red zone on Sunday.
What To Watch: The Vikings’ Run Game
The Vikings rushed for 83 yards last week against the Giants, which is almost identical to the 82 yards that the Dolphins gained on the ground against the Packers. Both Green Bay and New York rank near the bottom of the league in rushing yards allowed, so again, I am calling for a more consistent run game.
I went back and watched a lot of the Packers-Dolphins game, and the Packers looked very susceptible to the run. The Dolphins got a little pass-happy at times, but they averaged over 4.5 yards per carry. The Vikings should look to have long, sustained drives in Green Bay, and to avoid any three-and-out streaks.
What To Watch: Mistake-Free Football
Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins had three consecutive drives end with interceptions in the fourth quarter against the Packers. And yet, the game was still a one-possession game due to the Packers settling for field goals.
Aaron Rodgers did throw one interception himself, but the team that made the fewest mistakes won the game in South Beach. This is typically the case, but especially such in this game, where the Vikings’ opponents are fighting for their playoff lives. Consider this the obligatory, obvious call for the Vikings to protect the football and continue to be on the positive side of the turnover margin.
What To Watch: December In Lambeau
Ah, there’s nothing like a meaningful game in December in Green Bay. As much as I despise the Packers, I love the setting of a cold, holiday afternoon on the frozen tundra. It’s Kirk Cousins versus Aaron Rodgers, Justin Jefferson versus Jaire Alexander, Kevin O’Connell verus Matt LaFleur, and of course the battle in the trenches which will see Za’Darius Smith hyped to go against his former team.
The weather is actually going to be mild for this time of year, with a high of 37 degrees, and a little bit of wind. It will probably drop below freezing throughout the course of the game, but the weather doesn’t look like it will affect the game much on Sunday. However, we’ll still probably see the players’ breath clouds as the two teams line up for each play, and it will remind us of how awesome NFC North football matchups can be.
An X-Factor For Both Teams
For the Packers, it is rookie linebacker Quay Walker. The Packers’ defense is full of big-name players, and I honestly do not have the statistics to back this up, but Walker is one of those players that always appears when I watch the Packers. He had eight total tackles in the Week One matchup, and I just have a hunch that he’ll be around every play making an impact. The Vikings would do well to make sure they respect his presence.
For the Vikings, I need to see center Austin Schlottmann and guard Ed Ingram play effectively. Their PFF scores are not good, and a lot of the pressure on Kirk this year has been up the gut. With center Garrett Bradbury out for his fourth straight game, I’m calling for solid interior offensive line play on New Year’s Day. This would do wonders for the Vikings’ offense on Sunday.
For the Vikings, two big absences will be center Garrett Bradbury and defensive lineman James Lynch. Schlottmann will need to be on his A-game, and Lynch is a valuable depth player that will be missed. The other two players on the injury report are Cam Dantzler, Sr. and Ezra Cleveland. Neither received an injury designation, and should be available.
On the Packers’ side, they have a number of questionable players, but only two that did not practice on Thursday: wide receiver Christian Watson and defensive back/return specialist Keisean Nixon. Both were hurt during the game against the Dolphins, and would be huge absences for the Packers on Sunday. At the time of writing, the full injury report still needs to be updated in regard to the Packers, so be sure to check later on Friday or Saturday for the final lists.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I am thoroughly enjoying being a fan of the team that already has a playoff spot locked up. That said, true joy comes from your team’s success, and less so from the failures of your rivals.
So while I will most definitely grin smugly if the Vikings help knock the Packers out of playoff contention on Sunday, I will be most happy because we will have won our 13th game of the season. I predict that the Vikings complete the season sweep of the Packers with a 31-24 victory at Lambeau. Yes, it will be another one-score game, but it will feel more comfortable, with the Packers getting to 24 on their last drive of the game when it has been out of reach.
Make sure you stay on Stadium Rant for more great insights as the NFL season heads into the playoffs!