2012 NFL Playoffs: Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings Preview and Pick
The Minnesota Vikings got into this year’s NFL Playoffs by edging out the Green Bay Packers in the week 17 season finale, 37-34. It took a last second field goal and 199 rushing yards from Adrian Peterson, but Minnesota did what it had to do, and it got into the playoffs.
Now they have to do it all again against the same team they narrowly beat a week ago, as they travel to Green Bay to take on the Packers at Lambeau Field.
The two teams split the season series this year, but both games were closely contested, arguably making for a hard-fought wild card game in cold weather. Let’s dive into this matchup with three keys to the game for both sides, along with a final prediction:
3 Keys For Vikings to Win
1. Adrian Peterson Ball
Green Bay is the healthiest it’s been all season in all respects, but that doesn’t mean they match up particularly well against a hungry Adrian Peterson. Not only has Peterson run for at least 199 yards against Green Bay in both games this year, but he’s the main source of Minnesota’s offense, so he and the Vikes won’t shy away from him getting the ball early and often.
The trouble with Peterson isn’t that he kills you on every play, but that he can do nothing for 15 straight plays and then make something out of nothing. And either way, the entire time he punishes the opposition for trying to contain him. As long as Peterson and the Vikings remain physical and consistent with their ground attack, this game should stay close.
2. Christian Ponder Needs to be at Least Average
Green Bay is going to do all they can to make Ponder beat them. That didn’t really work last week, as Ponder did actually beat them with three touchdowns, but he also opened things up for Peterson to run wild. Green Bay can’t afford to let that happen again, but then again, it may not be in their hands.
Everyone is calling for Ponder needing to step up and match Aaron Rodgers or something like it, but really, all he needs to do is not allow his late season progression to be a waste of time. If Ponder plays it cool and just takes what the defense gives him, he should give Peterson enough breathing room to keep running the ball, and he can take shots here and there as the game stays close. If he forces the issue, however, it could turn into a nightmare for the entire offense.
3. Vikings Defense Must Make Packers Run
The Vikings escaped a shootout last week, but nine times out of 10, the Packers win that battle. Add in that this game is on the road for Minnesota, and that fact rings even truer. Minnesota has the pass-rush to give Aaron Rodgers issues, and if they can keep him on his heels, it’ll force the Packers to try to be more balanced and run the ball. That doesn’t necessarily mean Minnesota will dominate Green Bay in suffocating their ground game, but it allows that possibility.
The Packers don’t have a stud runner like Minnesota does, and will instead lean on DeJuan Harris and a three-headed crop of fairly average runners. The Vikings have a better run defense than Green Bay right now, and could give the Packers a tough time if they snuff the rushing attack AND keep consistent pressure on Rodgers.
3 Keys For Packers to Win
1. Get up Early
The biggest key to this game for Green Bay is to get off to a hot start. Not only will an early 10-14 point lead get the hometown crowd fired up, but it will also likely force the Vikings to deviate from the gameplan a bit. Doing so could help prevent Adrian Peterson from crushing them, and could push Christian Ponder to do things he really doesn’t want to do. Ponder burned them last week, but if forced to try to keep up with a more potent Green Bay offense, he’s unlikely to keep up for two weeks in a row.
2. Run the Ball
Minnesota will actually want the Packers to have to run the ball, but the idea here is that Green Bay does so, but actually does it effectively. It won’t be playing into the hands of the Vikings if they get the ball rolling and their three-headed attack is fresh and productive. Not only does this wear the Vikings run defense down and help keep them off of Rodgers, but it also keeps Minnesota’s offense off the field. If Green Bay can beat the Vikings at their own game and sprinkle in some big plays, they won’t have much trouble in this one.
3. Expose Vikings Secondary
Running the ball and tiring out the Vikings is key, but Green Bay still has to shots down the field. They’re too talented and too explosive to dumb themselves down just to control the clock. Keeping the ball out of Peterson’s hands is key, but scoring points and putting further pressure on Ponder is pretty huge, as well. With Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings and Randall Cobb all healthy and active in this one, there’s no logical reason to think the Vikings can contain Green Bay’s passing offense.
I don’t think Ponder and co. can win another shootout like they did last week. They had a lot working in their favor with Peterson chasing the single-season rushing record and the team just trying to get into the playoffs. Unfortunately, they earned a playoff bid against the Packers at Lambeau, and that should spell bad news.
If they’re going to win, Peterson will probably need another day of 150+ rushing yards, and Christian Ponder will have too be nearly flawless. I can’t see both of those things happening for the second week in a row.
Packers win, 37-27.