The tables are turned for this late-season game between the Vikings and the Green Bay Packers. In most years, the Packers have locked up the NFC North title by now while the Vikings are usually trying to overcome a season of wasted opportunities and somehow find a way to squeeze into the playoffs.
That’s certainly not the case this year because the Vikings have clinched the division, have an outside chance at the top seed and are fighting to hold on to the No. 2 seed. The Packers have won three games in a row and they are sniffing at the final NFC playoff spot, but they are still below .500.
Green Bay may desperate for a win when the two teams take the field at Lambeau on Sunday, but it will be anything but easy for them to defeat the Vikings. Aaron Rodgers is feeling the aging process in 2022 and he does not have the weapons he once did. The Packers used to be able to light up the scoreboard like an old-school pinball machine and easily outdistance opponents, but that is no longer the case.
Rodgers has become quite prone to missing his receivers, and that’s something that Patrick Peterson and Harrison Smith should be able to take advantage of. Rodgers has completed 318 of 491 passes for 3,331 yards with 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this season, and he has been sacked 29 times for 225 yards in losses.
The Green Bay quarterback used to be the type who could beat an opponent with his feet, but he has rushed for just 82 yards on 30 carries this season. Rodgers can dance away from the pass rush for a second or two, but that’s about it.
He no longer has the zip on his fastball, and that’s largely due to a thumb injury that he has been playing with the majority of the season. That thumb injury has regularly prevented him from hitting his receivers in stride on medium and deep routes. That accuracy used to be Rodgers’ greatest asset, but it is not something his team can count on any longer.
However the sight of the Vikings should bring about Rodgers’ best effort, and he compared the Green Bay-Minnesota rivalry favorably to the traditional Green Bay-Chicago battles.
"They've been a little bit better consistently since the [Brian] Urlacher crew kind of left Chicago,” Rodgers said. “Seemed to be a few more battles that had a lot more on the line, obviously when Mike Zimmer was there. Felt like we played a lot of big games when they got that defense rolling.”
The Packers are the only team the Vikings have defeated this season by more than one score. The Vikings won the season opener by a 23-7 margin at U.S. Bank Stadium, and that game set the tone for both teams this season.
After the Vikings scored early in the first quarter, the Packers had a chance to do the same when Rodgers found rookie wideout Christian Watson running a deep pattern with more than a step on the defense. The pass hit Watson right in the hands, but he dropped the ball and the Vikings were on their way to a 23-7 triumph.
The game is clearly important to both teams. Realistically, the Vikings want to hold off the 49ers and retain the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoff structure. That would allow them to play the No. 7 seed, which could be the Commanders, Seahawks, Giants or Lions. More than that, it would allow the Vikings to host the Niners if the seeds hold up and they meet in the divisional playoffs.
That would certainly be a better alternative than falling to third place and having to go to the Bay Area for the postseason matchup.
That motivation should be enough for the Vikings to come through with their best effort against their most difficult rival. The Vikings have not swept the season series from the Packers since 2017, and the Packers have regularly made the Vikings look silly in recent seasons.
This could be payback, as former Packer Za’Darius Smith is ready to assert his dominance as a pass rusher and Danielle Hunter is coming off his best game of the season. If both men are on their game, and the duo of Smith and Peterson can have an impact in the secondary, this game has a chance to get ugly and stay that way.
Green Bay needs the game, but Minnesota is the better team and the Vikings come away with a two-touchdown victory in this Week 17 game.