Sunday, December 30, 2012

Season finale: Packers vs. Vikings preview

In week 17, the NFL regular season finale, the NFC North Division Champion Green Bay Packers travel across the Mississippi River to take on the Minnesota Vikings in the Humpty Dump. At stake for the Packers is nailing down the number two seed in the NFC playoffs and a first round bye. For the ViQueens, a win means -- in all likelihood -- getting the sixth seed in the playoffs. Do you think this game will be the gridiron equivalent of a cage match smackdown? Oh yes. Oh yes it will.

Keeping Peterson in check
In addition to the playoff implications, not only for the Packers and 'Queens but a few other teams as well, many will be watching today to see if Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson breaks Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, set in 1984. Peterson needs 208 yards to break the record. Recall that he ran for 210 yards against the Packers in their first meeting earlier in the month at Lambeau Field. He also ran for 212 yards on 24 carries in a win over the Rams on Dec. 16. Bottom line: Peterson has exceeded the yardage he needs today in two of his last four games. So, is it in the realm of possibility that he'll get the record? Definitely. Is it likely the Packers will let that happen? I don't think so. They don't want him to set the record against them.

But not wanting to let Peterson set the record against them and seeing to it that that doesn't happen are two different things. The Packers will have to tackle well -- something they haven't always done this season -- in order to keep Peterson from breaking off those big chunks of yardage he is known to get.

If the Packers at least keep Peterson somewhat in check, then the 'Queens will need QB Christian Ponder to play well. Ponder has been hot and cold this season...generally cold but seemingly warming up a bit as of late. The Pack will need a pass rush, good linebacker support and that tenacious secondary to play the way they did last week in the win versus the Titans. Granted, Minnesota is a far better team than Tennessee (all the more reason for the defense to step up big time), but if the defense plays the way it showed it was capable of last weekend, then the Packers offense can do what it does best: put more points on the scoreboard than the opponent.

The difference
The Packers have at least one key playmaker today they didn't have in the first game: the Claymaker...LB Clay Matthews. That will be huge for the Packers. And with WR and returner Randall Cobb likely sitting this game out with the ankle injury suffered last weekend, the Pack will gladly take the return of WR Jordy Nelson. Jeremy Ross will be assuming Cobb's return duties, at least on punts.

The Packers will also have Ryan Grant as part of the three-headed running attack along with Alex Green and DuJuan Harris. The running-back-by-committee approach is something that has served the Packers well late in the season. While the ViQueens' defensive front, led by Jared Allen, is one of the better ones in the division, the Packers' offensive line also seems to be getting into a groove in its new configuration. Having said that, if new starting center Evan Dietrich-Smith has difficulty today against the Minnesota front expect veteran Jeff Saturday to step back into the role.

The Prediction
Much, much more analysis could be given here. But time and the availability of that type of information elsewhere offers both you, the reader, and this writer the opportunity to forego that repetition.

The Packers are 3-1/2-point favorites today. That seems to be about right. This will in all likelihood be a tight game throughout. A key turnover, a blown coverage or a missed tackle by either side might well determine the final outcome. Oh, do I need to also mention a missed field goal? Unfortunately for both fans and the Packers, given K Mason Crosby's issues over the last couple months, we need to reference that as a possible factor in the final score, too.

We're calling it 27-24 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!