Three months ago, I'd have totally believed you if you said the Packers/Vikings game in Week 12 would decide the 2013 NFL North race, or at least go a long way toward deciding it. Now, the Packers are hanging on to their season by a thread, while the Vikings' season ended the moment they decided adding a third quarterback would totally improve their problems at the position.
Alas, this is the way of the NFL, a league that's as much about surviving a war of attrition as actually compiling a good team. Both the Packers and Vikings have been decimated by injuries this year, and were they not such bitter rivals, could probably commiserate on their disappointing seasons so far.
But that bitter rivalry actually might be the only thing that keeps a little intrigue in this game. The Packers, as I've already mentioned, still technically have a shot at the playoffs. Should they beat the Vikings, then get Aaron Rodgers back for the Lions game on Thanksgiving, there's a real possibility they could be 7-5 in two weeks and back in the driver's seat for the NFC North crown.
The Vikings, of course, fully realize this and would no doubt love nothing more than to put one of the final nails in the coffin that holds the Packers' 2013 season. Throw in Greg Jennings' return to Lambeau and a motivated Adrian Peterson, who the Packers all but eliminated last time around, and this could actually end up being one of those rivalry games that defies the records of the teams involved.
We can only hope.
5 - Vikings players to record an interception this year, only two of whom are defensive backs and one of whom is going to play this week. Minnesota has invested heavily in its secondary in recent years, and that investment has yet to pay off. If the Packers are to maintain their ever-weakening hold on their hopes for a playoff berth, winning the battle of the air might be the best way to do it.
4 - Packers pass catchers to have a single play of 50 or more yards this year. If there's a strength to Scott Tolzien's game, it's his downfield passing, or at least it has been so far. And with Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and Jarrett Boykin all on the field Sunday, he'll have the men responsible for three of the four biggest Packers' passing plays of the year out there with him.
3 - Career seasons in which Jared Allen has had fewer than ten sacks, presuming that he doesn't reach that plateau this year. With six games to go and only five sacks under his belt, it's possible, perhaps even likely, that Allen won't get to ten sacks for the first time since 2006. That said, he's certainly a dangerous player, and with Don Barclay sidelined, he's likely going to knock heads with Marshall Newhouse this week. Let me repeat: Jared Allen will be squaring off with Marshall Newhouse this week. What I'm getting at is that Jared Allen, widely considered one of the better pass rushers of his era, will probably be matched up in what you'd call a "one on one" situation with Marshall Newhouse, widely considered to be barely an NFL player. Do you catch what I'm saying? Derek Sherrod is on the roster. That is all.
2 - Packers running backs with at least three rushing touchdowns (Eddie Lacy and James Starks), the first tandem of running backs to accomplish the feat since Ryan Grant and DeShawn Wynn did it in 2007. (John Kuhn and Brandon Jackson did it more recently in 2010, but Kuhn is technically a fullback.) If there's anything that can ease the pressure on Mr. Tolzien, it's a solid running game. Lacy and Starks haven't delivered the last two weeks, but perhaps this is the game that turns around.
1 - Passing touchdowns by Scott Tolzien. Look, I'm all for positivity, and I've exuded quite a bit of it talking about Scott Tolzien so far, but he's only been able to get the ball in the end zone once in the two games he's played. This has to change if the Packers are going to succeed. Will it?
Meet a Viking - Jared Allen - 6'6" 270 lbs. - DE - 10th NFL season
The veteran end out of Idaho State is still a formidable pass rushing force...it's just nobody has to pass all that much against the Vikings before they're way out in front and can just stick to running the ball. That, however, may not be the case this week. If the Packers struggle to move the ball, Allen may be able to have more chances at rushing the passer. If he does, he's going to be matched up against Marshall Newhouse, and you know all too well how I feel about that. Allen will be a man to watch this week.
The Vikings will win if...
...Adrian Peterson can be the clock chewing monster we know him to be. The Packers defense has struggled mightily to get off the field against good runners in the last three weeks, and Adrian Peterson is the most powerful runner there is. If he can perform anywhere near the level he did in his last regular season trip to Lambeau, the Packers will have all they can handle from the Vikings.
The Packers will win if...
...Scott Tolzien can establish air superiority. As we've already discussed, the Vikings' secondary is a work in progress at best and a dumpster fire at worst, and Aaron Rodgers sliced and diced it neatly and effortlessly when the Packers traveled to Minnesota. Tolzien is no Rodgers, but he has shown an ability to throw the deep ball and pile up the passing yards, so if he can make that happen against the Vikings on Sunday, the Packers might be that much closer to scoring their first victory in a month.
The Pick: Packers: 24 Vikings: 20
With all their injuries, I'm not sure the Packers are a markedly better team than the Vikings right now, but they might just not be quite as bad, especially at home. I am by no means confident in this pick, but it's hard to pick against the Packers at home, no matter how bad they've been playing.
Tweet of the Week
Brett Goode ponders a literary career...
...and Mason Crosby already wants someone to do his work for him.