Drew Mahowald presents the 18th edition of the Skol Scale following the Minnesota Vikings’ Week 15 demolition of the Cincinnati Bengals to clinch an NFC North title.
Aaron Rodgers drops back to pass and feels the pocket collapsing around him. He finds a lane in which to escape the pocket, moving to his right.
Anthony Barr, assigned to spy on Rodgers, took off after the future Hall-of-Fame quarterback to either disrupt the play or even get a sack.
Just after Rodgers released his pass — which fell incomplete thanks to a drop by running back Ty Montgomery — Barr’s 6-foot-5, 260-pound frame wrapped up Rodgers and buried him in the U.S. Bank Stadium turf.
The hit was legal, and Barr was not disciplined by the NFL for the hit. Nonetheless, Rodgers wound up breaking the collarbone on his throwing shoulder — an injury that effectively ended his season and his team’s season.
The hit derailed Green Bay’s season. The Packers were officially eliminated from playoff contention on Monday night for the first time since 2008. Rodgers has been carrying that entire team to the playoffs for nearly a decade.
Barr’s hit on Rodgers is much more meaningful than just the injury to Rodgers or even the end of the Packers’ playoff hopes. That play represents a passing of the torch in the NFC North.
The Packers have ruled the division for the better part of two decades, thanks in large part to Brett Favre and Rodgers. The 2017 season has finally exposed the Packers for what they really are — a team that simply cannot compete without Hall of Fame quarterback talent.
Meanwhile, the Vikings have thrived all season despite losing their starting quarterback for the season and waiting on another to return from a horrific injury sustained over a year ago. Many critics will try to put an asterisk on Minnesota’s NFC North title this season due to the Rodgers injury. But heading into Week 16, the Vikings are 10-3 against teams other than the Packers — and it’s fair to assume at this point that Minnesota will defeat the Bears Week 17 to move to 11-3 in such games.
The Packers finished 10-6 in 2015 and 2016 and have not won more than 12 games in a season since 2011. It’s pretty bold to just assume the Packers would have won 12 or more games this season if Rodgers had stayed healthy. But, hey, the Packers fan base is pretty bold — at least that’s one way to describe it.
Minnesota’s success and Green Bay’s ineptitude this season in response to injuries has shed light on which team is ready to run the NFC North for the foreseeable future, and it’s not the Packers. The Vikings are legitimate Super Bowl contenders without their starting quarterback, starting running back and starting offensive tackles for major chunks of the season.
Mike Zimmer has instilled the most effective “Next Man Up” mindset in the NFL, and that mindset has his team geared up for several years of success.
Now to this week’s Skol Scale.
Eric Kendricks: This man was flying all over the field on Sunday against the Bengals. The pick six showed the former UCLA Bruin’s zone coverage instincts defending the middle of the field. However, his performance stopping the run cannot be forgotten. He was tearing through gaps like a mad man. It was arguably the best performance of the young career of Eric Kendricks.
Rhodes Closed: Andy Dalton was not comfortable all day thanks to Minnesota’s explosive pass rush (and Cincinnati’s weak pass protection), but his superstar receiver AJ Green was nonetheless blanketed all day. Xavier Rhodes shadowed Green most of the day and allowed just two receptions for 30 yards to Green. Rhodes has now shut down Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, Julio Jones and AJ Green this season. Not bad.
Reelin’ In The Sacks: Brian Robison tripled his season sack total on Sunday, bringing Dalton down twice to bring his 2017 total to three. The veteran defensive end still has plenty of gas left in the tank and continues to provide terrific rotational depth to Minnesota’s supremely talented defensive line.
Zimmer’s Revenge: Cincinnati inexplicably decided to stick with Marvin Lewis in 2014 instead of promoting Zimmer to head coach and, well, there’s a reason the Bengals are a complete dumpster fire right now. Zimmer took it to his old team, holding the Bengals to under 200 yards of offense. It’s difficult to comprehend why it took so long for Zimmer to earn a head coaching job, but it doesn’t suck that his first opportunity came with the Vikings.
Pass Protection: The pass protection wasn’t necessarily bad, but Minnesota’s offensive line was penalized more often than usual and seemingly allowed quicker pressure than in past weeks. Rashod Hill filled in for Riley Reiff at left tackle, and it’s apparent that Hill is more comfortable on the right side than on the left side. Reiff’s injury status will be very important to Minnesota’s success in January (and February).
Pro Bowl Snubs: Harrison Smith and Linval Joseph are arguably the most important players on the Vikings defense and were both left off the NFC Pro Bowl roster. The Pro Bowl is a joke, and it pains me to give the event this attention. But leaving Smith and Joseph out of the Pro Bowl is unforgivable.
Skol Scale Figure: 9.5
The Vikings are back up to 9.5 on the Skol Scale this week thanks to a complete obliteration of the Bengals and a clinching of the NFC North. After a tough loss on the road against a playoff team, Minnesota responded exactly how championship teams are supposed to.
Minnesota falls just short of the perfect 10 due to the home-field advantage scenarios in the playoff picture. Philadelphia has the No. 1 seed essentially locked up, while the Vikings will likely settle for the No. 2 seed. The Vikings will be a 10 on the Skol Scale after Week 17 if they can grab hold of the No. 1 seed and earn home-field advantage throughout the entire playoffs.
Up next for the Vikings is the Rodgers-less Packers. Green Bay has struggled all season without its Hall of Fame quarterback and that shouldn’t change on Saturday night.
Ticket prices for the Saturday night showdown are plummeting fast and it appears as if there will be as much purple as green in the Lambeau Field bleacher seats.
It’d be fun to see a ‘Skol’ chant erupt at Lambeau, just saying (yes, those of you attending the game on Saturday, I’m looking at you).
The Vikings can officially accept the torch with a domination of the Packers at their place this week. It’s fair to assume Zimmer’s team will be up to the challenge.
More Skol Scale Figures
10 AND 1
10-This team is going to the Super Bowl
1-They are going to burn down Lambeau
So actually…are we at 101?
101 also happens to be the total number of yards the Vikings will allow Saturday
Vikings 43, Packers 0
PS: BURN DOWN THE PRO BOWL pic.twitter.com/lQ3CwhSYyK
— Seth Toupal (@sethtoups) December 20, 2017
The Vikings should be the #1 seed on the NFC, but they aren't, so they failed + I don't want to be to optimistic cuz Vikings you know…
— Luke Rietjens (@luke_rietjens) December 20, 2017
I'm at an 8. NFC is pretty balanced, but if Vikes don't have to leave MN, it's on to SB!
— KCSkolfan23 (@pmramirez23) December 20, 2017
9. Amazingly tough and resilient team, but Keenum in first ever playoff game and Forbath make me worry
— Jeff Worden (@drummerguy22) December 20, 2017
My Packer loving brother says we're winning the NFC, he wouldn't say that if he wasn't scared of it happening. That puts me at at an 8.5 and I'm worried I've bought the hype. #skol
— Regular John (@JohnDN28) December 20, 2017
We may win it all. We may not. Either way, this is the most balanced, talented and likeable team I can remember and I don’t fear any other team in the league because of our defense, which is (amazingly) still underrated.
— ROCCO (@SkolBanger) December 20, 2017
Be sure to tune in to Episode 146 of the About the Labor podcast for more elite Vikings content.