Vikings Are Underdogs against GB. And That’s Ridiculous.

Vikings Are Underdogs against GB. And That’s Ridiculous.
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Minnesota is currently a 3.5-point underdog against Green Bay this week, and that is wrong. Sure, this is a road division game, and sure, Green Bay may be playing better of late, but 3.5-point underdogs? Come on, Vegas. Be real here.

I understand Green Bay is on a three-game win streak, Minnesota has won 4 out of 5, by the way –- and I understand that maybe Green Bay has figured out some stuff on offense and defense as the season has gone on. But this is a 12-3 team playing a 7-8 team. 

Let me repeat that. The Green Bay Packers are 7-8.

Vikings Are Underdogs against GB. And That’s Ridiculous.

Their three-game win streak –- directly preceded by a two-game skid that involved losing to a Tennessee Titans team that has not won since that game –- consists of a win over a dreadful Bears team, a win over an even worse Rams team featuring a QB who had been on the team for less than two weeks, and then when they finally played a real team in Miami, they were thoroughly outplayed until Tua Tagovailoa gift wrapped the game for Green Bay with interceptions on three straight possessions. Oh, and Tua was probably concussed at the end of that game, as after, he was put into concussion protocol.

Vikings Are Underdogs
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So these Packers were 4-8, and then they beat a QB who can’t throw or read defenses, another QB who had been on his team for 13 days, and finally, a QB with a significant brain injury. They did that, and now we are supposed to be afraid of them? No, I don’t think so.

Vegas has been right a lot during this Vikings season, but here they are wrong, and not only are they wrong — they are incredibly wrong, and here is why.

Vikings Own the Matchups

One point in favor of Minnesota that I didn’t even mention? They beat up this Packers team 23-7 in a Week 1 demolition that was not nearly as close as the score indicated -– whatever Packers fans and players may say. 

A lot of Packers fans –- and I think Vegas, too -– are just chalking that Week 1 game up to first-game jitters or lack of focus and preparation on the part of the Packers. 

But reductionary analysis forgets one crucial fact — the Vikings match up exceptionally well with this Packers team. Remember, this is a Vikings team that beat Green Bay in their only game with Kirk Cousins last season, and the Packers finished the year with a 13-4 record while Minnesota was just 8-9. 

That win was possible because of significant matchup advantages — ones that are even more pronounced now, with the growth of several key Vikings players and the addition of head coach Kevin O’Connell. 

Let’s explore these matchups in detail and explain why these Packers will be in serious trouble on New Year’s Day.

Vikings WRs vs. Packers CBs

This was the key matchup that allowed Minnesota to win in 2021, and the issue for Green Bay is Minnesota’s receivers – especially Jefferson –- have only improved since. While on the opposite note, Green Bay’s secondary has regressed significantly. 

Justin Jefferson torched the Green Bay Packers in Week 1 to the tune of 9 catches, 184 yards, and 2 touchdowns, just an incredible performance. But scarily for Green Bay, Jefferson has gotten better since Week 1, Kirk Cousins has improved since Week 1, and Kevin O’Connell has developed since Week 1. The scheme has evolved significantly since Week 1. Lastly, the Vikings have added the elite weapon that is TJ Hockenson in a midseason acquisition, and he has made this Vikings passing attack a significantly improved unit.

So, Packers nation can tout their improvements all they want. This Vikings passing attack has improved significantly since Week 1 and will be a primary reason Minnesota wins on Sunday. 

Vikings Pass Rush vs. Packers OL

Usually, when we think of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, we think of incredible pass protection, allowing Rodgers to sit in the pocket and pick apart defenses all day. But unfortunately for Green Bay, that has not been the case this season, as their offensive line has struggled significantly, due in part to injuries, but also players just not playing as well as they are used to.

Vikings Could Be without Key Defender in London
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Aaron Rodgers is having one of the worst seasons of his career, and a major reason is his offensive line just hasn’t been the same. They’ve been much more vulnerable than the unit he is used to playing behind, and that has taken adjusting for him.

This is not an ideal weakness for Green Bay since Minnesota boasts a fearsome pass rush headlined by Vikings superstars Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith. Hunter and Smith rank top 12 in PFF Grade for NFL EDGEs, an impressive feat. But it goes deeper than that. The Vikings rank 8th in the NFL in PFF pass-rush grade as a team and have multiple players among their LB core and secondary who are highly accomplished blitzers, skills that may be extremely useful in this upcoming game. 

Generally, blitzing Rodgers means hell for opposing defenses, but combine Green Bay’s offensive line struggles with Minnesota’s fearsome pass rush and blitzing skills, and blitzes may actually be advantageous for Minnesota — especially if you account for Green Bay’s weaknesses on the outside, which brings up the next matchup advantage for Minnesota.

Green Bay’s WRs vs. Minnesota’s Secondary

Now, this matchup isn’t like the other two matchups highlighted, where Minnesota has significant advantages that they can exploit. Instead, the key here is Green Bay’s wide receivers are likely not good enough to exploit Minnesota’s greatest weakness, a struggling secondary.

Minnesota’s cornerback group especially has struggled this season, allowing QBs like Andy Dalton, Teddy Bridgewater, Mac Jones, Mike White, Jared Goff, and most recently, Daniel Jones to put up some massive numbers through the air. But the good news for Minnesota is since they have switched to a more man-coverage-based scheme, the results have improved dramatically. 

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The key for Minnesota’s secondary is simply buying enough time for their fearsome pass rush to get home. When playing a zone-based defense, they allowed way too many free yards and easy completions, allowing opposing offenses to dink and dunk down the field on them, completely negating their pass rush.

But since, they have switched to a heavier-man system, they have had much more success, allowing fewer easy completions and forcing opposing QBs to hold the ball longer, and this will be a major factor in Green Bay.

The weakness of a lot of man coverage is it leaves your CBs susceptible to getting beat badly by teams with a skilled receiver core, but luckily for Minnesota, Green Bay does not fit the bill.

Yes, their receivers are better than they were earlier in the season, and yes, they have some pretty decent players. Christian Watson has improved dramatically as the season continues, and Romeo Doubs is having a very impressive rookie season. Paired with the steady veteran presences of Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard, this Packers WR group is a very solid unit.

But that’s all they are, solid. Watson is an athletic freak who can’t run routes, and he is their bona fide #1 threat that isn’t scaring anyone. This Packers team ranks a measly 22nd via PFF receiving grade, a far cry from where they were in the Jordy Nelson or Devante Adams days. Sadly for Green Bay, they simply lack the horses to test Minnesota’s secondary. 

Given Minnesota’s massive advantages elsewhere, that will be an issue for Green Bay in this crucial Week 17 matchup.

Minnesota Is Poised to Dominate

For all the reasons above, this border battle rematch between Minnesota and Green Bay will end similarly to the first match between these teams.

For the Vikings, 'Ugly' Works Just Fine
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Minnesota’s stars will flash early and often on both sides of the ball, and the Vikings will come away with only their second multi-score victory of the season. 

This game will be a higher-scoring affair than the first matchup since both offenses have improved a lot more than their respective defenses, and both QBs are playing at a very high level.

The final score here will be 31 – 21, with Minnesota torching Green Bay’s secondary through the air while holding Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense in check en route to a 13th victory, moving them ever closer to that crucial #2 seed. 

Bonus prediction: Justin Jefferson goes off again this week with over 150 receiving yards and sets himself up nicely for a shot at both Calvin Johnson’s NFL receiving yardage record and 2000 yards in Week 18 against the Chicago Bears.