For four straight years, the Green Bay Packers (6-3) have ruled the NFC North with an ever-tightening green, yellow, and white fist, smashing their three division rivals down with ceaseless offensive firepower. This year, that grip appears to be loosening and could even be ripped open by the Minnesota Vikings (7-2).
The Vikings have the chance to not only widen their one-game division lead in Sunday afternoon’s Week 11 matchup at TCF Bank Stadium, but can extend the Packers' three-game losing streak and keep them in the NFC wild-card race.
Off to its best start through nine games since 2009, Mike Zimmer's squad has won five straight (currently the second-best run in the entire league) with a gritty and highly ranked defense and the NFL’s best power running game with Adrian Peterson in tow.
Second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has made strides in the pocket this season, but Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have focused the offense around Peterson’s power running style.
The running back continued his comeback trail from suspension last season with 203 rushing yards and a score in the Vikings Week 10 30-14 victory over Oakland, upping his total for the season to 961 yards and setting a pace that would eclipse his 2,097-yard, MVP burst back in 2012. As a result Minnesota’s first in the league with 147.2 rushing yards per game.
The defense has stacked the both the middle of the defensive line and the backfield with linebacker and leading tackler Anthony Barr, rookie Eric Kendricks and defensive end Everson Griffen notching 9.5 combined sacks through nine games, and safety Harrison Barnes limiting big plays down field with only 25 plays of 20 or more yards getting past the Vikings secondary.
It would appear Minnesota has the proper mix of talent to overthrow Green Bay and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a solid pass rush with the defensive backs to cut off deep routes and a running back who’s already proved he can torch the Packers and their No. 23 rushing defense.
But odds makers aren’t completely ready to call an end to Green Bay’s run atop the division nor prematurely crown the Vikings the new kings, with neither side viewed as the favorite, according to consensus odds from VegasInsider.com.
Considering Green Bay just lost to a Detroit squad that had won just one of its previous eight games and hadn’t claimed a victory at Lambeau Field for a quarter century, the suggestion that the Packers are ripe for a downfall is certainly fair, but this is still a talented squad loaded with the kind of personnel that could make a quick turnaround and get back on track for the postseason.
For one, Rodgers' history against the Vikings can’t be cast aside. In 14 career games, Rodgers owns a 10-4 record and has completed 71.2 percent of his passes for 3,490 yards, 31 touchdowns to four interceptions, and a 119.0 passer rating, his highest against any division rival.
The 31-year-old has slipped of late, due in part to some uneven play from the offensive line and perhaps some curious decisions. But he’s also defeated Minnesota three straight times and hasn’t lost since 2012.
Rodgers has also dealt with injuries and inconsistent play from his running backs this season, and he’ll need much more from Eddie Lacy and James Starks against a Minnesota defense that’s just No. 15 in the league against the run.
Groin and ankle injuries have limited Lacy to 308 total yards and two touchdowns at a 3.7 yards per carry clip this season, far behind the two straight 1,000-plus yard seasons to open his career. While Starks leads the team with 376 rushing yards but has also dealt with injuries, and he’s averaged only 3.0 yards per carry during Green Bay’s losing streak.
Betting Line: With no current consensus, Pick’em
Over/Under: 45 points
Prediction: Minnesota over Green Bay, 24-20