The NFC North is essentially a two-team race, and the upcoming “Sunday Night Football” game will go a long way in determining the division winner. The Minnesota Vikings host the Green Bay Packers in Week 2, looking to upset one of the Super Bowl favorites.
Minnesota finished in first place last year, but their championship hopes took a significant hit when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a season-ending injury on Aug. 30. The Vikings will face arguably the NFL’s best quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, and it’s unknown if either Shaun Hill or Sam Bradford will start Sunday’s game under center for Minnesota.
After cruising to a victory in the season opener, it might not matter much who takes the snaps for the Vikings. Hoping to keep his choice secret until kickoff, head coach Mike Zimmer might not even let his team know if Hill or Bradford is getting the call.
“Typically I do [tell the players],” Zimmer said on a conference call with Green Bay media on Wednesday. “I did last week. I don’t know if I will this week or not because it started leaking. Usually I like to inform the team of everything that’s going on here and what I’m thinking, but I was a little disappointed that some of the things got out.”
Quarterback is by far the most important position in football, but the Vikings appear to be good enough to win without a star signal caller.
Not much was expected of Hill in Week 1, having been a backup for almost the entirety of his career. He was largely underwhelming, throwing zero touchdown passes and posting a 77.3 passer rating, which ranked 23rd among the 32 starters. Minnesota’s defense, which could be the NFL’s best, was absolutely dominant, leading the Vikings to a 25-16 road win against the Tennessee Titans.
Victories like the season opener were the norm for Minnesota a year ago. The Vikings went 11-5 without relying on stellar quarterback play. Bridgewater threw just 14 touchdowns in 2015, ranking 26th in the league.
Perhaps Bridgewater’s worst performance came in the season finale against the Packers. With the division title on the line, the quarterback threw for just 99 yards and an interception, posting a season-low 45.7 passer rating. Thanks to a stingy defense and a strong running game, Minnesota defeated Green Bay 17-10.
Sunday night could play out in similar fashion. Though Zimmer refuses to name a starter, Bradford is expected to be Minnesota’s quarterback just two weeks after being traded from the Philadelphia Eagles.
New to the team and Minnesota’s offensive system, it will be difficult for Bradford to put up big numbers. Limiting mistakes and managing the game could be enough, as running back Adrian Peterson and the defense take care of the rest.
The Vikings’ defense returned two turnovers for touchdowns in Week 1, something that won’t happen on Sunday. But Peterson had just 31 rushing yards on 19 carries, and that was an anomaly, as well. Only three teams allowed more yards per carry than Green Bay last season.
The Packers have the best Super Bowl odds of any NFC team, so it’s no surprise that they are 2.5-point favorites on the road at Las Vegas and online sportsbooks, via OddsShark. They looked far from unbeatable in Week 1, barely edging the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Minnesota needs to make sure it’s a low scoring game, likely below the over/under of 43.5 points, but they’ve got what it takes make a statement on national television.
Prediction: Minnesota 17, Green Bay 16