Monday Night Football Preview: Vikings at Packers

This monday night, the Minnesota Vikings will travel to Lambeau Field to take on the world champion Green Bay Packers. The Packers are going into the game as 13 point favorites. Here’s why the game will be closer than that:

Two weeks ago, the Packers beat the Vikings 33-27 at the Metrodome in Christian Ponder’s first ever NFL start. Starting with Ponder’s opening bomb to Devin Aromashodu, the Vikings played competitive football, and, in doing so, surprised me. When push came to shove, Aaron Rodgers and the Pack were able to squeak away with a win that was by no means guaranteed until the last minutes of the 4th quarter.

I think Monday night’s game will be closer. However, there are a few things that will be working against the Vikings. First off, they won’t be playing in the friendly confines of the Metrodome. They will be heading into the heart of Sconnie country. Expect a rowdy Monday night crowd amped up for a border battle. The already dominant Packers should be able to feed off the Green Bay crowd’s energy.

While it is going to be a hostile environment for the Vikings, the timing does work on their favor. It’s Monday Night Football. This is the only Monday night game that the Vikings are playing this year. Star players like Adrian Peterson perform the best under the brightest lights. Expect AP to be ready to run like a bull. Also, don’t discount the fact that the Vikings are coming off of their bye week. Not only have the players had the opportunity to rest up and nurse nagging injuries, but the coaching staff has had a full two weeks to game plan for the Packers. There are definitely some weaknesses that a well executed game plan can exploit.

First and foremost, Christian Ponder must exploit the Packer’s porous pass defense. Last week against San Diego, Green Bay’s secondary got beat numerous time when Philip Rivers had enough time to make a decent throw. When they last played, Ponder tossed a pair of interception. The good news is that these picks weren’t terrible throws or egregious decisions (like River’s three picks last week). On both interceptions, Ponder’s targeted receivers got undercut, and the corner back made smart plays to get to the ball. Expect Ponder to have learned from those mistakes. Also, Percy Harvin has been nursing a rib injury for the past few months. If he is fully prepared to play, expect him to make plays across the middle and open up the deep routes for Aromashadu. Expect to see Adrian Peterson involved in the passing game in the flats to alleviate some pressure on Ponder and the rest of the passing game. It is key to remember that the Vikings will not beat the Packers due to Christian Ponder’s arm. Ponder needs to manage the game and free up running space for AP. If Peterson isn’t looking at 8-man fronts all game, he can take over and help the Vikings put up the points necessary to keep pace with the Packer’s offense.

Look for Peterson to bust off some large runs

Speaking of the Packer’s offense, there is literally no hope of the Viking’s defense shutting them down. The Packers have one of the best offenses that I’ve ever seen. Aaron Rodgers and his cast of wide receivers have been carving up NFL defenses week in and week out. Rodgers was masterful against the Vikings two weeks ago, and it’s hard to envision a scenario where he isn’t again. There’s a few things working against him compared to last time though. The Vikings will have their top cornerback Antoine Winfield back in the lineup. He’s been out of the lineup for over a month, including the game against the Packers. Winfield will have to play at a high level to help the weak secondary contain Jennings, Finley, Nelson, et. al. The key to the Viking’s pass defense will be making sure that Rodgers doesn’t have the time to find his receivers open in space (they will most certainly be open in space). The key to this is Jared Allen. Allen has been playing inspired defense all season. If anyone is going to make a statement on defense in this game, it’s Allen. He leads the league in sacks and if he can consistently beat the Packer’s weak offensive line, Rodgers could be rushing throws. A big game out of Jared Allen makes the game easier for the rest of the Vikings defense.

The Vikings D needs Rodgers to be seeing a lot of Allen

I fully expect this to be a close game, and it would not be outside the realm of possibility for the Vikings to pull this one out. I’ll go out on a limb: Vikings 31, Packers 30.

That’s my prediction. Be sure to check out the game. I’ll be doing a running game diary Monday night which should be published soon after the game ends. We’ll see how things go. I can’t wait for Monday night.

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