The Minnesota Vikings entered the season as one of the most complete teams in the NFL on paper, and some would say they have Super Bowl aspirations. After picking up Kirk Cousins in the off-season, some expected them to maul San Francisco in the season opener. What transpired, however, was a bit tamer than most expected.
The defense was dynamic, racking up three sacks and three interceptions. They only gave up 16 points, and they certainly looked the part of a squad solid enough to surge deep into the post-season. The offense, on the other hand, was slightly less impressive.
Cousins failed to tally 250 yards passing, although he did complete more than half his passes and notched two touchdowns without tossing a pick. Adam Thielen logged just over 100 yards receiving on six catches, and Dalvin Cook caught the same number of balls on his way to logging over 100 all-purpose yards. Unfortunately, though, that’s where the highlights for the offense ended.
In Week 2, the Vikings face a much more formidable foe as they travel to the Frozen Tundra to face the resurgent Pack. Green Bay is widely acknowledged as being the Vikings’ primary competition for the Division crown this year, and the two teams were given virtually the same chances to win the Super Bowl according to pre-season odds makers.
In a Pre-Week 1 piece, I highlighted this game (along with the Bears vs. Packers nail-biter from last week) as one of the NFC’s defining games for the season, and it has only increased in significance since. The Packers can probably weather a loss today and still put together an impressive season. A Viking loss, however, could have serious implications for that team.
After engineering a truly magical second-half, post-injury comeback last week (that was seriously jeopardized by a completely unnecessary and unforgivable Clay Matthews penalty), Rodgers’s status was a major question in Titletown all week. It wasn’t determined until Saturday that Rodgers would even play on Sunday, and there’s no question that his mobility and comfort will be compromised on Sunday.
If the Vikings can’t beat a shackled Rodgers and the Packers in Week 2 in Green Bay, it seems to suggest that they might have trouble with some of their more difficult games later on in season. They’ll have to face Green Bay again, the Bears (who nearly beat the Packers) twice, and the Rams, Saints, Eagles, and Patriots. That could be tough sledding for team that was slated to go 12–4 but couldn’t beat a diminished Pack.
On the other hand, if the Vikings can beat the Packers today (and they should and need to), they will pick up an early one-game advantage on the Packers and at least a one-game lead on the Bears and the Lions to jump out to a quick Division lead. If they can polish and hone their offensive game, that may be a lead from which they never look back the rest of the season.
If the Packers lose today (and the smart money says that they should), it’s not the end of their season, but it definitely sets them up to have a better shot at a Wild Card berth at the end of the season than at the Division title. They’ll be forced to chase Minnesota from behind, and they probably weren’t equal in talent to begin with.
If the Packers win, however, it could be a major psychological victory for them, in addition to giving them a leg up in the race for the Division crown. The health and impact of Rodgers can and often does mean a night and day difference for the mentality of the Packers, and an underdog win over this year’s main division rivals under less than ideal quarterback circumstances could go a long way toward fueling a charge.