The 12-3 Vikings are underdogs against the 7-8 Packers in Week 17. That by itself is very unusual. However, some advanced statistics don’t agree that the Vikings are a good team. The Packers, meanwhile, have won three straight games and are still in the playoffs hunt after a disastrous 4-8 start, something that would usually end the season for a team. But the Packers are still alive.
Divisional games are always tricky, and the Vikings already beat the Packers in Week 1, which was the only one of the 12 Vikings wins by more than just one score. Green Bay did not beat any juggernaut teams in their successful three-game stretch. Their opponents were the Bears, the Rams, and the Dolphins.
While the Bears and the Rams are amongst the worst teams in the league, the Dolphins are a playoff-caliber team. Miami dominated the Packers early in the game and had a comfortable lead until quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffered a concussion and made some crucial mistakes in the losing effort. A connection between injury and interceptions is likely.
How Can the Vikings Beat the Packers?
The Packers are not as good as their record in the last three weeks implies, and the Vikings should be able to find a way to pull off the win. There are two keys to victory.
Stop the Run
Green Bay’s offense has been an up-and-down unit all season. Since the team traded away Davante Adams, the Packers have struggled in the passing game. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers, one of the biggest foes of the purple team, misses a lot more throws in 2022 than he did in the past. Via most statistics, the passing offense is average at best, an unusual feat for the Packers.
Offensively, the team is built to run the football with the two running backs, A.J. Dillon and Aaron Jones. The latter, especially, has been the focal point of the 2022 Packers offense. Green Bay is third in rushing DVOA.
The Vikings have been quite good at stopping the run after they could not stop anything on the ground in the last couple of years under head coach Mike Zimmer. Even if the team is not bringing up the safeties to stop the running attacks and even the linebackers drop out, it has been hard to run for opponents of the Vikings.
Stopping the run without additional bodies in the box should be the primary focus of the Vikings, and it would help the backend of the defense in the passing game. Rodgers may not be as good as he was in the past, but he is still a dangerous player in any given game, and against the 2022 Vikings, much worse quarterbacks looked like superstars.
The key to attacking the Packers defense is the run and the pass. Green Bay has some top players on the defensive side of the ball, like cornerback Jaire Alexander, defensive tackle Kenny Clark, and Preston Smith. In the three-game winning stretch, the Packers were average at stopping the run and the pass.
The key to victory is to be good at both, and the Vikings can do that. Kirk Cousins and his passing game exploded in the last month. The quarterback has recently been putting up MVP numbers, and Justin Jefferson is unstoppable, even if Jaire Alexander thinks otherwise. His record-breaking numbers are undeniable.
The running game had better and worse games in the season. It certainly doesn’t carry the offense to wins in single games as it did in the Mike Zimmer era and became just a minor part of the offense instead. The rushing DVOA is 26th in the league. Running back Dalvin Cook had some incredible game-changing plays, especially a big run against the Bills and a big screen reception against the Colts. Both plays were essential for the two comeback wins.
Over the course of the season, Cook is playing at an underwhelming level. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Cook runs for 0.01 yards per run fewer than expected. He was at 0.34 in 2021 and had 0.81 in 2020. His decline is obvious, but he had some success in the past against Green Bay. The good thing is that the offense changed to a pass-centric unit. However, it is crucial for the purple team to keep the balance and not get one-dimensional against the Packers and even more in the playoffs.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt