Reporter NFC North
The Vikings are comfortably in the playoffs and playing for the playoff to close out their season, a luxury not afforded their opponents and division rivals, the Green Bay Packers. After going 4-8 with most declaring their season lost, the Packers won their last three games. They need to win the rest of the season to give themselves a shot at the postseason.
Their playoff chances are at 29% according to the New York Times simulator. With a win Sunday (3:25 CT on FOX and the FOX Sports app), they climb to 51%. With a loss, up to 2%. As for the Packers, they are already playing playoff football.
The good news for Green Bay is that they should.
That recent strong play has led Vegas to make the Vikings 12-3 three-pointers headed to Lambeau Field. But seeding is important to Minnesota. They still have a chance to be the No. 1 seed, and therefore a first-round bye, if they win their final two games and the Philadelphia Eagles lose their remaining two contests. Philly has New Orleans at home next weekend, which is still not mathematically eliminated given the cluster that is the NFC South this season. The Eagles will likely be without quarterback Jalen Hurts again. Then they get the New York Giants to end their season, a team that could also be playing for the postseason.
Green Bay Packers
The point is, Minnesota has things to play for and winning would be in their best interest. The Vikings sit in the second seed and if that holds, they would currently end up with the Washington Commanders as their opponent. If they fall to the third seed, they would face the No. 6 team, which is currently the New York Giants, a team that needed a 61-yard field goal in the final second to get past last weekend.
News broke Wednesday that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered a knee injury during Sunday’s win at Miami. Asked if that puts his status for Sunday’s game in doubt, Rodgers said no. He has already suffered a fractured thumb and rib this season; what’s one more
He sat out Wednesday’s practice, but called it a “veteran rest day” rather than injury rest. Green Bay could also return left tackle David Bakhtiari to the lineup after he underwent an emergency appendectomy on Dec. 2. Running back Aaron Jones practiced Wednesday, as did right tackle Yosh Nijman and guard Elgton Jenkins, albeit in a limited capacity. Wide receiver Christian Watson did not practice as expected as the rookie dealt with a hip injury that kept him out of Sunday’s game against the Dolphins.
The offensive line is rebounding in time to face a Minnesota defense that has three sacks in each of its last two games. The last time these two teams met, in Week 1, Vikings pass rushers got to Rodgers four times, but that was against a much more rudimentary version of the Packers’ offensive line.
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Minnesota’s offensive line could still be lacking, with center Garrett Bradbury re-aggravating a back injury in a car accident just as he was trending toward a comeback. Cousins has been sacked 11 times in the last two games. That said, he still managed to strip the ball to one Justin Jefferson, who has an unprecedented tear and leads the league in receiving yards. He has reached triple digits in his last three games and set a franchise record with 223 receiving yards the last time he played against a division opponent in Week 14 against Detroit. He’ll be going up against a Green Bay defense that has produced key runs but struggled in other areas.
Matchup to watch: Justin Jefferson vs. Packers corners
Jaire Alexander has been assigned to receivers before, shadowing opponents’ No. 1 receivers as Green Bay’s No. 1 corner. But Jefferson is nearly unstoppable and it’s been Rasul Douglas who has had the most interceptions lately. Douglas went with top pick Tua Tagovailoa in Miami last weekend and has two interceptions in his last two games, four on the season so far.
Key Stats: The Vikings’ +5 point differential is the lowest for an NFL team 12-3 or better since the merger. That’s 44 points fewer than the 2016 Raiders, who started 12-3 with a +49 differential.
Prediction: Green Bay has scored more than 30 points just once this season and is averaging 20.9 points per game, its lowest since 2017. The problem for Minnesota is that the Packers are hitting their stride. They should have both running backs healthy and at least Romeo Doubs, Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb as receivers available. Also, Rodgers’ sheer will to enter the postseason is a powerful force, even if it means throwing 31-yard bombs to 38-year-old Marcedes Lewis. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Packers will end up in the ball this year.
Packers 29, Vikings 27
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Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, adding the title of Super Bowl champion (and boat parade participant) to her resume. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.
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