Posted on October 12, 2017, by Travis Pulver
It is too soon to start making judgment calls on who will win any of the division titles across the NFL. But it is not too early for one team to gain the upper hand on the other. The Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings would love to get the upper hand on the other in the NFC North. With a win over the other Sunday afternoon, they can do just that.
But who has the upper hand heading into the game?
The easy answer would be Green Bay since they have Aaron Rodgers. He is one of the best in recent history and has an excellent group of receivers in Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, and Davante Adams. Nelson didn’t finish the game last week against the Cowboys due to a back issue. But he is not on the injury report and has been a full participant in practice.
Of course, the Minnesota secondary is going to be a real test for Rodgers and his receivers. But they could have some help in the form of a running game. Rookie Aaron Jones gashed the Dallas run defense for 125 yards and a touchdown in his first career start.
However, Tim Montgomery has practiced and taken a few hits while wearing a flak jacket under his pads. He’s played well at times but overall has been unimpressive as a running back. Will the Packers try to work the converted receiver back into the run game or will they ride the hot hand that has emerged over the last couple of weeks?
If the Packers can establish a running game against the Vikings defense, Minnesota will have to defend accordingly. This will likely mean playing the safeties closer to the line which will put more pressure on the cornerbacks to cover Adams, Nelson, and Cobb. While Minnesota has some decent cornerbacks, this would give the Packers a slight advantage.
All Rodgers needs is a ‘slight’ advantage to take control of a game.
But if Case Keenum can get the Minnesota offense moving like he has been lately, it will be the Vikings with the advantage. That is, assuming Keenum gets the start—which is far from guaranteed.
He shined in relief of Sam Bradford last week who was making his return from a knee injury that sidelined him after he played a stellar game in Week One. Officially, he as pulled from last week’s game because he reinjured his knee. How bad? We don’t know, but he hasn’t practiced this week which makes it hard to believe he’ll play.
Keenum has had his moments in the NFL but has lacked consistency throughout his career. In four games so far, this season, that has still been the case. He has completed a low of 53.5 percent of his passes (against the Detroit Lions) and a high of 81 percent (in one half against the Bears). He struggled against Pittsburgh (54.1 percent) but had a good day against Tampa Bay (75.8 percent).
Establishing a running game will important to the success of Keenum’s game. Jerrick McKinnon was the better back for the Vikings last week and should get the bulk of the carries over Latavius Murray this week. His stats received a nice boost in the form of a 58-yard run late in the game. But then he was also a key player in the passing game (six receptions, 51 yards).
So—who is going to win?
Stefon Diggs will make it easier for Keenum if he plays, but the Vikings offense can survive without Diggs. Keenum will just have to lean on Adam Thielen, tight end, Kyle Rudolph, and Michael Floyd. Minnesota’s running game may not be as productive this week, but if Keenum can find McKinnon in the passing game, it will not matter.
The big question mark heading into this game will be how much the Packers try to lean on Tim Montgomery in the run game. Aaron Jones has played well enough to be given the bulk of the carries over a guy who is still recovering from broken ribs. The passing game will be fine, but to win, the Packers will need to run the ball.
Until we see who they are going to give the ball to, it’s hard to say if they’ll be able to.
Green Bay is favored by three. Take the Vikings and the points.