Going for Two – Week 17 Preview

Pictured: one of Christian Ponder's favorite receivers.

Pictured: one of Christian Ponder’s favorite receivers.

When the NFL decided to schedule division games for the last two weeks of the regular season, this game (and a number of others around the league, most notably Dallas vs. Washington) must have been exactly what they had in mind: a heated rivalry with playoff implications for both teams.

And really, for all its missteps, this was a genius move by the league. While sometimes teams do wrap up their divisions early enough to negate the value of a late season meeting, it seems like more often than not in this new schedule arrangement, there’s at least something on the line, and that makes for pretty compelling television.

The Vikings need a win to make it into the postseason tournament, while the Packers would certainly like to get the bye week that goes with the NFC’s second seed, which is exactly what they’ll get with a win this week. With their litany of health problems (growing shorter, but still too long), time to get healthy would certainly offset any potential lost momentum from taking a week off.

There’s more on the line this time, though, than the playoffs. Adrian Peterson has a legitimate shot at breaking the all-time single season rushing record and is in contention for the Most Valuable Player award. A record setting performance this week might secure the trophy for AP, but you have to think Dom Capers will be scheming to keep him under 2,106 for the season (despite what Greg Jennings might say).

Whatever the case, this is shaping up to be another great chapter in one of the better rivalries in the NFL.

The Countdown

5 - Games, out of his last seven, in which Adrian Peterson has rushed for at least 150 yards. The Minnesota running back needs 208 yards to beat Eric Dickerson‘s single season record. Last time, of course, he burned the Packers for 210 yards on 21 carries, including an 82 yard touchdown run.

4 - Pro Bowlers for the Minnesota Vikings, who will send Peterson, defensive end Jared Allen, kicker Blair Walsh, and fullback Jerome Felton to the annual NFC/AFC all-star game. Arguably, center John Sullivan should be making the trip, and Chad Greenway may have a case at outside linebacker too, but for a team that has no chance of winning its division and could very likely not be in playoffs, four is pretty generous.

3 - Pro Bowlers for the Green Bay Packers, who will be represented in the contest by Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, and…Jeff Saturday? Okay, maybe John Sullivan really should have made the team.

2 - The highest possible seed that could be achieved by the Packers, which is exactly where they’ll end up with a win on Sunday. Although the Fail Mary is still fresh in the minds of many Packer fans, a win this week and a number two seed would probably assuage a lot of the residual pain.

1 – Packer rushing touchdowns this season of more than 25 yards. By way of comparison, Adrian Peterson has two 82 yard touchdowns in the last three weeks. How different are these two teams, again?

Last Time - Packers:23 Vikings: 14 – December 2, 2012

Although Adrian Peterson was magnificent, Christian Ponder was exactly the opposite, throwing two terrible interceptions, including one in the end zone. A beat up Packer team took advantage of the two picks and used an 18-play, 73 yard drive late in the game to salt away a key win. Although Mason Crosby was shaky, Aaron Rodgers was steady and turned to Jermichael Finley and Randall Cobb for twelve of his 27 completions. James Jones also made a spectacular touchdown catch.

Meet a Viking – Jared Allen – 6’6″, 270 – DE – 9th NFL season

Jared Allen is hands down one of the best pass rushers in the league, and other than Adrian Peterson, he’s the only other game changer currently on the Vikings’ active roster. (Percy Harvin also qualifies, but he’s on injured reserve.) Since he was acquired by the Vikings from the Chiefs before the 2008 season, Allen has averaged 14.6 sacks per season, including 11 this year and 22 last season.

Oddly enough, as great as Allen has been, the trade still probably qualifies as a win-win. The Chiefs received a first and a third round pick from Minnesota in the trade, which they used to select offensive lineman Branden Albert (71 starts in five seasons) and Jamaal Charles, who recently broke Jim Brown‘s career yards per carry average record and ranks among the better backs in the league.

At any rate, Allen is a force to be reckoned with, and with the (seemingly continual) questions along the Packers’ offensive line, he could conceivably change this game in a big way.

The Vikings will win if…

…Christian Ponder plays significantly better than last time around. Ponder may not win many games for the Vikings, but he’s certainly capable of losing them, and that was the case in the first meeting. If Ponder doesn’t invalidate Adrian Peterson’s efforts, Minnesota may be able to take down the Packers.

The Packers will win if…

…they can force Minnesota to pass early. NFL analysts love to talk about how Adrian Peterson can keep the Vikings in the game, no matter how far behind they get, and while that may be true to an extent, it would still be to the Packers’ advantage to limit his carries as much as possible by changing the game to prevent his use. Aaron Rodgers agrees with this strategy.

The Pick – Packers: 23 Vikings: 17

This feels like a close, low scoring game. The Packers probably have a better, deeper team, but the Vikings are always strong at home and they certainly have plenty to play for this week, needing a win to get into the playoffs. Nevertheless, the Packers have been getting healthier week by week and their defense has been steadily improving, especially in the three games since they last played the Vikings. That improvement could make a difference this week, enough of a difference, hopefully, to propel the Packers to the number two seed.

The Rest (home team in ALL CAPS)

FALCONS over Buccaneers
Jets over BILLS
STEELERS over Browns
Bears over LIONS
Jaguars over TITANS
GIANTS over Eagles
SAINTS over Panthers
COLTS over Texans
SEAHAWKS over Rams
PATRIOTS over Dolphins
Ravens over BENGALS
BRONCOS over Chiefs
Raiders over CHARGERS
49ERS over Cardinals
Cowboys over REDSKINS

Last week: 10-6

Season total: 162-76-1 (.679)

Tweet of the Week

Turns out Pit Bull isn’t one of Marshall Newhouse‘s favorite artists.

Bonus!

Randall Cobb is learning how to use a slow cooker this week. Also, Chef Boy-R-Cobb is a terrible nickname that I will be using from now on.

Bonus Bonus!

That nifty play last week where Randall Cobb put a foot out of bounds before picking up the ball on a kickoff, thus advancing the ball to the 40 yard line via penalty? Yeah, he practiced that.

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