Heading into the season, the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings were supposed to battle for the NFC North and contend in the conference. This has been true of one team and not so much the other one.
The Packers dominated this matchup in the season opener. They took down the Vikings 43-34.
After a brutal loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Packers rebounded in Week 7. They beat up the Houston Texans 35-20. Aaron Rodgers is continuing to play at an MVP level and right now, Green Bay looks like the best team in the NFC North by a long shot.
The Vikings have problems. They are 1-5 and are coming off their bye week. Prior to the bye, the Vikings were beat down by the 1-6 Atlanta Falcons. Kirk Cousins has taken a huge step back this season. The defense is struggling and this is a team looking for answers. We are nearing the trade deadline and the Vikings could look to be sellers, but it is unclear if teams will be interested in any of their pieces.
Coming into the season, this Week 8 matchup was supposed to be a high-powered, big time game with implications for the division. That is not the case anymore.
Here are five factors that could have an impact on this NFC North battle.
5. Vikings’ Secondary
The Vikings used one of their two first-round picks on Jeff Gladney. They knew they needed help in the secondary and that continues to be true, especially with George Iloka suffering a torn ACL. The injury occurred in a practice during their bye week.
Minnesota is allowing 286.7 passing yards per game, which is the fourth-most in the league. In total, the Vikings are allowing 413.7 yards per game. That is the fifth-most in the league.
The Vikings’ defense was supposed to be improved this season, especially with the trade for Yannick Ngakoue rushing the passer, and that has not worked. Now, Ngakoue has been sent to Baltimore and Danielle Hunter is hurt. The lack of pass rushing ability impacts the secondary. That will not help in this one.
Many of the upcoming factors will be based on the Vikings. They will need to fix a lot from their Week 1 matchup if they want to compete in this one.
4. The Rodgers/Adams Connection
The connection between Rodgers and Davante Adams is one that has been elite for a long time. If possible, they are getting better this season. Adams has missed some time with an injury, but when he is on the field, his numbers are insane.
Adams is coming off of a game where he logged 13 catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns. He has played four games this season and has double-digit targets in three of them. This began in Week 1 against the Vikings.
Adams finished with 14 catches for 156 yards and two scores in the season-opener against the division rival. With the current state of the Vikings’ secondary, we could all see another huge game from Adams.
The Vikings will need to step up and surprise some people when defending Adams. It is hard to beat a team when a receiver goes for double-digit catches, 150+ yards, and two touchdowns.
3. Skill Positions In Minnesota
The first matchup between these two teams was not as close as the score. It was a nine-point difference, but the Vikings trailed the Packers 29-10 heading into the fourth quarter. Adam Thielen was the only skill position player for the Vikings to show up. They will need more firepower to hang around in this game.
Thielen has been Cousins’ favorite target since the quarterback came to Minnesota. In Week 1, Thielen finished with six catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns. That game was Justin Jefferson’s first career game and he only logged two catches. He has since broken out and could be a big factor in this one.
Dalvin Cook scored two touchdowns in the opener, but had just 50 yards on the ground. Bottom line is that the Vikings will have to score a lot of points in this game and that puts pressure on the skill positions.
The Packers are not going to be contained. That is hard to imagine. This will be another high-scoring matchup between these two teams. If the Vikings struggle offensively, they will be run off the field once again.
2. Dalvin Cook
Is Cook going to be on the field? He has missed time with an injury he suffered against the Seattle Seahawks. The Vikings need Cook in this matchup. This is a game where Cook will have to suit up and play, even if he is still a little banged up.
Alexander Mattison has taken over for Cook in his absence. He is a serviceable backup, but Cook is one of the best runners in the game when he is healthy. He is the type of big, physical runner who can run over a defender and control the tempo of a game.
The Vikings like to establish the run. That also helps Cousins, who is an elite play-action passer. Running the football wears down a defense and keeps the opposing offense on the sideline.
Keeping the Packers’ offense on the sidelines seems like a good game plan against Rodgers. If No. 12 is not on the field, that is a win for the Vikings. If Cook is forced to miss this game, there is not too much for Green Bay to be worried about in the backfield.
1. Kirk Cousins
Cousins has been a turnover machine this season. He leads the league with 10 interceptions this season and has multiple picks in three of six games. In Week 1, Cousins finished 19-25 for 259 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. That was not his worst game, but clearly not enough to compete with Rodgers.
The Vikings gave Cousins a two-year extension in the offseason. This is his third year of his original three-year, $84 million contract that is fully guaranteed. Cousins was successful over his first two years in Minnesota, but has not looked good this season.
Simply put, Cousins is the biggest factor in this game and that can be said of every Vikings’ game. They need their quarterback to take care of the football, make big plays, and lead the offense on and off the field.
Cousins has never played well in big games whether in Minnesota or Washington. At 1-5, the turnaround begins with Cousins. He cannot afford to throw multiple interceptions in this game. The team needs to come up with an offensive plan that is capable of taking down the Packers.