Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings: Matchups, prediction for crucial NFC North slugfest

The Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings game might not look competitive by their records, but this matchup should be close until the end.

When we look at each team’s record, the Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings game may look lopsided, but this contest should be more competitive than some may expect. These teams haven’t seen the same results throughout the season, but their processes have been similar enough. Wins and losses are obviously what matters in the end, but halfway through the season, it appears the Vikings could turn things around and be a playoff team in the future.

Green Bay Packers offense vs. Minnesota Vikings defense

The Packers’ offense isn’t the well-oiled machine it was last season — when it ranked at the top of nearly every efficiency metric on the market — but it’s still quite potent. It’s not Everclear (the real stuff), but it’s still Wild Turkey 101.

Green Bay ranks seventh in expected points added per play and is inside the top 10 in both rushing and passing EPA. Balance was a staple of the offense last season, ranking fifth when running the ball while wiping the floor with defenses through the air.

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Meanwhile, the Vikings defense looks far closer to what we expect from a Mike Zimmer-coached team. They are defending the pass well despite playing just one of the seemingly endless number of cornerbacks they’ve recently drafted. They also lost Anthony Harris in free agency, but Xavier Woods has filled the free safety role well.

On the other hand, the Vikings are terrible against the run. Even with Dalvin Tomlinson in the middle, they rank 31st in EPA/play against opposing rushing attacks and are 23rd in success rate. The good news is they don’t have to deal with Aaron Jones. The bad news is AJ Dillon is built like a Super Saiyan, and he runs like he’s ascended.

Aaron Rodgers vs. Vikings defense

Aaron Rodgers doesn’t quite have the record against the Vikings that he owns against the Bears, but it’s pretty darned close. He’s only 15-9-1 against Minnesota because the Vikings have actually been a competent organization. However, his career stats against the Vikings and Bears are similar.

After his 2020 MVP campaign, we had to put Rodgers back in the bucket of quarterbacks that are inherent mismatches against any defense. While the Vikings defense has new faces, there is very little Rodgers has not seen from this defensive staff.

Great quarterbacks own their division, and Rodgers has certainly accomplished that.

Advantage: Packers

Packers skill position players vs. Vikings secondary

Davante Adams is unquestionably one of the best receivers in the NFL. The Vikings, by contrast, do not have one of the best cornerbacks in the league to match him. That immediately puts them at a disadvantage.

Marcedes Lewis started playing professional football before I made it to high school, yet he’s still out there producing in place of Robert Tonyan. The Packers also have Randall Cobb, who’s been a welcome sight for Rodgers in his return, and they’ve had Marquez Valdes-Scantling back for three weeks.

Smith and Woods have played well on the back end for Minnesota. Those two and the Herculean efforts in coverage from Eric Kendricks are the biggest reasons the Vikings’ passing defense has succeeded. The cornerbacks are surviving, but those three are thriving. But they were also helped by the presence of Danielle Hunter, who they no longer have rushing the passer in front of them after he suffered a season-ending pectoral injury.

Advantage: Packers

Packers offensive line vs. Vikings defensive front

This would have been such a fun matchup with two healthy units. Unfortunately, injuries to both lines have sullied that potential. Elgton Jenkins is a godsend to the Green Bay offense, as he simply plays like a Pro Bowler no matter what position he’s in. But losing center Josh Myers and still not having left tackle David Bakhtiari has created massive holes that have proved impossible to fill.

Defensively, the loss of Hunter is a back-breaker for the Vikings because all their edge pressure now must come from Everson Griffen. That is less than ideal. However, Tomlinson and Armon Watts bring some juice on the interior, which is the best mismatch for Minnesota to exploit defensively.

Advantage: Vikings

Minnesota Vikings offense vs. Green Bay Packers defense

If there is a legitimate mismatch in this game, it would appear to be within the matchup between the Vikings offense and Packers defense. With so much skill position talent in Minnesota, there is no excuse for them not to hover around the top 10 in statistical categories.

However, there are explanations for why their offense is lacking, which we’ll get to more in-depth in a minute. Hiring the son of the previous offensive coordinator is a bad look on the surface, and it gets worse when the offense takes a step back with the transition. It’s one of the biggest reasons why Mike Zimmer’s seat should feel warm. But their 17th-ranked EPA/play offense isn’t simply the fault of nepotism.

Trying to understand the Green Bay defense

The Packers have a top-10 defense in terms of EPA/play and DVOA, but just how good they’ve been is under scrutiny. The nerds are always trying to improve their processes, and among those efforts are looking at the results of individual series.

Simply put, how often does a unit get or allow a first down/touchdown compared to a punt, turnover, or field goal? No singular metric tells the whole story. The Packers rank 19th in series success. That mirrors their overall defensive success rate, which ranks 26th.

There are many conflicting statistics in regards to the Green Bay defense. The explanation could be the difference in their rushing and passing efficiency. On a per-play basis, they’re 26th in rushing yards allowed but fourth in passing yards allowed. But overall, they’re fourth. So they’re not giving up big plays through the air, but they do allow teams to convert at a high rate.

Kirk Cousins vs. Packers defense

Kirk Cousins does not escape blame for the Vikings’ offensive backpedal in 2021. He’s getting passes out incredibly quickly and is not pushing the ball downfield with the same propensity as he has in the past.

There are other factors at play here. It’s certainly not all on Cousins. However, missing downfield opportunities is undoubtedly hampering this offense’s upside. Last week, we saw more intermediate passing attempts than we had recently, and they were successful.

Cousins also has familiarity with the Packers. He’s 3-3-1 against them in his career, and his passing numbers are admirable. But if we’re expecting more downfield passing in Week 11, I’d temper expectations. We’ve already seen that isn’t easy to accomplish against the Packers, even without Jaire Alexander.

Instead, I’d expect to see Cousins and Minnesota’s offense methodically move the ball downfield through the air. It comes down to their play-calling at that point.

Advantage: Push

Vikings skill position players vs. Packers secondary

Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson make up one of the better receiving duos in the NFL, and both Tyler Conklin and K.J. Osborn are catching over 70% of their targets.

Jefferson is a unique receiver who dissects defenders at the top of his routes with some of the most imaginative footwork you’ll see. Thielen appears to be Minnesota’s primary red-zone target, and for good reason. Despite not being a “big” receiver, he’s very good at working in tight spaces and using his frame to create separation at the catch point.

Losing Alexander is a massive blow to the Packers. Yet, Eric Stokes looks like he’ll be the real deal on the outside in the future. He’s performing admirably as a rookie. Kevin King has survived thus far in 2021, but the blow-up game always feels right around the corner. Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage help on the back end, but Savage hasn’t seemed as consistent on tape in 2021.

Overall, the Packers’ secondary has bodies and can survive, but the Vikings have a ton of weapons. We haven’t even discussed Dalvin Cook yet. He’s supremely talented and can go off at any point. But the next matchup will be the deciding factor in the running game.

Advantage: Vikings

Vikings offensive line vs. Packers defensive front

In 2021, De’Vondre Campbell has played like one of the best linebackers in the NFL. Kenny Clark is still an outstanding defensive tackle. Rashan Gary has rounded into quite the defensive end, and Preston Smith is coming off an outstanding outing against Seattle.

Smith might struggle a bit more against the athleticism and strength of Vikings left tackle Christian Darrisaw, but the wily vet should be able to beat the rookie a few times throughout the game. The rest of Minnesota’s offensive line leaves a lot to be desired.

They’re small. That’s probably by design, as the Vikings love to get Cook outside the tackles on runs. But they are not seeing good results running the football. They’re bottom 10 as a unit. Yet, the Packers struggle to defend the run, so it’ll be interesting to see how this one turns out. Overall, this feels like an advantage for the Packers because they can get to the passer pretty well overall.

Advantage: Packers

Betting line and game prediction

The Packers vs. Vikings game currently only has a 1.5-point spread favoring Green Bay on the road. It seems the betting markets and I agree. This is a much more evenly-matched game than the respective team records indicate. The Vikings have still only played one game in 2021 that wasn’t a one-score contest. Thus, I expect this game to remain close to the end.

Minnesota needs a win to improve their playoff chances, and the Packers are trying to stay at the top of the NFC to secure the playoff bye. There is no shortage of motivation between these division rivals.

Packers vs. Vikings Prediction: Packers 24, Vikings 23

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