Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings Pick
Green Bay Packers (4-5-1 SU, 4-5-1 ATS) vs. Minnesota Vikings (5-4-1 SU, 5-4-1 ATS)
NFL Football Week 12
Date and Time: November 25 at 8:20pm
Where: US Bank Stadium
By Ted Walker, NFL Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: GB +3.5/MINN -3.5
Over/Under Total: 47.5
We are all set to enter one of the best parts of the NFL season. Those first two weekends of the playoffs are probably the best football we see in most years but you can’t get there without the run-up to the postseason and for many teams, that crunch-time starts now. Divisional games are of the utmost importance this time of year as tiebreakers get settled and teams fighting for wild card berths are essentially in a six week long, must-win scenario. Two teams with flickering playoff hopes square off on Sunday Night Football when the Packers head to Minnesota to take on the Vikings. This will be a rematch of a wild 29-29 tie in Week 2 and the winner gets a big leg up as they would own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the loser. Both teams need to do a lot of winning over the next several games and that pushes the stakes even higher in what already is a heated rivalry.
Road Weary Pack
The schedule maker didn’t do Green Bay any favors this season as the Packers will be finishing up a streak where they will have played four of five away from home after their Week 7 bye. The road hasn’t been kind to the Pack as they have dropped all three (Rams, Patriots, Seahawks) to move to 0-5 as visitors overall. The Vikings have won four of the last six games in this series straight up and the home team has fared well of late going 4-1 ATS in the last five between these two. Green Bay is just 2-5 against the spread in the last seven in Minnesota and are just 1-4 ATS in the last five against NFC North opponents. Green Bay certainly needs to keep Cousins under wraps after he exploded for 425 passing yards and four scores in Week 2. The Packers will have a road to the playoffs even with a loss but it gets much narrower if they can’t find a way to get their first road W this weekend.
Tough Stretch Ahead
While Green Bay is set to finish the gauntlet portion of the schedule, Minnesota is just getting ready to start. After this week, the Vikings travel to New England and Seattle before finishing the season with two divisional games. The Week 17 matchup against the North leading Bears may not mean much if Minnesota slips in the coming weeks and fails to close the gap on Chicago. What the Vikes have going for them is talent on both sides of the ball. Cousins has proven to be the upgrade he was hoped to be, throwing for 19 touchdowns and completing over 70% of his passes. He has a stud in Adam Thielen (85/1,013/7) and it is likely that Stefon Diggs joins him as a 1,000-yard receiver by the end of the year. Minnesota hasn’t had a pair of 1,000-yard guys since Randy Moss and Chris Carter accomplished the feat in the year 2000. The offense is solid, especially in the pass game but the best unit on the field Sunday is still the Minnesota defense. They haven’t been able to fully replicate the record-setting production from last season but that D enters the week 5th in total yards allowed with top-10 marks against both the run and the pass while surrendering the 11th fewest points per game. Danielle Hunter leads the team with 11.5 sacks and Minnesota should have LB Anthony Barr back as he is listed as probable with a hamstring.
GB Injuries Persist
The Packers somehow survived a banged-up Aaron Rodgers for most the season but injuries across the board have really limited several position groups. Old injuries include CB Kevin King, LB Nick Perry and WR Randall Cobb. Perhaps all three may suit up this week and that would provide a nice boost but DL Mike Daniels is confirmed out with a foot injury that will cost him several weeks. Green Bay was already sitting at 26th in rush yards allowed with the space-consuming Daniels and his absence puts a target firmly on the middle of that Packer front-line. Seattle was able to successfully grind away after Daniels went out last week, including running off the last four-plus minutes with relative ease. Minnesota is second-to-last in rush yards but they have a straight-ahead thumper in Latavius Murray and there is no question he and Dalvin Cook will test Green Bay with the ground game. Kyler Fackrell has emerged to lead Green Bay with eight sacks but his effectiveness may be limited if he is called upon to shore up the run instead of rushing the passer. Jimmy Graham will play this week but will do so with a broken left thumb. The tight end had his best game of the season the last time out against Minnesota, posting a 6-95 line but his pass catching ability has to be limited to some degree given the nature of his injury.
Green Bay has proven mostly unable to finish off games, which has normally been a strong suit during the Rodgers era. In each of their last three losses, the Packers have been in position to win late but poor decisions and poor execution have led to disappointment and a coach on the hot seat. Rodgers isn’t without blame either as his completion percentage has dropped to 61% on the season, just ahead of his career-low 60.7% posted in 2015. His affinity to hold the ball and skip the check-down has contributed to Green Bay allowing the 6th most sacks in the league and there have been many missed connections that would have been automatic in years past. Some of that can be chalked up to a lack of chemistry with young receivers some belongs on Rodgers’ shoulders as well. He still has Green Bay at 7th in passing yards per game but Minnesota is 6th against the pass and has done well against Rodgers more often than not. Other than Aaron’s 347-yard, 4 touchdown performance in 2016, Minnesota has held him under 300 yards going back to 2013. The Vikings are holding the opposing QB to the 3rd-worst QB rating through eleven weeks and that D stays fresh by allowing a league-best 28.3% conversions on third down. If Green Bay struggles to put together four quarters of offense like they have recently, the Vikings are going to be in good position to control the game.
Green Bay finds itself limited in playmakers as well. Davante Adams (72/953/9) is playing at a Pro Bowl level but there is a lack of consistency after him. Equinimeous St. Brown and Marques Valdes-Scantling (17.1 YPR) have done well with Cobb and Geronimo Allison out but you can see the lack of efficiency emerge when defenses find a way to take Adams away. Aaron Jones has taken the lead-back role and comes into the week with five touchdowns. He is an electric runner that averages 6.4 yards per carry but the Green Bay coaching staff seems somewhat unwilling to fully let him loose by limiting his carries to no more than 15 in any game. Jones was suspended for the Week 2 game this season but did see action in both games against Minnesota last season, rushing for 54 yards on 16 carries. He is a much bigger part of the offense now but the Vikings are 4th against the run and Green Bay still leads the league by passing the ball over 63% of the time.
Given the stakes and the level of familiarity between the teams, I’m not sure there is anyway to see this one as anything but a close game. It seems a bit sacrilegious to say but Cousins has essentially played to a level that matches Rodgers for the most part and that will let Minnesota see the full gain from their playmaker advantage. Green Bay is still beat-up at key positions and they need to own their road record as they haven’t played a complete game away from home yet. The little things like untimely penalties and missed field goals are plaguing Green Bay and they are not able to overcome those mistakes as they have in years past. I think that trend continues with the Packers moving to 0-6 on the road after a 28-24 loss. Laying the 3.5 against Rodgers doesn’t feel good, I admit, but the eye test says Minnesota is just a bit better, especially in their building with a lot on the line.
Ted Walker’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Minnesota