Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer against Green Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
NFC North supremacy and the brutal cold of a late-December night game at Lambeau Field.
Well, so much for most of that.
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The Vikings have clinched the division title and have an eye on securing a first-round bye and possibly earning home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The Packers, on the other hand, are out of the playoff picture. Aaron Rodgers, whose right collarbone was broken during a season-defining loss at Minnesota in Week 6, is back on injured reserve after throwing three interceptions in a killer loss at Carolina.
At least it will be cold for Saturday night’s game. The predicted low for Saturday night is 1.
Zimmer insists his team, which has won nine of its last 10, won’t overlook the Packers, who won’t be part of the postseason for the first time since 2008.
“I told my team this: We’re a good team, we’re not a great team,” Zimmer said. “I don’t know if there’s any great teams out there, but we’re a good team. We don’t have the luxury of looking past anybody, and that’s really not our mentality as a football team (or) the kind of guys that we have.”
The landscape of the NFL underwent a seismic shift during the first quarter of the teams’ matchup in Minneapolis on Oct. 15. That’s when Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr took Rodgers to the turf after a pass. Rodgers suffered a broken right collarbone. Minnesota won 23-10 to record the second of eight consecutive wins. The Packers went on to lose four of Brett Hundley’s first five starts at quarterback.
Rodgers returned last week but the Packers lost 31-24 at Carolina. Green Bay put Rodgers back on injured reserve and has turned over the offense again to Hundley. He’s thrown eight touchdowns vs. eight interceptions this season — including one touchdown and three picks in relief of Rodgers at Minnesota. In four home starts, the Packers have gone 1-3 with Hundley throwing zero touchdowns vs. five interceptions.
“I think he’s grown quite a bit,” Zimmer said. “He’s making a lot of quick decisions. He’s been taking care of the football well. He’s using his legs quite a bit. He’s obviously got a strong arm, very athletic guy. He starting to see a lot more as far as the things when he wants to get the ball out to the perimeter when guys are playing off coverage, does a nice job with movement in the pocket, and he’s starting to really — I’m not saying he’s Rodgers, but he’s got a lot of very similar mannerisms.”
Hundley will face an enormous challenge against Minnesota’s powerful defense. The Vikings rank second in the NFL in total defense and scoring defense. Defensive end Everson Griffen, who has 13 sacks, Barr and cornerback Xavier Rhodes were selected to the Pro Bowl team on Tuesday.
“We’ve seen these guys, me personally, for three years now,” Hundley said. “To play against these guys, and now to get another chance to play them, it’s a great opportunity. They do what they do well, very well. They’re one of the best defenses in the league.”
Green Bay’s defense relies on big plays that have been too infrequent. The Packers kept their season alive by scoring a defensive touchdown in the overtime win vs. Tampa Bay and forcing an interception in overtime to win at Cleveland. At Carolina, however, the Packers failed to force any turnovers and gave up four touchdown passes to Cam Newton and a season-worst 29 first downs.
Green Bay is No. 30 in opponent passer rating (100.5) and No. 31 in opponent completion percentage (68.4). Vikings quarterback Case Keenum is No. 8 in rating (98.9) and No. 2 in completion percentage (67.9).
“He’s been given an opportunity and obviously he’s had a number of experiences and I’m sure he’s learned from them all to prepare himself for this opportunity in Minnesota,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s doing a hell of a job. He has really good tape.”
On the injury front, Packers receiver Davante Adams remains in the concussion protocol following the helmet-to-helmet hit by Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis that resulted in Davis getting a one-week suspension. Adams is second in the NFL with 10 touchdown catches.
Starting outside linebackers Clay Matthews (hamstring) and Nick Perry (ankle/shoulder) and guard Jahri Evans (knee) also didn’t practice for Green Bay. For Minnesota, reserve cornerback Tramaine Brock (foot) was the only player to not practice.