Preview: Packers not taking 1-5 Vikings lightly
GREEN BAY, Wis. — When the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings faced off in the season’s opening weekend, it was billed as a showdown between NFC North’s two top contenders.
The rematch Sunday has a different feel.
Green Bay has shown its run to the NFC championship game last year was no fluke by winning five of its first six games. But the Vikings have taken a major step backward after reaching the divisional playoffs last year, as they’ve lost five of their first six.
Packers coach Matt LaFleur cites Minnesota’s one-point losses to AFC South leader Tennessee and NFC West leader Seattle as evidence the Vikings remain dangerous.
“I don’t care what the record says,” LaFleur said. “This is a damn good football team.”
Green Bay won 43-34 at Minnesota on the season’s opening Sunday. Green Bay’s Davante Adams had 14 receptions to tie a franchise single-game record and caught two of Aaron Rodgers’ four touchdown passes.
Minnesota has since traded edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue to Baltimore for draft picks, a move that could be interpreted a sign the Vikings are turning the page on this season after a slow start. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer doesn’t see it that way and said the Vikings made that trade only because they figured they wouldn’t be able to sign Ngakoue in the offseason.
“That was really the only reason,” Zimmer said. “We’re always trying to win games, so we’re not changing our mindset that way. I’m still pushing them as hard as I ever pushed them, and we’ll just keep grinding away until we get some wins.”
The Packers believe those wins will come eventually. They want to make sure the Vikings’ turnaround doesn’t start Sunday.
“You look at them on paper and you look at some of the playmakers that they have, whether it be offense or defense, they’ve got a really good, solid team still,” Adams said. “So you can’t disrespect them. You’ve got to go out there and treat them just like they were when they were at the top of their game.”
NFC NORTH DOMINATION
The Packers are 8-0 against NFC North teams since LaFleur took over as coach last year. That matches the team’s longest divisional winning streak since the NFL went to a divisional format in 1967.
Green Bay won 12 straight divisional games from 2010-12. The Packers also won eight straight divisional games in 1996-97 and 2001-02.
Four nights after hosting Minnesota, the Packers travel to San Francisco for a rematch of last year’s 37-20 NFC championship game loss to the 49ers.
The Packers say they won’t get caught looking ahead.
“The only thing that I would say is that maybe during this week there’s an extra emphasis on taking care of your body because you know you have back-to-back games,” Packers center Corey Linsley said. “But, you know, all in all we’re focused 100% on the Vikings, and we’ll deal with the next game when it comes.”
HEALTH OF RUNNING BACKS
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is on track to return from a groin injury that kept him out Oct. 18 in a loss to Atlanta. Despite that absence and the bye last week, Cook ranks fifth in the NFL with 489 rushing yards.
Green Bay won at Houston last weekend without leading rusher Aaron Jones, who didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday as he recovers from a calf injury.
“I know he’s doing everything in his power (to play),” LaFleur said. “We want to be very, very careful with him and not put him in a position where he misses significant amount of time.”
The Vikings have the third-worst turnover ratio in the league at minus-7. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has already thrown four more (10) interceptions than all of last season.
Cousins’ interception rate (5.7%) is the highest in the league. Not since 2009 (6.2% by Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman) has an NFL quarterback with a qualifying amount of attempts finished a season with a rate that high.
“You want to finish the year in a much different place,” Cousins said. “I look forward to this stretch up ahead of trying to play at such a level that it’s a much different story as we finish the season than how we started.”
Publicly, the Vikings have done nothing but back Cousins.
“We’re a thousand percent behind him, no matter what goes on,” Cook said.
YOU WONNUM, YOU GOT HIM
Minnesota’s first four draft picks — wide receiver Justin Jefferson, cornerback Jeff Gladney, offensive lineman Ezra Cleveland and cornerback Cameron Dantzler — were all in the starting lineup for the Vikings’ most recent game.
Dantzler might not play against the Packers after going on the COVID-19 reserve list, but rookie defensive end and fourth-round pick D.J. Wonnum, is about to become a regular now that Ngakoue has departed.
MINNESOTA (1-5) at GREEN BAY (5-1)
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Fox
OPENING LINE – Packers by 6 ½
RECORD VS. SPREAD – Vikings 2-3, Packers 5-1
SERIES RECORD – Packers lead 63-54-3
LAST MEETING – Packers beat Vikings 43-34, Sept. 13 at Minnesota
LAST WEEK – Vikings had bye, lost to Falcons 40-23 on Oct. 18; Packers won 35-20 at Houston
AP PRO32 RANKING – Vikings No. 27, Packers No. 5
VIKINGS OFFENSE – OVERALL (14), RUSH (6), PASS (22)
VIKINGS DEFENSE – OVERALL (28), RUSH (22), PASS (29)
PACKERS OFFENSE – OVERALL (8), RUSH (10), PASS (14)
PACKERS DEFENSE – OVERALL (11), RUSH (12), PASS (18)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES – Either Green Bay or Minnesota has won 10 of the last 12 NFC North titles. … The Vikings return from an off week seeking to snap a two-game skid. … Vikings WR Justin Jefferson had just three catches for 26 yards in a season-opening loss to Green Bay, but the rookie from LSU has come on strong since. He has over 100 yards receiving in three of his last four games. … The Vikings have started rookie cornerbacks Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler in each of their last three games. It’s the first time since 1999 that Minnesota started two rookie cornerbacks in the same game. Dantzler’s status for Sunday is uncertain after he was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list Wednesday. … The Vikings are playing their first game since trading edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue to the Baltimore Ravens for draft picks. They made that move less than two months after acquiring Ngakoue from Jacksonville. Ngakoue had five sacks in six games with Minnesota. … The Packers have won their last three matchups with the Vikings. … Packers coach Matt LaFleur owns an 8-0 career record in NFC North games. … The Packers have won 10 of their last 11 regular-season games. … Green Bay is the first team in NFL history to have 180-plus points and no more than two turnovers through the first six games of a season. … Green Bay’s Davante Adams caught 14 passes in the season-opening victory at Minnesota to tie Hall of Famer Don Hutson’s 78-year-old franchise single-game record. … Packers CB Jaire Alexander had a sack, safety and interception in the Sept. 13 victory at Minnesota. … Green Bay has the fewest turnovers (2) of any NFL team but also has just four takeaways. Only Dallas and Las Vegas have forced fewer turnovers this season. … Green Bay’s Za’Darius Smith has 4 ½ sacks total the last two times he’s faced the Vikings. … Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen and Green Bay’s Aaron Jones are among nine players tied for the NFL lead with seven touchdowns. Neither Cook nor Jones played in his team’s last game due to injury. … Fantasy tip:: Adams is a must start in any situation, but he’s in line to have a particularly productive game Sunday. Adams has totaled 34 catches for 378 yards and two touchdowns in his last three matchups with the Vikings. He’s coming off a career-high 196-yard performance against Houston.