Preview: Second clash between Packers, Vikings won’t be for division lead

MINNEAPOLIS — The final weekend of November has arrived, with this Green Bay-Minnesota game predictably carrying plenty of weight toward the race for the NFC playoffs.

The twist, though, is the Packers and Vikings are stuck in the thick of the wild-card mix. The Bears, having beaten the Vikings last week, are the team with a healthy lead in the NFC North, which has been won only by Green Bay (five) or Minnesota (two) since Chicago’s last division title in 2010.

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“I definitely didn’t expect to be sitting where we’re sitting, but our record is what it is,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “Obviously, Minnesota has a strong team. They’re probably surprised where they’re sitting as well. So I don’t think either of us is out of the division race.”

Both the Packers (4-5-1) and Vikings (5-4-1) have one more game remaining against the Bears (8-3), but they’re each lugging that 29-all tie in Green Bay on Sept. 16 down the stretch like a back tire that’s low on air.

“Maybe it will help us, and maybe it’ll hurt us, too,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “I don’t really know.”

The Packers will play three of their final five games at home, which is helpful because they’ve yet to win on the road this year. They’ll have a more-mobile Rodgers than in their last matchup with the Vikings, when he was grinding through a knee injury.

“He looks like his old self, unfortunately,” Zimmer said.

If the Vikings beat the Packers at home for the third straight time, they’ll at least own a tiebreaker over their biggest rival. They’d still be 1½ games behind the Bears, though, with a difficult stretch of the schedule ahead.

“We’ll definitely have to play four quarters,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said, “and maybe more than that.”

Here are some other key angles to follow with the game:

NOT-SO-PRIME TIME

The Vikings are playing in the NFL’s premier Sunday night slot for the second straight week, triggering a magnification of their struggles with the bright lights on this season. They’ve lost all three of their night games, in Los Angeles to the Rams on Sept. 27, at home against the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 28. and at Chicago last week. The Rams, Saints and Bears boast the top three records in the NFC, a combined 28-5.

“I guess we’re just playing good teams,” Zimmer said. “That might be the real factor.”

Cousins has a 4-12 career record as a starter when kickoff is in the evening, though he has a 68 percent completion rate with 31 touchdowns and 16 interceptions and an average of 305 passing yards in those 16 games.

“It gets a little bit convoluted when you try to look at a stat and pair it with a player,” Cousins said. “It becomes maybe a bigger, more complicated picture than just a win-loss record and trying to judge performance.”

THIRD DOWNERS

The Packers are 19th in the NFL with a 38 percent conversion rate on third down. They’re up against a Vikings defense that leads the league on third downs, allowing the chains to move only 28 percent of the time.

One problem for the Packers has been the absence of wide receiver Randall Cobb, long one of Rodgers’ most reliable options. He has missed half of Green Bay’s games with a hamstring injury, including the last two contests, but he could return to action Sunday.

SACKMASTER FACKRELL

Outside linebacker Nick Perry missed Green Bay’s last game at Seattle, but third-year backup Kyler Fackrell made his absence moot with three sacks, his second such performance this season. Fackrell has eight sacks this year, more than starters Perry and Clay Matthews combined.

“The more you play, the more you get comfortable with it, the less encumbered you are with the thinking part,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said.

JONESING FOR THE BALL

Packers running back Aaron Jones didn’t play against the Vikings earlier this season because of a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Jones has 342 rushing yards and four touchdowns over the last four games, plus 12 receptions for 100 yards and a score. He’s the league leader in yards per rush with an average of 6.4.

HELP FROM HARRIS

Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo will miss his sixth straight game because of a groin injury, but Anthony Harris has capably filled in as the starter in the previous two games. He had two interceptions against the Bears.

“I’m just coming in each day preparing like I’m going to be out there every snap and just trying to take advantage of any opportunities given,” Harris said. “So each year, I’ve just been trying to take strides in getting better and increase my role and help this team win.”

Harris signed with the Vikings in 2015 as undrafted rookie out of Virginia. Zimmer praised his progress with becoming more of a physical player as well as gaining a better understanding of the system.

“I just think confidence,” Zimmer said. “You know, he sees things and reacts. He’s a good visual player, I think. He’s very smart.”

GREEN BAY (4-5-1) at MINNESOTA (5-4-1)

Sunday, 8:20 p.m. EST, NBC

OPENING LINE — Vikings by 4

RECORD VS. SPREAD — Green Bay 4-5-1, Minnesota 5-4-1

SERIES RECORD — Packers lead 60-53-3

LAST MEETING — Vikings and Packers tied 29-29, Sept. 16

LAST WEEK — Packers lost to Seahawks 27-24; Vikings lost to Bears 25-20

AP PRO32 RANKING — Packers No. 16, Vikings No. 10

PACKERS OFFENSE — OVERALL (8), RUSH (T17), PASS (7).

PACKERS DEFENSE — OVERALL (12), RUSH (26), PASS (5).

VIKINGS OFFENSE — OVERALL (14), RUSH (31), PASS (8).

VIKINGS DEFENSE — OVERALL (5), RUSH (4), PASS (6).

STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Packers have lost first two trips to U.S. Bank Stadium but are 7-5 under coach Mike McCarthy in Minnesota. … Earlier tie is one of two draws in NFL this season. … Packers have lost seven straight regular-season road games, since winning in overtime at Browns on Dec. 10, 2017. … Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, including playoffs, is 12-7-1 as starter in career against Vikings. In last two road games against Vikings, he has produced two lowest passer ratings of those 20 contests, including last year when hit by Vikings LB Anthony Barr in first quarter broke his collarbone. … Rodgers has 26 TDs and no interceptions in last 10 games against NFC North teams. He had streak of 28 straight TD passes without interception against division foes from 2013-15. … Packers RB Aaron Jones, who missed earlier matchup due to suspension, has 342 rushing yards and four TDs in last four games, plus 12 receptions for 100 yards and one TD. Jones leads league with average of 6.4 yards per rush. … Packers lead NFL in sacks per pass attempt (32 in 325, for 10.46 percent). LB Kyler Fackrell, starting in place of injured Nick Perry, had three sacks last week against Seahawks. DT Kenny Clark has four sacks in last five games. … Vikings have lost all three night games this season, at Rams, against Saints and at Bears. … Vikings have 16 turnovers, fourth most in league. QB Kirk Cousins has been charged with 13 of them, seven interceptions and six fumbles. …. Vikings WRs Adam Thielen (85, first) and Stefon Diggs (71, sixth) are only teammates ranking in top 10 in NFL in receptions. … Thielen has 35 receptions, 453 yards and three TDs in last four games against Packers. … Vikings have allowed only four runs of 15-plus yards, fewest in league. … Fantasy tip: Packers allowed 173 rushing yards to Seahawks last week. Vikings have rushed for 408 yards and six TDs in last three home games, making RB Dalvin Cook a good bounce-back play despite only 10 total yards and fumble on 12 touches last week against Bears.