NFL Preview - Minnesota (6-1) at Green Bay (4-2)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The biggest storyline of the game, of the week, and arguably of the NFL season will wear No. 4 when the Green Bay Packers welcome the Minnesota Vikings to Lambeau Field on Sunday afternoon.
Brett Favre's presence at the center of media and fan attention for a game played in Green Bay is certainly nothing new. The fresh angle derives from the fact that for the first time, the future Hall of Fame quarterback will step onto the pitch at Lambeau wearing a different team's uniform.
The circumstances that led Favre out of Green Bay after a storied 16-year tenure began in earnest soon after the Packers were bounced by the Giants in the 2007 NFC Championship. Favre, who had previously flirted with the notion of retirement, announced days later that he would indeed step away from the game during a tearful press conference.
But Favre began having second thoughts about retirement soon after the team had moved on with successor Aaron Rodgers, beginning a tug of war with the Packers, and in particular Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson, that elicited water-cooler talk throughout the summer of 2008.
Favre's stated wish was to play in a familiar west-coast scheme in Minnesota, but with the Packers loathe to trade the legend to their arch NFC North rival, Favre was dealt in August to the New York Jets, in a deal that placed several obstacles in the way of New York in turn moving him to the Vikings.
After one hot-and-cold season with the Jets, Favre announced his retirement again, and New York subsequently gave the quarterback his unconditional release in a maneuver that would have barely made a ripple had Favre decided to stay away.
Then, to the surprise of almost no one, and after he had explicitly stated he would not play for the Vikings weeks before, Favre signed a two-year, $25 million free agent deal with Minnesota in August, setting up the monumental homecoming that will take place on Sunday.
Adding fuel to the fire for disgruntled Packers fans is that Favre is already 1-0 against his former team, having engineered a 30-23 win over Green Bay in a Monday night showdown at the Metrodome in Week 4.
Favre was a crisp 24-of-31 passing for 271 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers in that game, in which he became the league's first quarterback to defeat all 32 NFL teams.
The 40-year-old quarterback's renaissance continued during the team's ascendance to 6-0, but the first blip on his radar as a Viking came in last week's 27-17 loss at Pittsburgh. Two Favre turnovers in the fourth quarter, the first a strip-sack, and the second an interception that bounced off the hands of running back Chester Taylor, were returned for touchdowns that helped the Steelers seal the victory.
The Packers had a happier Week 7 result, pelting the hapless Cleveland Browns, 31-3, to continue their mastery of bottom-feeding NFL opponents.
Green Bay's four wins in 2009 have been compiled against opponents that are a combined 5-28.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 15-of-20 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns in the win, and running back Ryan Grant had his best day of 2009 to date with 27 carries for 148 yards and a touchdown.
Since allowing a third-quarter touchdown pass from Favre to Bernard Berrian in Week 4, the Packers defense has gone nine quarters without allowing a TD.
Green Bay leads the all-time regular season series with Minnesota, which dates back to the 1961 season, 49-46-1, including their 30-23 road loss to the Vikings in Week 4. The teams embarked on a conventional split of last year's home-and-home. The Packers were 24-19 home winners over the Vikings in a Monday night game in Week 1 of last season, and Minnesota snapped a five- game losing streak in the series with a 28-27 win at the Metrodome in Week 10. The Vikings are 0-3 at Lambeau Field since last winning there in 2005, also the last time they swept a home-and-home versus Green Bay.
The teams' only postseason meeting to date was the Vikings' 31-17 upset of the Packers at Lambeau Field in a 2004 NFC Wild Card game.
The Packers' Mike McCarthy has a 5-2 edge in his personal series against both the Vikings and head coach Brad Childress.
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
Despite last week's loss to the Steelers, Favre's place as leader of the Minnesota offense continued to evolve. Far from the game manager he was at the beginning of the season, on Sunday the future Hall of Famer established season- highs for completions (33), attempts (50), and yards (334) against a top-notch Steelers "D", although Favre (1681 passing yards, 12 TD, 3 INT) did fail to throw a touchdown pass for the first time this year. The passing day was his biggest from a completions, attempts, and yardage standpoint since he left Green Bay after the 2007 season. Sidney Rice (33 receptions, 2 TD) has emerged as Favre's favorite target, a situation that is unlikely to change with Bernard Berrian (24 receptions, 2 TD) a major question mark for Sunday due to a hamstring injury suffered last week. Rice has exploded for 16 catches and 312 yards in the past two weeks combined. Slot man Percy Harvin (23 receptions, 2 TD) has added consistent value in both the passing game, where he caught three balls for 42 yards last week, and on kickoff returns, where his 88-yard fourth- quarter end zone dash gave him his NFL-leading second TD of the year in that area. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (21 receptions, 5 TD) has been another weapon for Favre. All of that said, the Vikings rushing attack will probably give the Packers at least an equal amount of sleepless nights. Adrian Peterson (687 rushing yards, 8 TD, 18 receptions) comes into Week 8 ranked second in NFL rushing yards, after compiling 69 hard-earned yards on 18 carries against the Steelers last week. The Packers limited Peterson to a season-worst 55 yards on 25 totes back in Week 4.
Given that the quick-firing Favre is notoriously difficult to pressure, the microscope will be on the physical Green Bay secondary to hold the Vikings' fleet of receivers in check on Sunday. Cornerbacks Al Harris (24 tackles, 2 INT, 1 sack) and Charles Woodson (26 tackles, 4 INT) will take on primary responsibility for handling Rice and Harvin, with safeties Nick Collins (19 tackles, 1 INT) and Atari Bigby (12 tackles, 1 INT) counted on for support. Woodson had the only interception of the Browns' Derek Anderson last week, and also posted a forced fumble in the blowout. Outside linebackers Aaron Kampman (29 tackles, 3 sacks) and Clay Matthews (15 tackles, 3 sacks) have come on of late while working out of Green Bay's 3-4, but will have trouble getting to the well-protected Favre on Sunday. The Packers run defense is a respectable 12th in NFL rushing defense (97.5 yards per game) as Week 8 begins, with nose tackle B.J. Raji (6 tackles) and end Johnny Jolly (22 tackles, 1 INT) acting as space- eaters at the point of attack, and inside linebackers Nick Barnett (37 tackles, 1 sack) and A.J. Hawk (31 tackles) among those working behind them. Hawk, who played just nine snaps against the Lions the Sunday before, bounced back with an eight-tackle day against the Browns last week.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
Proving the adage that offensive line play doesn't get noticed unless it's bad, Green Bay's trench unit has garnered an awful lot of attention thus far in 2009. But a unit that has allowed a bloated 25 sacks on the year could be playing from a position of greater strength this week. Veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher appears ready to make his 2009 debut after being re-signed two weeks ago, and left tackle Chad Clifton could also be back in the lineup after missing time with an ankle sprain. That can only help matters for Rodgers (1702 passing yards, 11 TD, 2 INT), who brings a strong 110.8 passer rating into Sunday's contest and has thrown multiple touchdown passes in four consecutive games. Donald Driver (27 receptions, 3 TD) was high-man with 84 yards and a touchdown on just two catches in the rout of Cleveland, while Greg Jennings (22 receptions, 1 TD) chipped in with a team-best five catches for 39 yards. But the offensive story for the Packers in the win was the rejuvenation of Grant (495 rushing yards, 3 TD, 13 receptions) and the Packers running game, which saw a back top 100 yards for the first time this season. Green Bay improved to 13th in NFL rushing offense (118 yards per game) with the effort.
Job number one for the Packers offensive line will be slowing Vikings defensive end Jared Allen (29 tackles, 7.5 sacks), who made Green Bay look silly with 4.5 sacks in Week 4. Allen and defensive tackle Kevin Williams (15 tackles, 4 sacks) have been the most consistent pass rushers for a Vikings team that leads the NFL in sacks with 24. That pass-rushing onslaught could be needed if top Minnesota cornerback Antoine Winfield (30 tackles, 1 INT) misses a second straight game with a foot injury that has him listed as questionable for Sunday. If Winfield can't go, Benny Sapp (16 tackles) and Cedric Griffin (43 tackles, 2 INT) will line up at corner, with somewhat-limited safeties Tyrell Johnson (29 tackles, 1 INT) and Madieu Williams (29 tackles) needing to look better than usual on the back end. The Vikings have not exhibited their usual dominance against the run thus far in 2009, but rank a respectable 10th in NFL rushing defense (95.3 yards per game) and have allowed just two touchdowns on the ground. The "Williams Wall" of Pat (22 tackles) and Kevin Williams sets the run-stopping tone up front, with linebackers E.J. Henderson (55 tackles, 1 sack) and Chad Greenway (40 tackles, 2 INT) counted on to make tackles behind them.
Favre was viewed by most as a backup QB option at best prior to the season, but after four 270-plus-yard passing days in his last five starts, he should be considered starting material now. There's very little chance the Vikings gameplan will call for Favre to be a game-manager given the circumstances, so feel free to roll with him, Rice, Harvin, and Shiancoe. Peterson is not always a sure thing, but remains a must-start. The playmaking Vikings defense and kicker Ryan Longwell are also worthy plays.
On the Green Bay side, Rodgers figures to get his yards, which should mean nice things for the fantasy totals of Driver and Jennings as well. Grant comes off his best week of the year but is a risky play against a good Vikings run defense. Play Packers kicker Mason Crosby, but probably best to leave the Green Bay defense on the bench or waiver wire.
No matter what he might say publicly either before or after this game, this is one that Favre will want as much as any in his career. A win at Lambeau Field against the franchise that, for whatever reason, decided to cut ties with him, would offer vindication for Favre. A loss would validate those, including GM Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy, who thought Favre needed to go. Look for a heightened level of intensity and focus out of Favre, who has played extremely well this year. The Packers will want this one too, but the matchup remains a tough one for them. Even with Clifton and Tauscher in the lineup, it's hard to imagine the Green Bay offense being anything close to dominant against the Vikings defense. Minnesota looks like a finished product at this stage; Green Bay is still evolving, and that fact will play out on the scoreboard at the end of 60 minutes.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 20, Packers 17
10/29 13:23:17 ET