NFL Preview - Minnesota (2-3) at Green Bay (3-3)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Will there be one more happy return for Brett Favre in Green Bay?
That will be the main question answered when Favre and the Minnesota Vikings meet the Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday night, but by no means the only one.
To be sure, it's always a story when Favre - the NFL's all-time leading passer - returns to the place he called home for 16 seasons before parting ways with the organization prior to the 2008 campaign. Favre's return to Lambeau last Nov. 1st, in a game the Vikings won by a 38-26 count, was among the biggest stories of 2009, though enough has changed for both teams since that time to obscure the homecoming angle just a tad for this year's matchup.
The Packers, who went 7-2 after losing to Favre for a second time last year and found themselves in the 2009 playoff bracket along with the Vikings, are no longer in Minnesota's shadow. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers rebounded from his two head-to-head losses to Favre, ending the '09 season with 30 touchdown passes, seven interceptions and a Pro Bowl appearance.
Rodgers is not the same quarterback the Vikings saw in the first half of last season, and unfortunately for Minnesota, neither is Favre. The future Hall of Famer enters Week 7 with a middling 72.1 passer rating in 2010 - down more than 35 points from last year - having thrown for just six touchdown passes and seven interceptions as the 41-year-old battles a myriad of injuries as well as an off-the-field scandal concerning his text-messaging activities as a member of the Jets in 2008.
In a related development, the Vikings have struggled too. A team that went 12-4 a year ago stands at just 2-3 as they head to Lambeau, though their 24-21 home win over the also-dysfunctional Dallas Cowboys last Sunday offered at least a temporary sigh of relief.
The Vikings attack managed just 188 yards of total offense in that win, though the team was bailed out by some big plays including a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Percy Harvin to start the second half.
Wideout Randy Moss, playing in his second game with the Favre-era Vikings following his trade from New England, caught five passes for 55 yards in the win.
The struggles of the Vikes have been handy for a Packers team that has also suffered through a disappointing 2010 to date.
Green Bay dropped to 3-3 with last week's 23-20 overtime loss to the Dolphins, the Pack's second straight OT defeat and the third time in the last four games they were on the business end of a three-point defeat.
Though Rodgers played reasonably well after suffering a concussion the week before (18-of-33, 313 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), a battered Green Bay defense surrendered 137 ground yards on 32 carries for Dolphins running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, and Green Bay didn't have enough of an answer for Dolphins wideout Brandon Marshall (10 receptions, 127 yards) either.
The loss prevented the Packers from pulling into a tie with the first-place Chicago Bears (4-2) atop the NFC North.
Green Bay leads the all-time regular season series with Minnesota, which dates back to the 1961 season, 49-47-1, but as mentioned was swept by the Vikings last year for the first time since 2005. The Packers were 30-23 road losers when they visited the Twin Cities in Week 4, and dropped a 38-26 decision in Favre's return to Lambeau Field in Week 8. The clubs embarked on a conventional home-and-home split of the 2008 season. With a win on Sunday, the Vikings will have won four straight games over the Packers for the first time since 1992-93.
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, a game best remembered for a broadcast overreaction by FOX announcer Joe Buck as Moss performed an end-zone celebration.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has a 5-3 edge in his personal series against both the Vikings and head coach Brad Childress.
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
Though Favre (979 passing yards) has not played great football in 2010, you can bet that a meeting with the Packers will bring out the best in the graybeard. Favre threw for seven touchdown passes without an interception in his two meetings with the Packers last year, and has shown signs of snapping out of his funk by throwing four of his six touchdown passes since Moss joined the lineup two weeks ago. The addition of the venerable receiver, who will be facing the Packers for the first time since his memorable '04 playoff performance, should continue to free up the team's other targets to make plays. Harvin (20 receptions, 4 TD) and Greg Camarillo (6 receptions, 1 TD) both scored touchdowns last week, though tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (13 receptions, 1 TD) was held without a catch in the contest. Running back Adrian Peterson (553 rushing yards, 4 TD, 15 receptions) was limited to 73 yards on 24 carries, but scored a touchdown and will continue to be a focal point of the offense. Peterson was held under 100 yards in each of his two appearances against the Vikings last year. The Minnesota line has surrendered 13 sacks on the year, and has been mediocre at best.
A banged-up Packers defense needs some good luck on the injury front heading into the Vikings contest, after linebackers Clay Matthews (hamstring), Brandon Chillar (shoulder) and defensive linemen Mike Neal (shoulder) and Ryan Pickett (ankle) were all inactive last week. Lineman Cullen Jenkins (hand), linebacker A.J. Hawk (groin) and defensive backs Charles Woodson (toe) and Nick Collins (knee) are all nursing injuries as well, and linebacker Brady Poppinga (knee) has already been ruled out for Sunday, as has Neal. Matthews (21 tackles, 8.5 sacks) appears set to return this week, and recently activated defensive backs Al Harris (knee) and Atari Bigby (ankle) are eligible to return for the Vikings game. Among those who will definitely play, nose tackle B.J. Raji (18 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and linebacker Desmond Bishop (24 tackles, 1 sack) lead a run-stopping group looking to recover from a weak effort against the Dolphins last week. Raji had seven tackles last week, while Bishop logged 10 stops. On the back end, a team that could ill-afford to be without Woodson (39 tackles, 1 INT) or Collins (24 tackles) could find itself relying heavily on cornerback Tramon Williams (23 tackles, 2 INT, 1 sack) and safety Charlie Peprah (16 tackles). Hawk (48 tackles, 1 INT) leads the team in stops. Green Bay is a disappointing 22nd against the run, 18th versus the pass.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (1546 passing yards, 10 TD, 7 INT) was sacked a total of 14 times in two games against the Vikings last year, and Green Bay is still facing questions about how it will protect the QB after the Dolphins dropped him five times last week. The Packers are going to need a stronger effort out of tackles Chad Clifton and Bryan Bulaga this week, at a minimum. Complicating matters for the Pack, who have already lost tight end Jermichael Finley for the year, is a quadriceps injury that has the status of Donald Driver (28 receptions, 3 TD) in question for this week. If Driver can't go, Greg Jennings (20 receptions, 4 TD), James Jones (15 receptions, 1 TD) and Jordy Nelson (13 receptions) would still form a strong corps of targets. Jennings shook off weeks of frustration with a six-catch, 133-yard day last Sunday that included an 86-yard touchdown catch. With Finley out, Donald Lee (4 receptions, 1 TD) and Andrew Quarless (5 receptions) are the top two tight end options. Brandon Jackson (305 rushing yards, 1 TD, 16 receptions) has done a decent job running the football, but is more a change-of-pace than anything else for McCarthy's run-first offense.
After the struggles of Rodgers and the Packers offensive line against the Vikings last year, all eyes will be on Minnesota's end tandem of Jared Allen (17 tackles, 1 sack) and Ray Edwards (12 tackles, 1.5 sacks) this week. The duo has started slowly in 2010 to date, as the Vikes have posted a total of six sacks including none last week. If the team can't provide pressure, cornerbacks Antoine Winfield (34 tackles, 1 INT) and Asher Allen (17 tackles) are going to have their hands full defending Jennings and possibly Driver. Safeties Madieu Williams (29 tackles) and Husain Abdullah (24 tackles) will be a big part of the pass-defending effort as well. Minnesota is a disappointing 12th in the league against the run as Week 7 begins, but did a nice job in limiting Cowboys backs Felix Jones and Marion Barber to a combined 63 yards on 24 carries a week ago. Linebacker E.J. Henderson (37 tackles, 2 INT) had a big game with nine tackles and two interceptions, while fellow LB Chad Greenway (51 tackles) added a game-high 12 stops and the 'Williams Wall' of defensive tackles Kevin Williams (12 tackles, 1 sack) and Pat Williams (11 tackles, 1 sack) combined for nine tackles.
For the Vikings, Peterson and Moss remain high-level fantasy options, with Harvin a flex possibility, but there's little else you can rely on for the Purple. Favre has been mightily inconsistent, Shiancoe has disappeared as a pass-catcher since Moss joined the team and kicker Ryan Longwell and the Minnesota defense have both been hit-or-miss.
Rodgers, who should put up numbers on Sunday even in the presence of a shaky offensive line, remains an elite-level fantasy quarterback. Owners of both Driver and Jennings will want to monitor the injury status of the former. Jackson has averaged better than seven yards per carry the last two weeks, but is a low-level flex option based on his number of touches. The Green Bay defense would be a good option against the error-prone Favre, but it's simply too injured to rely on at this stage.
A month ago, you never would have picked the Vikings to go into Lambeau Field and win, but it appears that Minnesota is catching Green Bay at exactly the right time. The many injuries to the Packers defense are great news for the likes of Favre, Peterson and Moss, three players who will be able to exploit those weaknesses. Rodgers and the Green Bay attack also figure to have their moments, but watching how the Dolphins defense abused the Packers o-line last week translates to a potential 'blood in the water' situation for Jared Allen and the Vikings pass rush. The Packers are desperate to beat the Vikes, and will not go quietly, but they don't look positioned to earn a quality win at this point.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 27, Packers 24
10/21 16:35:45 ET