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NFL Preview - Green Bay (2-1) at Minnesota (3-0)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The one Brett Favre has undoubtedly been waiting for is finally here.
A little more than 20 months after taking his final snap in a storied 16- season run as the quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, Favre will wear the uniform of their long-time rival - the Minnesota Vikings - when the Pack visits Mall of America Field at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on Monday night.
Any lingering affection that Favre and the Packers might have for one another will fade away during that three-hour window, if it hasn't already.
The venerable quarterback's divorce from the team last summer - perpetuated by his notorious indecisiveness about a return to the field in 2008, coupled with a simmering feud between Favre and general manager Ted Thompson - led the signal-caller to be traded to the New York Jets last summer.
After one hot-and-cold season with New York, which was followed by his release and a second brief "retirement," Favre opted to return to the league in August following a period in which he was linked to the Vikings throughout the summer.
And now, the situation that the Packers had hoped to avoid when they dealt Favre to the Jets, in an agreement that placed several obstacles in the way of him subsequently moving to his desired destination of Minnesota, is finally here.
If his recent exploits are any indication, Favre is more than ready to play against his former team.
Last Sunday, the soon-to-be 40-year-old quarterback added another chapter to his voluminous NFL story by leading the Vikings to a dramatic 27-24 home win over the 49ers. A much-replayed 32-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Greg Lewis with two seconds to play helped move Minnesota to 3-0, one game ahead of the Bears and Packers in the NFC North.
Favre was 24-of-46 with two touchdowns, one interception, and 301 yards in the game, becoming the Vikes' first 300-yard passer since Daunte Culpepper reached the plateau way back in 2005.
The Packers didn't make nearly as many headlines in their Week 3 win, but went to St. Louis and handled the Rams, 36-17, to erase some of the residue of a disturbing home loss to the Bengals the week before.
Aaron Rodgers completed just 13-of-23 passes, but made those completions count for 269 yards including big plays down the field to Greg Jennings (catches of 53 and 50 yards) and Donald Driver (a 46-yarder plus a 21-yard touchdown catch).
Defensively, the Pack was far from perfect, giving up 163 total yards to Steven Jackson and allowing Kyle Boller to emerge from the scrap heap with two touchdown passes, but kept the Rams off the scoreboard for the final 23-plus minutes in order to emerge with the win.
Green Bay leads the all-time regular season series with Minnesota, which dates back to the 1961 season, 49-45-1, including 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 Packers swept home-and-homes with the Vikings in 2006 and 2007.
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 5-1 edge in his personal series against both the Vikings and head coach Brad Childress.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
Though the play of Rodgers (714 passing yards, 4 TD, 0 INT) and his receivers is what made the highlight reels following Green Bay's win over the Rams, it was the work an embattled offensive line that was the truly encouraging development for McCarthy's team. Rodgers, who was sacked a total of 10 times in the team's first two games, was hauled down only twice by St. Louis, and the Packers offensive line also paved the way for 152 yards in the running game. Thirty-eight of those yards, including four picked up on a fourth- quarter run for a touchdown, came off of Rodgers scrambles. Ryan Grant (206 rushing yards, 2 TD) added 99 yards on 26 carries, lowering his yards per carry to a disappointing 3.7 for the year. Jennings (8 receptions, 1 TD) and Driver (14 receptions, 2 TD) remain Rodgers' top targets, and tight ends Donald Lee (9 receptions) and Jermichael Finley (5 receptions) have contributed as well. The Packers are a middling 22nd in NFL total offense (313 yards per game) as Week 4 begins.
After facing some questions about their declining performance against the run over the first two weeks, the Minnesota rush defense led by the "Williams Wall" of defensive tackles Pat Williams (9 tackles) and Kevin Williams (6 tackles, 1 sack), limited 49ers rusher Glen Coffee to 54 yards on 25 carries for the day. The Williams' combined for nine tackles in the win, and helped set up middle linebacker E.J. Henderson (28 tackles, 1 sack) to make 13 stops behind them. The Vikings will be expecting a similar effort against Grant and the Packers running game, and given the state of Green Bay's offensive line, defensive ends Jared Allen (11 tackles, 2 sacks) and Ray Edwards (16 tackles, 1.5 sacks) will need to bring consistent pressure as well. Allen notched his second sack of the season last week. On the back end, cornerback Cedric Griffin (13 tackles, 2 INT) tallied his second interception of the year, and fellow CB Antoine Winfield (18 tackles) chipped in with four tackles and a couple of pass deflections. The Vikings enter Week 4 ranked fourth in NFL total defense (259.7 yards per game).
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
Though Favre (566 passing yards, 5 TD, 1 INT) will be the media focus on this night, the Packers likely have far more concern from a tactical standpoint about the ability of running back Adrian Peterson (357 rushing yards, 4 TD, 7 receptions) and all-purpose threat Percy Harvin (12 receptions, 2 TD) to beat them. Peterson, the NFL's leading rusher as Week 4 begins, combined for 295 ground yards in two contests against Green Bay last season, including a season-high 192-yard effort in a Week 9 win. Harvin has shown up all over the field for Minnesota, scoring his third touchdown of the year last week on a 101-yard kickoff return. Favre's deep touchdown toss to Lewis came on a day when he was forced to throw it downfield more often, and that was good news for wideouts Sidney Rice (9 receptions, 1 TD), Bernard Berrian (10 receptions), and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (6 receptions, 1 TD). Rice scored his first touchdown of the year on a 30-yard pass from Favre in the first quarter, and both he and Berrian had identical stat lines of four catches for 56 yards. The Minnesota o-line has allowed nine sacks of Favre thus far, including two by the 49ers last Sunday.
After initial indications were that the Green Bay defense would largely be a credit to the winning cause in 2009, some concerns have crept in for the unit over the past couple of weeks, when both the Bengals and Rams were able to post their best offensive days of the year against the Pack. The run defense ranks just 23rd in the league (128.7 yards per game), a problem for a team about to face the league's top rusher. Inside linebackers A.J. Hawk (19 tackles) and Nick Barnett (12 tackles) will need to keep Peterson in check, and if first-round draft choice and d-lineman B.J. Raji can play extensive minutes for the first time as a pro, it would certainly help. Raji missed the first two games with an ankle injury, and played against the Rams but did not register any statistics. The strength of the Packers defense remains its playmaking ability in the secondary, and safety Nick Collins (13 tackles, 1 INT) and cornerback Charles Woodson (18 tackles, 3 INT) and Al Harris (14 tackles, 1 INT) will be among those trying to goad their former teammate Favre into some mistakes. The Green Bay rush has generated five sacks through two games, including one each for outside linebackers Aaron Kampman (16 tackles, 1 sack) and Clay Matthews (4 tackles, 1 sack).
Rodgers was heralded as a fantasy starter before the season, though the former first-round pick has not exactly been lights-out one year after throwing for over 4,000 yards. He's still worth starting, especially against a Vikings defense that forces opponents to pass the ball, but don't be surprised if some negative points litter his performance. Jennings and Driver are good plays on Monday given the nature of the matchup, but Grant is a risky play at best. Even against a good Minnesota offense, you'll want to start a Green Bay defense looking to do the very possible and cause turnovers from Favre and Peterson.
Peterson, Harvin, and the Minnesota defense should be obvious starters against the Packers, but what to do about Favre? Yes, he comes off a 300-yard day and will be fired up to play Green Bay, but that doesn't mean the Vikings are going to get away from their run-first gameplan. Unless you're desperate, Favre remains a No. 2 fantasy quarterback at best.
Though the Favre drama will undoubtedly skew the focus of anyone watching this game, the main advantage the Vikings will have over the Packers on Monday night doesn't wear No. 4. Minnesota should win this game is in the trenches, where the Vikings' front four should manhandle a weak Green Bay offensive line, and where the Vikes' own o-line group should handle a Packers three-man front that remains a work in progress. Favre should have his moments in this one, and his new team will be determined to give him a win against his former employer, but don't look for that victory to be solely a result of the grizzled veteran's heroics.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 24, Packers 16
10/01 16:02:18 ET
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