Wild Card Preview: Vikings-Packers

Jeff Reynolds, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

Minnesota at Green Bay
Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET, at Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis. - TV: NBC
*TV announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya
*Keys to the game: The element of surprise is unlikely in the third meeting in 34 days between bitter rivals. There's no logical reason for the Vikings to change their approach. RB Adrian Peterson had 55 carries for 409 yards in two regular-season meetings and Green Bay's defense was on skates for much of the time trying to contain him. The Packers overloaded to stop Peterson last week and got burned for three touchdown passes by QB Christian Ponder, whose confidence seems to be peaking at the right time. The Packers expect WR Randall Cobb to play after sitting out last week, but WR James Jones has become a lead receiver in terms of snap count and Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings both had flashes last week that indicate they're at or near full strength. If CB Antoine Winfield (hand) can't play or is limited -- he wasn't able to play in the second half last week -- the Packers will flood the Vikings' zone defense. That brings TE Jermichael Finley, a jumbo slot receiver in extra-receiver sets, into the fray and compounds coverage challenges for Minnesota.
*Matchup to watch - Packers RT Don Barclay vs. Vikings DE Brian Robison: Barclay is a brawler who bucks up, but he's not a pure technician as a pass blocker, and the Vikings were able to disrupt him repeatedly in the Metrodome last week with help assigned on the other side against Jared Allen.
*Player spotlight - Vikings WR Jairus Wright: The rookie with 4.43 speed was inactive for the first nine games of the season. He had three receptions for 90 yards and an acrobatic touchdown last week as Ponder gains faith in his hodgepodge receiving corps.
*Fast facts: The Packers are 5-1 in the past six meetings. ... Peterson had seven 150-yard rushing games in 2012, tied with Earl Campbell (1980) for most in a single season in NFL history.
Christian Ponder delivered the game of his career last week. Now the Packers push their chips to the center of the table, sell out and stack the line to stop Adrian Peterson and invite Ponder to try and win a playoff road game against Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field.
*Our pick: Packers 29-23

When the Vikings run the ball: Not all of Adrian Peterson's 2,097 rushing yards this season came easily, but a fair share of them have against Green Bay with a number of explosive plays out of the Vikings' three-tight end formation. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers is sure to throw a new wrinkle at Peterson -- it won't matter if his second-level defenders -- hello, Morgan Burnett -- don't make the tackle. Edge: Vikings
When the Vikings pass the ball: S Charles Woodson (collarbone) might be back on the field and his presence shouldn't be undersold. QB Christian Ponder makes questionable decisions and seems to shy away from throwing it downfield. TE Kyle Rudolph is a Pro Bowl target and the main -- perhaps lone -- reliable outlet for Ponder. Edge: Packers
When the Packers run the ball: The presence of C Evan Dietrich-Smith adds a physical road-grader next to RG Josh Sitton, and Green Bay can kick up plenty of sod behind that tandem. The most explosive back in the Packers' average bunch has been DuJuan Harris, a 5-foot-7 stick of dynamite who also shows some elusiveness but had only 34 carries. Edge: Packers
When the Packers pass the ball: The line has to protect better than last week, when the Vikings notched five sacks. Everyone running a pattern is a target. WR James Jones led the NFL with 14 TD catches but Randall Cobb (80 receptions) is the matchup the Vikings fear. Cobb (ankle) sat out last week, but Greg Jennings had his best game. Edge: Packers
Special teams: The Packers put their faith in iron-toed Mason Crosby though it hasn't helped his confidence or accuracy most of the season. Crosby was 2-for-2 last week. Cobb could give way to Jeremy Ross, who has been a catalyst on punt returns. The Vikings have a special weapon in rookie PK Blair Walsh, the NFL record-holder for 50-yard field goals in a season (10). Edge: Vikings
Coaching: The Vikings survived key injuries and gave no quarter to their rival in two tightly contested games this season. Mike McCarthy's Packers had the injury excuse, too. He has a Super Bowl ring, but the Packers also lost their playoff opener at home last season. Edge: Packers

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