By the time of kickoff on Sunday, the Green Bay Packers (7-8) will have a good idea of what is required to make the postseason. The Washington Commanders play the Cleveland Browns in the early timeslot, and if the Commanders lose, the Packers will know that two wins – over the Minnesota Vikings this week and the Detroit Lions next week – will get them into the postseason.
Regardless of the early results, the Packers need a win over the NFC North champion Vikings at Lambeau Field.
Here are five things to watch and a prediction for Week 17:
Kickoffs in the cold
(AP Photo/Abbie Parr)
Temps at Lambeau Field won’t be frigid, but the Packers are expecting Vikings kick returner Kene Nwangwu to have opportunities in the return game on Sunday. Nwangwu is the Packers’ version of Keisean Nixon; explosive, and a big-play threat. He’s the only player in football with more than one kickoff return touchdown over the last two seasons. Can the Packers keep Nwangwu contained and win the field position battle? It’s unclear if Nixon, who is battling a groin injury, will play on Sunday, making it even more important for Rich Bisaccia’s special teams to cover punts and kicks well. Packers Wire’s Paul Bretl touched more on this key factor here.
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Back in Week 1, the Packers were 3-for-9 on third down, 0-for-2 on fourth down and 1-for-3 scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Matt LaFleur’s team has to be better in the big situations on Sunday, especially late in the contest against a team that has dominated situationally in the fourth quarter. The Packers haven’t been consistent in any of the three situations this season, and the red zone issues were a problem in Miami. With Christian Watson’s availability in question, and Aaron Jones battling injuries, the Packers may have to grind out long drives on Sunday, which will require converting on third down and getting the ball into the end zone when in the scoring area.
(AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
The Vikings are 11-0 in games decided by eight points or less, 10-0 when scoring at least 24 points and 7-0 when creating at least two takeaways. Explosive plays on offense and timely takeaways have powered the Vikings this season, especially late in games. Over three losses, the Vikings scored 11.0 points per game and lost the turnover battle 6-1. The Packers have only three games without a turnover this season, but the defense has started taking the ball away more consistently (eight during three-game win streak). Can Matt LaFleur’s team limit big plays, win the turnover battle and make it happen in important situations late?
(AP Photo/Abbie Parr)
Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson is 244 receiving yards away from 2,000. Back in Week 1, he got his record-setting season going with 184 yards and two scores against the Packers. Will Green Bay give Jaire Alexander more opportunities to follow Jefferson around the field? Or will Joe Barry keep Alexander and Rasul Douglas in place and rely on his various coverages to contain Jefferson and the rest of the Vikings weapons? Either way, the Packers can afford no coverage lapses on Sunday. Jefferson is going to get his catches and yards, but limiting explosive plays and making sure TJ Hockenson, Adam Thielen and KJ Osborn don’t dominate as complementary players should be the focus.
Opportunity for the offense
While all attention shifts to stopping Justin Jefferson and the Vikings offense, it’s worth noting how poorly the Vikings defense has played throughout the 2022 season. Minnesota has allowed 6.0 yards per play and ranks 31st in yards allowed and 28th in points allowed. Could this be an opportunity for the Packers offense to take control of the contest? The Packers are a dominant running team, and the passing game has come alive since getting back all the receivers. Potentially not having Christian Watson could be a big issue, but the Packers moved the ball fine in Miami during the second half. The Vikings have allowed 100 or more rushing yards 11 times, over 300 passing yards eight times and over 400 total yards nine times. Moving the ball shouldn’t be an issue on Sunday.
Prediction: Packers 27, Vikings 24 (7-8)
Given the Packers’ incredible mid-season slump and the Vikings’ incredible season-long good fortune, this showdown looks much closer than a typical 12-3 vs. 7-8 matchup. The Packers are playing their best football of the season and might be starting to look a little dangerous, while the Vikings keep winning close games regardless of the competition level. Can the Packers steal away the lucky horseshoe and win a close game at Lambeau Field? I think they can. Matt LaFleur’s team is better built to win outdoors, and the defense’s recently discovered ability to take the ball away could be a saving grace against a quality opponent with a quarterback that can be loose with the football. It might not always be pretty, especially if Christian Watson and Keisean Nixon don’t play, but the Packers are playing well enough in all three phases right now to steal a game, especially given the urgency required of the current situation.