Romilly Evans expects Aaron Rodgers and Co to put a struggling Minnesota outfit quickly to the sword...
"Rookie RB Eddie Lacy has started where he left off at college, boring holes with boring regularity"
Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings
Start-time: Monday, 00:30
TV: Live on Channel 4
The Minnesota Vikings have been mercilessly frustrated by a host of reversals this year. Some predictable, others unforeseen. However, they have all added up to one negative outcome: a lack of cohesion. Even the tragic loss of star running back Adrian Peterson's infant son failed to galvanise the team in a show of solidarity last week, going down tamely to the NY Giants (themselves previously 0-6).
In this campaign of bedevilment, Minny's issues at quarterback have neatly personified the problems - three aggressively average quarterbacks, all trying to negotiate defensive backfields with satnavs bestowed by Satan.
So it comes as little surprise that head coach Leslie Frazier has chosen the devil he knows for tonight's late crunch clash against the Green Bay Packers. A win may not save their season, but it could save their souls in front of a packed Metrodome against their fierce divisional rivals.
Christian Ponder gets the gig ahead of Josh Freeman (dazed and confused) with Matt Cassel as back-up, although the guy with the half-time oranges is apparently also in the running. Freeman's inauspicious performance against Big Blue was predicated on overthrows and described as "mechanically flawed" by Frazier. Hardly the ringing endorsement you want from the man who brought you in as the team's future foundation.
Freeman also proved a crushing disappointment in Tampa, but he remains talented and raw enough to get another shot soon. Ponder, who himself has recently recovered from a rib injury, has been brought back to do a job against a familiar foe. He matched Aaron Rodgers is a seasonal finale last term (which vaulted Minny into the play-offs) and has always exhibited shrewd decision-making against the Pack - even if that means repeatedly handing it off to Peterson.
Stopping Peterson, of course, will once again prove pivotal to the Packers' prospects. But they haven't had much success in this key category since records against the one-man wrecking ball began. Indeed, just three rushers in league history have more career yards versus Green Bay than Peterson (through 1,500-yard barrier and still rolling). Granted, that has a lot to do with them both being incumbents of the NFC North, but is cannot be mere coincidence that four of Peterson's nine highest ground-gain games have arrived against the Pack.
Mike McCarthy evidently heard Peterson coming over the past couple of seasons and has gone to great lengths to shore up his defense. Shrewd free-agency trades coupled to solid draft selection have dominated McCarthy's off-season thinking and it's finally bearing some fruit, particularly against the run. The Packers presently sport the third-ranked rushing D in the NFL (conceding only 3.4 yards per carry), so moving the chains in three conventional downs is proving a tough ask for their competitors, without resorting to the risks of airing the ball out.
Perhaps, therefore, there has never been a better time to oppose Peterson. Sure, you typically don't get rich taking on all-time legends. Yet even this famously diligent operator may have be forgiven for taking his eye off the formations at scrimmage. The tragic circumstances of his personal loss, the potentially derailing talk of the Vikes trading him to the Giants, and his own admission that his "hamstring is tight" provide three clear causes for concern.
Aaron Rodgers, though, has few worries on offense. The GB QB is at the height of his powers and if anything seems to be improving as the campaign wears on. In a hotly contested division, he can afford few further slips but they don't usually come against Minny. Rodgers has prevailed in six of his last seven against the Vikings, racking up a whopping 2,106 yards, 19 TDs and a 72.1% completion success rate.
Even by his own tall standards, it's awesome stuff - especially when you consider he's only given up three interceptions. Rodgers has also found a new favourite receiver in wide out Jarrett Boykin, while rookie RB Eddie Lacy has started where he left off at college, boring holes with boring regularity. Green Bay's offensive equilibrium is finally there and Rodgers can now set his sights on a postseason push with legitimate Super Bowl ambitions.
His next victims will surely be embattled Minnesota whose imbalance is there for all to see on both sides of the ball. Core blocker Rhett Ellison embodies this struggle - and his is the latest name on the waiting list for the treatment table (ankle strain). Of their last 21 meetings, 16 have been decided by a touchdown or less. This time the floodgates could open for Green Bay. Back them with confidence at a few handicap rates.
Back Green Bay Packers (-8.5) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 2.111/10 or better
Back Green Bay Packers (-4.5) to win on the First Half Points Spread @ 1.9110/11 or better
Back Green Bay Packers to score Over 27.5 Points 1.9110/11 or better