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A-Rod to find his A-game in the Primetime spotlight
Make no mistake, this encounter is about much more than a battle for the NFC North. The Green Bay Packers already have that locked up (or are at least a 1/3 poke to take care of a third-string Detroit with nothing left to play for in the final game of the regular season).
However, with both Green Bay and Minnesota already guaranteed a postseason berth, this match-up has wider implications for NFC playoff seeding, in particular the destination of the prized number-one seed and its accompanying comforts of homefield advantage.
Indeed, things have opened up for the Packers after Seattle laid an egg at home to Arizona on Sunday. Should the Hawks now rebound at CenturyLink to do the double over the San Francisco 49ers (thereby clinching the NFC West), Green Bay will only need to win out to take an unlikely top seed and secure their fortress of fabled Lambeau Field for the playoffs.
In a season where many continue to doubt their Super Bowl credentials, that would be the most telling riposte Aaron Rodgers could deliver to his detractors.
It all seems a little harsh for the naysayers to be out on the 36-year-old, arguably the most gifted quarterback of his generation, especially as he's connected for 24 touchdowns and only two interceptions this term. He's also averaged a Passer Rating north of 100 to help his teammates stand tall at a glistening 11-3. Yet, while he's not too shabby on stats, Rodgers' trademark accuracy and decision-making totally deserted him last time out against Chicago.
His mechanics seemed out and he was lucky not to be picked off on a couple of occasions with woefully under-thrown passes. More broadly, he's repeatedly mismanaged game clocks and has even stopped scrambling, perhaps choosing discretion as the better part of valour, but blunting his brilliance.
A-Rod himself accepts that now is the time for him to stand up and be counted, as we near the sharp end of the regular season. I, for one though, am not about to start doubting a man who invariably delivers when the season's on the line. Remember, in the last, he's first.
Cook's absence will leave Cousins searching for the winning ingredients
Rodgers can't do it without a little help from his friends, of course. Davante Adams is back from a dodgy foot to rally a solid if unspectacular receiving corps. However, it is the resurgence of the rushing game that only applies more topspin to the idea that the Packers are real contenders for the Vince Lombardi trophy.
Running man Aaron Jones boasts figures of 4.4. yards per carry this season, and can now be relied upon to both carry a heavy load and punch it into the end zone for improved red-zone efficiency.
Impact running, which moves the chains over three downs, also lends variety to the long arm of Rodgers' law, so expect him to deliver a telling statement win against the odds tonight. At worst, thanks to a top-10 defense that has found a higher gear, Green Bay will take this road game down to the wire in the stronghold of US Bank Stadium.
On paper, both the Vikings and the Packers are very evenly matched across any number of stat lines. Under center, like Rodgers, Kirk Cousins has responded to stinging criticism to minimise the mistakes (only five picks and a 70% strike rate for completions this year) and now consistently posts triple-digit Passer Ratings.
Dalvin Cook can keep up with Jones, even on his best days, but he's still on the treatment table, while replacement RB Alexander Mattison is also listed as questionable.
Which leaves the Vikes' running game to a skilled novice in Mike Boone who has gladly stepped up in relief, registering carbon-copy figures to Green Bay's Jones in Week 15. Nevertheless, while Boone is a capable understudy with the ability to perform, Minnie fans would far rather see Cook taking the starring lead role, as advertised.
Cousins' two interceptions against the Packers in Week 2 would be an oversimplification as to what went wrong for the Vikes. Yet it's certainly the majority shareholder when it comes to apportioning blame for that 21-16 defeat. Captain Kirk may have plugged the leaky holes since then, but the suspicion persists - even at home - that his temperament can't compete with Rodgers' steadier hand on the tiller in these crunch clashes.
Rodgers has recently received the dreaded vote of confidence from his new head coach - or "full trust" as Matt LaFleur actually put it. If this were the Premier League, he'd be in trouble. However, it's the NFL and the Packers. As the playoff push for the Lombardi looms, LaFleur has effectively handed over the keys to an explosive offense and asked Rodgers to gun the motor. I say he starts the Super Bowl engine tonight.