Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers
Start-time: Friday, 01:30
TV: Live on SS2
For someone who's tipped Green Bay as a Super Bowl contender, I can't hide behind a tough opening schedule and pretend that all is proceeding according to plan. The Pack have failed to fire as they did in preseason and could have conceivably lost their opening three games.
However, as Green Bay's stellar signal-caller Aaron Rodgers reminded fans and media alike before last weekend, the season is long. "We just need to stick together through this blip," said the quarterback. "Then we'll stay the course of the campaign."
The Pack duly answered their leader's call to solidarity on Sunday with a textbook performance of offensive capability in a 38-17 blowout of the useful Chicago Bears. Rodgers had seemed handcuffed by some disappointing efforts from his key receivers, but this time his chain gang of wideouts broke free of the shackles that had held them back. "Air" Jordi Nelson and Randall Cobb both turned up to work on time and punched their clocks for the first proper shift of the season.
Cobb, who had been typically tough on himself for underachievement to date, was particularly impressive but he and Nelson split four TDs between them and helped Rodgers chalk up 302 yards. All in all, the trio proved that their core processes are sound and will continue to reap rewards as their receiving rapport grows strong.
Admittedly, their running game is still mediocre. However, Eddie Lacy - stuck in third at the moment - is too talented not to kick it into a higher gear soon. With their rush defense and secondary also stepping up, catch the Packers while they're hot. In a division and conference whose competitive nature could see the main protagonists slit each other's throats, the Cheese-eaters could yet build up an irresistible head of steam for the play-offs.
This week's live encounter for Thursday Night Football offers Green Bay the chance to prove at much at home. Especially as they're entertaining beleaguered divisional rivals, the Minnesota Vikings, who are still smarting from the loss of main man Adrian Peterson whose career has downward spiraled into chaos in an on-going child-abuse case.
Not that you'd have know it to witness the Vikes' strong Sunday showing against in-form Atlanta. Despite the absence of AP - and under the hatchling guidance of new QB Teddy Bridgewater - Minny put up over 500 yards in total offense. Bridgwater connected with 19 of 30 passes for 317 yards, while foot soldiers Jerick McKinnon and three-TD Matt Asiata combined for over 200 more. In short, is was a breakout day for some promising performers.
Trouble is, though, that this troika of talent is not to be trusted. Certainly when compared to the triangle of trust that is Rodgers-Nelson-Cobb. The Vikings' upcoming trip to historic Lambeau Field on a short week only adds to my conviction that their inexperience will be exposed in the national spotlight of Primetime. Bridgewater may not want to be hurrying back from his ankle sprain.
The off-field distractions will continue to plague Minnesota this week, while Green Bay are finally back to doing what they do best on the pitch. The Vikes' D is still a work in progress under Mark Zimmer's tutelage and will struggle to contain a rampant Rodgers. The fact that they withstood the Falcons at the weekend has happily served to restrict the handicap line (which looks at least a touchdown out to my jaundiced eye). Back the Pack with confidence at a few rates.
Back Green Bay Packers (-9) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 1.9210/11 or better
Back Green Bay Packers (-15) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 2.56/4 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 28.5 Points @ 2.111/10 or better
Back E. Lacy to score First / Anytime Touchdown @ 9.08/1 or better