The Skol Debate: Need We Fear a First Round Packers Matchup?

Aaron Rodgers / Kirk Cousins
Nov 25, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) hug after the game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

A first round Packers matchup is a possibility, folks.

Currently, Minnesota finds itself in the second position in the NFC. Meanwhile, the Packers are in 10th, but their path to the 7th and final postseason spot is a distinct possibility. They’re heading into the weekend with a 26% chance of getting into the final tournament, per FiveThirtyEight.

Given the spots where these teams find themselves, there’s some chatter about a first-round game between the division foes. Would there be any reason to be concerned? Take a look at where the debaters stand:

  • The Purple Corner: Josh Frey (Yes, we should be concerned)
  • The Gold Corner: K. Joudry (Nah, no need to be worried)

With the housekeeping out of the way, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of the debate. Upward and onward.

Exploring a Potential First Round Packers Matchup

KJ: As hard as it is to believe, the 2022 regular season is very near completion. 

For the most part, things have gone well for Kevin O’Connell and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah in Year 1. The new HC/GM combo have shepherded their team to a handsome 12-3 record, setting Minnesota up as the #1 (not likely), #2 (pretty likely), or #3 (most likely, in my opinion) seed in the NFC playoffs. 

While we have a good sense of how things will go for the Vikings, we aren’t as certain about what things will look like in the opening round. Who is this team going to play?

One option that has lurked into view is an NFC North showdown featuring the Minnesota Vikings vs. the Green Bay Packers. That’s a scenario that would likely receive some mixed responses among Vikings fans. After all, it would be pretty disappointing to follow such a marvellous season with an early exit to the dreaded division foe. On the other hand, beating GB in RD1 would be a good-old-fashioned double whammy: a playoff win while also eliminating a hated rival. 

With that being said, I’ll lob the football over to you, Josh. Need we fear these Packers in the opening round of the playoffs? 

JF: Well, I think we’ll likely find out for certain in a couple days when the two teams face off at Lambeau, but my preliminary stance on this is yes. We probably do need to be concerned about facing this Packers squad rather than a team like the Commanders or Giants. 

Of course, the Vikings already proved they can beat this team at home by winning 23-7 in Week 1. That being said, the Packers are notoriously bad in the opening weeks of the season, and their defense especially seems to have turned a corner over the past month. 

Green Bay now finds themselves on a three-game winning streak since their loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, including an impressive Christmas Day victory over the Miami Dolphins in which the Green Bay defense forced four turnovers. 

They’ve played close games with many of the best teams in the NFL, and this isn’t a team that should be taken lightly if they ride a hot streak into the playoffs. We’ve seen Aaron Rodgers take Packers teams that seemed dead in the water halfway through the year and make deep playoff runs before. 

With that, I’ll kick it back to you. Am I too fearful of the cheesehead mob?

KJ: The short answer is yes, you’ve become too fearful of the cheesehead mob. The longer answer is a touch more sophisticated (but not by much). 

Now, before getting into the longer answer, I’ll merely point out that I acknowledge I’m tempting fate. Doubting the Packers – especially since it coincides with expressing confidence in the Vikings – is basically asking for a thorough beatdown in Week 17 (and maybe even the postseason). Danger aside, I’ll venture down this perilous path in the name of good debating.  

Not only should they not be overly concerned with a Packers matchup, the Vikings should welcome one.

The first and most obvious reason rests in the mere fact that we’ve already seen Kevin O’Connell take down Matt LaFleur’s team. Quite handily, in fact. The purple-and-gold’s only multi-score victory occurred against the division rivals. 

Of course, a lot has transpired since then, so can we really look to Week 1 to be our wellspring of confidence? Perhaps not. 

Questions Answered: Coach of the Year, Duke Shelley as a Starter, Playoff Underdogs
Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Going into Week 17, the Packers have the 18th ranked offense (20.9 points per game) and the 17th ranked defense (22.3 points against per game). The negative point differential functions as a reminder that things haven’t been going too well for LaFleur’s team. Their three-game winning streak has come against the Bears, Rams, and Dolphins. In other words, two terrible teams and one borderline playoff team. Their most impressive win came against the Cowboys in Week 10, but they otherwise haven’t beaten any great teams. 

By no means should we think that the Vikings are unbeatable titans who will steamroll any team in their path. Nevertheless, I’ll reiterate my confidence in Minnesota emerging triumphant in the hypothetical playoff matchup we’re exploring. 

The question for you, Josh, is this: what would the winning formula be for Aaron Rodgers & Friends if they needed to come to U.S. Bank Stadium in the opening round of the playoffs?

JF: Well, the winning formula for Green Bay is to get the ball into the hands of their playmakers. Since his infamous drop in Minnesota during Week 1, Christian Watson has shown signs of being a future WR1 in Green Bay. 

Over his first six games, the rookie receiver wasn’t targeted more than four times in a game. Since then, Watson’s been one of Rodgers’ favorite targets. Since Week 10, he hasn’t been targeted fewer than six times, and he’s scored 7 TDs. 

I wouldn’t feel overly confident about the Vikings defense’s ability to slow down the emerging star in a playoff game. Combine his breakaway speed with the veteran savvy of players like Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard, and this could be another long day for the Vikings secondary. 

Then, on the other side, they have found ways to get stars on defense involved more often. It seems like they’ve been sending Adrian Amos on more blitzes to help with run support in recent weeks, which is something that has been a strong suit for him in his career. Jaire Alexander looks much more like his usual CB1 self, and he’s recorded interceptions in two of the last three games. 

In the end, this Packers team has found success much in the same way that the Vikings have. They’ve made big turnover plays, and they’ve controlled the clock by killing opponents with a death of 1000 paper cuts. Over the last three weeks, they have the second-highest time of possession, holding the ball on average for 33 minutes and 55 seconds. Meanwhile, the Vikings have the sixth-lowest TOP over the same period with an average of 28 minutes and 28 seconds.

If the Vikings allow Aaron Rodgers to control the clock, that could end up being a recipe for disaster. Is there something in your mind that would allow the Vikings to control the game in a way that Miami was not able to this past week?

KJ: Yeah, I think so, and the answer isn’t particularly complex. 

For some reason, Miami decided against handing the ball off to their running backs. Raheem Mostert had 8 carries and Jeff Wilson had 9. The 17 combined carries should be overcome by just Dalvin Cook alone, who could easily clear 20 carries if the offensive line is having a good day at the office. For a little while now, I’ve been in favor of more Alexander Mattison, so perhaps he could get sprinkled in, as well. 

As we’ve discussed before, the best way to defend a great quarterback is to keep him on the bench. He can’t do any damage if he’s forced to simply watch Cook pickup first downs. 

Questions Answered: MIN-CHI Prediction, Teddy or Tua, Saving Grace
Dec 20, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports.

From there, I’d say that I’m not too intimidated by this group of receivers. Sure, Watson can win over the top, and yet one has to think that Donatell will be preparing for this possibility by leaning on Harrison Smith to help deep. Plus, I like the Patrick Peterson/Allen Lazard matchup. Give me P2 in that one. 

It’s the RB duo – Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon – that I find more concerning. Shutting them down, to my mind, is a prerequisite for victory. Dalvin Tomllinson – the Monster in the Middle – will need to be huge. 

Perhaps I’ll end simply by extolling the virtues of embracing competition. After all, we’re talking about NFL football. A first-round matchup against a hated division rival? Bring it on. Let them give it their 100% best shot and let’s see who is better in the end. I think it’s Minnesota, so there is confidence that the result will be one that the purple and gold will like. 

As of today, I’d predict a Vikings win in the opening round by a score of 147-6 27-21. Not an easy game, but a victory nonetheless. 

JF: In terms of competition and storylines, I wholeheartedly agree that the Packers and Vikings would be the most entertaining matchup for Minnesota’s Wild Card game. It may even be the best of the entire weekend if both teams show up at full strength. 

Especially at home, unless the Packers completely outmatch Minnesota this weekend, I’d lean towards the Vikings to win that game as well simply because of their newfound ability to win games in the final minutes. 

That being said, I remain wary of Rodgers in the early rounds of the playoffs simply because he isn’t named Geno Smith, Taylor Heinicke/Carson Wentz, or Daniel Jones. In the end, this discussion may end up being moot if the Vikings go into Lambeau and stomp out Green Bay’s hopes of the playoffs.

Hopefully, the Vikings go get their 13th win this weekend and extinguish any fear of this matchup.