At Green Bay is a Locker Room Referendum
A first-place team takes on a last-place team in the first place team’s building. The good team has lost just one game. The bad team has won only once. The green squad has a first-round rookie quarterback being groomed on the bench. The purple team wants to groom its own first-round signal-caller on thebench. One quarterback is admired to the utmost, even when criticism is probably necessary. The other quarterback is “overpaid” and is the incessant chatter of skepticism.
The team from Minnesota has played one of the NFL’s most difficult schedules to date (.553 opposition win percentage). The Wisconsin team has experienced one of the league’s easiestschedules (.385). Matt LaFleur’s defensive ends are a fearsome twosome. Mike Zimmer’s defensive ends were supposed to be ferocious, but one has been injured for the season, the other was unceremoniously traded last week. The team named after Norse mythology has a superstar rookie wide receiver. The fanbase of the team named after meat and cheese desperately wanted to draft a superstar wideout last spring.
And, the teams are bitter foes.
In this sport, we’d normally say: “The stakes are high.” They’renot. The Week 8 contest between the Vikings and Packers is a bad team versus a good one. Green Bay has Super Bowl aspirations. If the Vikings have playoffs hopes, they have not been too serious about them as evidenced by performances against Indianapolis and Atlanta. Now, it’s likely too late to rectify a 1-5 record.
For Minnesota’s future, though, this NFC North squabble has emotional and implicative meaning. Will the Vikings arrive at Lambeau Field and play with some spirit? Or will they mail it in?
Trade Rumors Everywhere
For the first time in longstanding memory, the Vikings are in a position to be sellers at the trade deadline, which is Election Day. Minnesota is dwelling in the NFC North’s catacomb looking up at the Lions – a statement that should send shudders of fear through Vikings faithful. The lowly Lions are currently a better football team than the Vikings. That’s a rarity and head-scratcher.
Anthony Harris, Harrison Smith, Riley Reiff, and Adam Thielenare players that are whispered as tradebait. The idea is that high-dollar players that might benefit contending teams elsewhere. When the Vikings inked the aforementioned players, the team was in a markedly different mood. Playoffs have always been an achievable goal of Mike Zimmer-led teams, but that goal is largely out of reach halfway through 2020. Why not torch the depth chart, right?
Do players hear the noise when they are subject of trade chatter? If so, some will remain consummate professionals by blocking out the noise. Others take a Stefon Diggs-like approach and do bizarre stuff.
If the Vikings seem disinterested, aloof, or malcontented in Green Bay this Sunday, it could be a signal that the rumors are founded or that Zimmer’s locker room is riddled with turmoil.
One Star is Already Gone
The Vikings have already shown they have the testicles to tradea prolific player to a contender. General manager Rick Spielmanshipped brand-new asset Yannick Ngakoue to Baltimore for draft capital – a curious move considering the circumstances. The Vikings acquired Ngakoue from a rebuilding team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, just seven weeks prior. Sending the Pro Bowl defensive end yonder after a short period of time is odd. It effectively admits a quasi-rebuild.
These are the realities, though, when a team’s record craters to 1-5. Spielman mentioned that it is his solemn duty to take care of the long-term outlook of the team. So, his wheeling-and-dealing of Ngakoue evidently aligns with that mentality.
Was the Ngakoue news a stunner to the locker room as it was to the Vikings fanbase? Was it common knowledge that he would be one-and-done player? These questions are prudent to adjudicate the morale of this current bunch.
The defensive line will not improve with Ngakoue’s exodus. Butwhether the players actually cared about his removal from the team could be flushed out in body language this wekeend.
One of the Most Interesting Games of Zimmer Era
Zimmer has been the skipper for several topsy-turvy contests in his 6+ years. The Week 8 contest is particularly unique. It is the first time he is coaching against the Packers under the banner of a bad football team. At Zimmer’s “lowest,” he propelled the Vikings to a 7-9 finish in 2014. This was Zimmer’s first season in Minnesota, and nobody felt as if that team was “bad” for finishing under .500. It was the opposite, in fact. The Vikings won four more games than the year before – a defensive rejuvenation was underway.
This weekend, however, we will see how a poorly performing team under Zimmer executes after a bye week. If the locker room is ornery (in a bad way) or disengaged, the Packers could spank the Vikings. Or maybe the team has galvanized around the shoddy start to 2020 and ready to play competently as they did in Seattle?
In any event, the product put on the field by Minnesota will be pulse-check on morale.