Vikings, Packers headed in opposite directions
The Associated Press
The Green Bay Packers have powered through injuries to Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews to surge back into postseason contention.
The fading Minnesota Vikings need a miracle to get into the playoffs, especially now that running back Adrian Peterson is sidelined again.
Heated division rivals headed in opposite directions meet Saturday at Lambeau Field in a game that could help clear up the NFC playoff picture.
Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn would rather muddle things up.
“Most definitely. If we can’t go, they can’t go,” Munnerlyn said. “We’re going to try to spoil their parade and put them in a bad situation.”
A four-game winning streak has changed the fortunes of the Packers (8-6). A win over the Vikings (7-7) would set up a winner-take-all showdown at first-place Detroit for the NFC North crown.
“Especially in these division games, it can be taken from you in a heartbeat, so we just got to continue to play well, prepare well, execute and finish,” Packers receiver Jordy Nelson said.
Green Bay has pushed through a spate of injuries all season, including those late in the year to its biggest stars, to overcome a midseason, four-game losing streak.
Matthews has been slowed by a painful left shoulder injury that has kept his production down in a reduced, pass-rushing role.
Rodgers is still prolific, even if his mobility might be limited. Second in the league with 32 passing touchdowns, Rodgers remains strong-armed and accurate, as evidenced by his 60-yard bomb to Nelson late in the fourth quarter last week against the Bears to set up a winning field goal as time expired.
On that same day, Minnesota’s playoff hopes took a severe hit after a deflating 34-6 loss to Indianapolis at home. It was Peterson’s first game back since tearing the meniscus in his right knee in the Vikings’ 17-14 win over the Packers in Minnesota in Week 2.
Playing only 12 snaps, Peterson rushed for 22 yards on six carries and had a fumble deep in Colts territory.
Peterson did not practice at midweek after the running back said he had a “couple of nicks” for which he needed treatment following his first game in three months. On Friday, he was ruled out of Saturday’s game because of knee and groin injuries, giving the reins to Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon in the Minnesota backfield.
Other notes and things to watch ahead of Saturday’s game:
MINNESOTA’S PATH: It’s a very tough road to get back into the playoffs for the Vikings, who started 5-0. They’ve already been eliminated from repeating for the division title. To get a wild card, Minnesota must win its final two games against the Packers and Bears, have the Buccaneers lose out and Washington lose at least once.
TY HIM UP: Now a full-timer in the backfield, former receiver Ty Montgomery has had his workload increase each of the last three games, culminating in a career-high 162 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 16 carries against Chicago.
Christine Michael also ran for a 42-yard score last week, when the Packers amassed a season-high 226 yards rushing.
RODGERS’ CALF: Rodgers’ injured right calf seemed to be improving after the quarterback was a full practice participant at midweek. His limited mobility played a part in the Bears getting four sacks last week. The Vikings are tied for seventh in the league with 35 sacks and sacked a healthy Rodgers five times in Week 2. The Packers’ offense has been much more prolific since then, too, amassing yards with a quick passing attack.
SLINGIN’ SAM: The Vikings have had trouble scoring points and generating big plays this season, but they could end up being a record-setting unit anyway. Quarterback Sam Bradford is completing 71.6 percent of his passes with two games to go, which puts him on pace to break Drew Brees’ single-season record of 71.2 set with New Orleans back in 2011. The number is skewed somewhat by the Vikings’ over-reliance on the short passing game.
“The focus is to win games,” Bradford said. “It’s not about stats. … So, I don’t think it would do much for me, to be honest.”
SITTING SMITH?: Rodgers dissected a Seahawks defense two weeks ago that was without safety Earl Thomas. Now the quarterback could face a Vikings D without its standout safety, Harrison Smith. One of Minnesota’s biggest playmakers has missed the last two games with an ankle injury. Smith missed practice again at midweek, which could be trouble against an offense that is hitting on deep passing plays again.