The storylines abound as the Green Bay Packers travel to a raucous and sold-out U.S. Bank Stadium Sunday afternoon for the NFL regular season-opener.
The border rivals meet for the 124th time overall in an early NFC North showdown will be televised exclusively in Western Wisconsin on FOX 25/48 in the network’s featured NFL game at 3:25 p.m.
Green Bay leads the regular-season series 63-55-3 and the teams are knotted 1-1 in postseason play.
“Hey, it’s a big test for both teams, but remember it’s the first game,” former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka said.
“When those teams meet its always a tough game, a rivalry game. Someone will be one up in the division early, but it’s a long season.”
Without a doubt a lot will change between now and when the teams meet again on January 1 at Lambeau Field. The road to the NFC North crown begins in Minneapolis, but it may likely end on the frozen tundra in Green Bay.
Take your pick of season-opener storylines:
How will the Packers offense and league MVP Aaron Rodgers evolve post-Davante Adams with their young receivers?
How will a fired-up Za’Darius Smith fare against his former teammates in Vikings new 3-4 scheme?
What wrinkles will new Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin 0’Connell install in the potent Minnesota offense?
Who will prevail in the dream match-up of Jaire Alexander vs Justin Jefferson?
Can a potentially patchwork Green Bay offensive line hold its own against a stout Vikings front?
The Packers have owned the NFC North under head coach Matt LaFleur, finishing 13-3 in the regular season the past three years. Minnesota has made substantial changes in their roster, coaching ranks, and front office to challenge Green Bay this season for division supremacy and a berth in the playoffs.
As always, health matters going into Sunday’s game. The Vikings had only three players listed on the injury report Friday afternoon, while the Packers listed 12 players, including No. 1 receiver Allen Lazard, the only player to not participate in practice this week. Lazard was “stepped on” in practice last week La Fleur said. That allows veterans Sammy Watkins, Randall Cobb, and Amari Rodgers the opportunity to step up, along with promising rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs.
Rodgers was not concerned Wednesday about Lazard’s (listed as doubtful) absence from practice, saying, “I don’t think he needs a lot of practice to be ready to go. So we’ll see how the week progresses.”
A major concern is the availability of key offensive linemen David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins, who are both recovering from major knee injuries/ACL tears and are listed as questionable for Sunday. Both practiced on a limited basis through Thursday, thought Bakhtiari was held out today.
Also listed were K Mason Crosby (right knee), LB Tipa Galeai (elbow), C Jake Hanson (shoulder), S Dalin Leavitt (shoulder), TE Marcedes Lewis (veteran rest), T Yosh Nijman (knee), S Darnell Savage (hamstring), TE Robert Tonyan (knee), and WR Christian Watson (knee).
While Minnesota is set with quarterback Kirk Cousins and his formidable receiving corps that includes Jefferson/Adam Thielen/K.J. Osborn and star running back Dalvin Cook, the Packers receiving corps is in flux.
Green Bay may well rely more on its 1-2 rushing punch of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon to sustain longer drives and keep the Minnesota offense idle on the sideline—and quiet the Viking faithful and their infamous SKOAL chant.
On paper, the Packers defense has the potential to be one of the NFC’s best, and will have an opportunity to prove it against one of the NFL’s top receiving groups in a hostile environment. “Aaron Rodgers is one of the best, but the defense will have to prove themselves,” Ditka said. “And they’ll have their hands full against Minnesota. It will be a good matchup.”
Green Bay features one of the league’s best defensive backfields with cornerbacks Jaire Alexander, Eric Stokes, and Rasul Douglas backed by safeties Adriam Amos and Darnell Savage. Neither Green Bay or Minnesota played many starters in preseason, so there’s little on tape to gain insights from a coaching perspective. Adjustments will be made on the fly as starters shake off the rust.
Ex-Packer linebacker Za’Darius Smith can’t wait to face his former teammates, especially Rodgers without a red “no hit” vest on. Smith made headlines this week with statements on how he was exited the Packers and was treated in Green Bay while rehabbing from a back injury last season.
The former two-time Pro Bowler in 2019-20 missed nearly all of last season and was released by the Packers in March, but quickly signed by Minnesota to a three-year, $42 million contract.
The Packers announced today their six team captains for the 2022 season. Rodgers, Jones, and tight end Marcedes Lewis were named offensive captains, while Amos, Kenny Clark, and De’Vondre Campbell will represent the defense.
Fun fact: Since 2020 season, Rodgers has thrown 38 touchdown passes without a pick against NFC North foes. Vikings formidable front four will try to pressure him to end that impressive streak.
Week 1 NFL Picks
Packers 27, Vikings 24
Aaron Rodgers and Packers have found a way in the past to thrive when their top receivers were sidelined. Green Bay defense and running game will be the keys to defeating Vikings. Look for Dillon, Watson and Tonyan to have productive games in an entertaining slugfest in U.S. Bank Sunday. Packers focused after debacle in Florida in 2021 opener.