Saturday, January 05, 2013

Keys to Vikings' Victory

The Minnesota Vikings enter tonight's NFC wild-card playoff matchup a ten-point underdog against the Green Bay Packers.  That's a sizable margin, even for a home team but especially for a home team that has trouble with the Vikings' strengths.

That spread suggests two things.  One is that Packer fans are betting heavy on their team.  The other is that both those setting the odds--the original line was Packers -7--and those accounting for the vast majority of betting believe that the Vikings will be playing without injured cornerback Antoine Winfield and with an injured Christian Ponder.

If Winfield is out and Ponder plays with what has been reported to be a bum elbow, the Vikings will need to do something miraculous to win tonight's game.  After Winfield left last week's game, the Vikings' secondary collapsed, with Aaron Rodgers throwing with impunity against Winfield's replacement, Mike Sherrels.

For those thinking that this all stacks up nicely for the home team Packers, there is reason, beyond Mike McCarthy's jittery ramblings, for grave concern.  First, Ponder had his finest moments after injuring his elbow last week.  What Ponder did last week was not miraculous or other-worldly, it was simply competent with occasional inspiration.  If Ponder can mimic that level of performance this week, he will have done all that the Vikings can really hope for.  But even if he falls no more than slightly below that level, at worst, he will only be a non-factor.

Second, with an injured Winfield in the game, Green Bay did almost nothing through the air.  The question is not whether, if he is in the game, Winfield will make a difference on pass defense, but whether Winfield will be in the game.  One suspects Winfield will at least put forth his strongest effort to participate, even if that means consuming a copious amount of pain killers.

Third, the Packers have not yet stopped Adrian Peterson.  Last week, with a bye week at stake, the Packers' corners and safeties appeared both in awe and ghastly afraid of the Vikings' rugged and speedy back.  Getting back an aged and hurting Charles Woodson could help, but probably only at the margins.  The Packers have suggested that they will key in on Peterson even more this week, probably resorting to more eight- and nine-man fronts.  That would only give the Vikings more opportunity to hit uncovered targets, get the lead, force the Packers out of those fronts, and more greatly open the door for Peterson to charge toward a playoff rushing record.

For Minnesota, the keys to victory tonight are clear--Winfield must play, Ponder must not flail, Peterson must carry the ball at least 30 times, Rodgers must be held under 300 yards passing with less than three touchdowns, and the Vikings' special teams must keep the Packers honest.  Those are a lot of ifs.  But they are still more favorable than the one much larger requirement that the Packers must meet if they are to beat the Vikings--they must stop Peterson.  Until they do, there is no reason to believe that they can and no reason to point to a tomorrow in this year's playoffs for the Pack.

Up Next:  Winner Go Home?

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