There seemed little doubt that the Oct. 15 meeting in Minneapolis followed by the Dec. 23 game at Lambeau Field would play a major role in deciding the division champion.
Rodgers’ broken collarbone ruined all that and by the time Week 16 rolled around, the Packers already had been eliminated from postseason consideration, and the Vikings already had the NFC North title in their hands.
Perhaps the Vikings, with their dominant defense and surprising quarterback play, would have unseated the Packers anyway. But the Packers couldn’t even make it a fight.
That’s why Sunday’s game at Lambeau has so much intrigue -- that is, if Rodgers’ left knee injury doesn’t prevent him from playing. There’s the Vikings, with new quarterback Kirk Cousins to go along with their highly respected defense. And there’s the Packers, with Rodgers’ collarbone healed and a new defensive approach (and new pieces on that side of the ball).
“The biggest issue in the game is going to be the mobility of Rodgers,” said a scout for an NFC team. “As good as they have been on D, he could always extend plays for them. So, now he will have to play in the pocket if he’s not 100 percent.”
That might not be a bad thing, according to another scout, who said the knee injury shouldn’t limit what Rodgers does best -- stay in the pocket and pick defenses apart with quick throws like he did when he returned from his injury and led the second-half rally to beat the Bears on Sunday night.
“If Aaron stays in the pocket throwing, I think Green Bay can win,” a scout for an AFC team said. “I think he’s just that good -- even with no running game.”
Both the NFC scout and AFC scout agreed that the Vikings, also 1-0 after their opening win over the 49ers, were better than the Packers in every area except quarterback, while the AFC scout added that the two teams were practically equal on the offensive line and perhaps in the secondary.
“The Packers are much better in the secondary than they were last year,” the AFC scout said. “Josh Jackson’s going to be really good, but their DBs will get tested this week.”
The AFC scout said the Vikings' receivers have a slight edge over the Packers’ receivers largely because of Stefon Diggs, who is “more dynamic” than anyone the Packers have.
Said the NFC scout: “Outside of Aaron Rodgers, I think Minnesota has the advantage because they have the better defense and more playmakers on offense. Green Bay’s D-line might be able to take advantage of Minnesota’s O-line.”
According to the NFC scout, the biggest mismatch is Vikings running back Dalvin Cook against the Packers’ linebackers.
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“Cook will give their linebackers issues because of his speed,” he said.
The AFC scout called the Packers’ linebackers “just average.”
It was no surprise to hear the scouts praise the Vikings’ defense up and down, but consider this: The AFC scout said the Vikings have as many as seven studs on defense.
“Most teams are lucky if they have three,” the scout said. “Four if they’re lucky.”
“They’ve got about six of them on defense: [Danielle] Hunter, Sheldon Richardson, Everson Griffen, Barr, Harrison Smith and the corner [Xavier Rhodes] is really good, too. They’ve got about six of them. The other linebacker, [Eric] Kendricks, is really good, too. They may have seven.”