PACKERS // VIKINGS OVERVIEW
Sunday Night Football brings us two teams whose seasons are hanging on by a thread, with the Vikings barely clinging to the final playoff spot in the NFC at the moment, and with the Packers hoping to unseat their rivals and get back into the win column after a rough stretch that has seen them go 1-3, with tough losses against the Rams, the Patriots, and the Seahawks. Incredibly, the Packers are 4-0-1 at home this year, and they are 0-5 on the road.
For all the “reputation” these teams have, they have been about as middling as can be this year, with the Vikings ranked 11th in points allowed and 15th in points scored, while the Packers rank 16th in points allowed and 13th in points scored. On offense, the Packers rank 18th in drive success rate while the Vikings rank 22nd. On defense, the Packers rank 11th in drive success rate allowed while the Vikings rank sixth. Neither team has been great at finishing drives, with the Packers ranked 14th in red zone touchdown rate and the Vikings ranked 23rd. The biggest edge the Vikings have is in red zone defense, where they rank first in the league in red zone touchdown rate allowed. The Packers rank 11th.
In a game between two desperate teams that know each other well, with marquee players on both sides of the ball, we should have an entertaining, hard-fought battle that comes down to a few big plays (or a few dunderheaded decisions from Mike McCarthy) at the end. Vegas has pegged this game with an Over/Under of 47.5, installing the Vikings as early three point favorites.
PACKERS PASS OFFENSE
Minnesota has been middling against the pass on a per-play basis, but they have been one of the toughest teams in the league against wide receivers, with the ninth fewest receptions allowed, the fifth fewest yards allowed, and the third fewest touchdowns allowed. Since giving up 100+ yards to all three of Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp in the same game, the Vikings have played six more times, including matchups against the Eagles, the Saints, the Lions, and the Bears. Not one receiver has topped even 81 yards against them. The Vikings have allowed the fewest passing touchdowns in the league. Only five teams have allowed fewer passing yards per game.
With the Packers ranked second in the NFL in pass play rate, and with the Vikings just about as tough to attack on the ground as they are through the air, we should expect Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to dial up their typical volume. Recent target counts on the Packers have looked like this:
:: Davante Adams — 7 // 9 // 7 // 12
:: Marquez Valdes-Scantling — 5 // 6 // 7 // 3
:: Randall Cobb — 5 // 6 // DNP // DNP
:: Equanimeous St. Brown — 2 // 4 // 3 // 4
:: Aaron Jones — 2 // 4 // 5 // 6
Cobb is expected to return this week, which will bump MVS to the outside and will limit playing time for St. Brown. Jimmy Graham is dealing with a broken thumb at the moment, and while the Packers are acting as though he is potentially going to play this week, it seems likely that he will be glued to the sidelines, and that Lance Kendricks will fill in — filtering a few more targets to wide receivers.
Adams — as discussed in this space all year — sees his targets regardless of matchup; and while a matchup against Xavier Rhodes is not an optimal setup, the Packers’ star receiver has had one of the most difficult cornerback slates in the NFL this year (Rhodes // Josh Norman // Tre’Davious White // Darius Slay // Stephon Gilmore // Xavien Howard), and it has hardly affected him at all. Only Alvin Kamara and Juju Smith-Schuster have more red zone targets than Adams this year. He carries a target projection of eight to 10 in this spot once again, and he’s a good bet to go for 70+ yards and have opportunities for one or two scores.
Even with Cobb expected to return, MVS should mix in for five to seven looks in this spot with Graham on the sidelines. His downfield role will make it tough for him to hit in this difficult draw, but there should be a few tight-window throws coming his way, and if he can hang onto the ball on these throws he’ll have a shot at piling up yardage. This would be a stay-away spot on the Main Slate, but on the Showdown it is at least worth considering.
Cobb’s underneath role (and his low YAC upside) requires a broken play or a touchdown in order for him to hit. The Vikings will be happy to push targets to Cobb and to tackle him for little to no gain after the catch. He’s the lowest-upside play in this group.
PACKERS RUN OFFENSE
The Vikings have been incredible against the run this year, allowing the second fewest yards per carry in the league and allowing only two running back rushing touchdowns all season (only the Bears have allowed fewer). In fact: as a whole, only the Jags, Bears, Bills, and Ravens have allowed fewer total yards than the Vikings, creating a tough spot for upside from the Packers’ offense as a whole. The Vikings have also been better than average against pass-catching running backs, and they should make life difficult for Jones from start to finish.
In better news for Jones: he is very clearly the lead ball carrier on this offense moving forward, with 44 of a possible 49 snaps played last week (hey, McCarthy — what would have happened if you had done this sooner?), and with 16 touches after seeing 18 and 16 the previous two weeks. Jones will likely need another multi-touchdown game in this spot in order to really provide strong value, but he’s a talented player with locked-in usage, giving him value on the Showdown.
VIKINGS PASS OFFENSE
If you have been on this site all season, you know by now that the Packers have been strong against the pass — allowing the third lowest catch rate in the NFL, while facing the fifth fewest pass attempts in the league, at the sixth lowest opponent pass play rate in the league. The Packers’ defense essentially “plays the pass” at all times — inviting teams to run the ball between the 20s, and leading to very few opponents piling up big passing totals against them. As a result of this, only four teams have allowed fewer passing yards per game.
With that said: the Vikings have run a “don’t know, don’t care” offense this year that attacks through the air regardless of what their opponent is doing. When these teams met in Week 2, Kirk Cousins threw the ball 48 times while Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray combined for only 14 rush attempts — with the Vikings hammering the short passing game (only two of Cousins’ 48 passes traveled more than 20 yards downfield), while Adam Thielen racked up a 12-131-1 receiving line and Stefon Diggs went 9-128-2.
Ultimately, this is what it all comes down to in this spot: do the Vikings attack through the air again, or do they lean more heavily on the ground? No team in football has a higher pass play rate this year than the Vikings, and the only time they have really shown an inclination to lean on the run has been when they’ve been playing with a big lead. With a run-blocking unit that ranks dead last in adjusted line yards on offense, it seems likely that the Vikings lean pass-heavy again in this spot (even if it seems unlikely that they uncork another 48 throws). Cousins has thrown 36 or more passes in all but two games this year, and somewhere in the range of 36 to 40 is a fair expectation here.
Over 53.3% of Cousins’ targets this year have gone to Thielen and Diggs, with Thielen ranked first in the entire NFL in targets per game…and with Diggs ranked second. With both guys among the best route-runners in the NFL, and with Thielen hammering high floor/ceiling targets over the middle and Diggs mixing in his wide receiver screens and possession targets with downfield looks, each guy can win in any matchup when the volume is there. This matchup (and the uncertainty it introduces from a volume perspective) would probably pull each of these guys out of Tier 1 on the Main Slate (making at least Diggs, and possibly even Thielen, more “ceiling” than “floor/ceiling” at their price), but these two pop on the Showdown.
Behind these guys, Laquon Treadwell has seen almost no schemed targets all season, and he continues to provide little value beyond running into a few targets here and there. He will need a broken play or a touchdown to hit. The same goes for Aldrick Robinson, who has four touchdowns on the year but has not yet topped 34 yards in a game. Kyle Rudolph has seen his already-small role shrink lately, with only one game in his last four of more than two catches, and with no games in his last six of more than 41 yards. Only three teams have allowed fewer catches to tight ends than the Packers.
VIKINGS RUN OFFENSE
The best way to attack the Packers has been on the ground, where they rank 20th in yards allowed per carry. It is worth noting that Cook has not topped 10 carries in a game since Week 1; but from a forward-looking perspective, the biggest takeaway right now is that Cook played 59 snaps (out of a possible 67) in the Vikings’ Week 11 game against the Bears (Latavius played six snaps), signaling that the Vikings view him as fully healthy. Minnesota’s offensive line is a mess and only three teams have allowed fewer receptions to running backs than Green Bay, but this is an explosive, multi-use back who is playing all the snaps against a defense that tries to funnel opponents toward the run. We should go into this game expecting 15 to 18 touches for Cook — with upside for more.
On the Main Slate for the Packers, Adams would be in consideration for me for his role in this offense, but he’s the only player I would have any interest in, and I probably would not play him on a Main Build, as his chances of posting a huge game are slim. Ultimately, the Packers have been more “name” than “production” this year, as a middle-of-the-pack offense now taking on one of the top five or six defensive units in the league. On the Showdown: Rodgers, Adams, and Jones stand out the most, with MVS behind them. Everyone outside these three would be just “guess and hope” plays.
With the Vikings entering a better matchup in this game than what the Packers have on the other side, and with such a narrow distribution of work on this team (Thielen and Diggs ranking first and second in the NFL in targets // Cook playing nearly every snap last week), there is a lot to like about the idea of betting heavily on this side of the ball in the Showdown. All three of these guys would be in tourney consideration for me on the Main Slate (with Thielen and possibly even Cook in the Main Build conversation), while these three stand out on the Showdown — joining Adams as my favorite plays on the slate among skill position players.
Cousins should be able to post a solid score in the Showdown.
It won’t be surprising if one of these defenses creates a splash play, but otherwise neither stands out.
The kickers (as always) are in play on the Showdown slate as well.