GREEN BAY, Wis. – Exactly three weeks from today, the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings will kick off the 2022 NFL season with the 125th game in the history of their border battle.
At SI Sportsbook, Green Bay is a 1.5-point favorite with a total of 48.5 points. At FanDuel Sportsbook, the Packers are 2-point favorites; 53 percent of the money and 57 percent of the bets are on the Vikings.
Two of the offensive stars, Packers running back Aaron Jones and Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson, will be prominent in this early NFC North matchup. Over the past two seasons, Jones has averaged 66.0 yards per game. According to Inside Edge, the Packers went 15-0 when Jones eclipsed that mark. Meanwhile, since entering the NFL in 2021, Jefferson is averaging 91.0 receiving yards per game. When he was held under that mark, the Vikings were just 6-13.
A big side note for the game will be Za’Darius Smith lined up to face his former team. In 2019 and 2020, Smith recorded 26 sacks, but he barely played last season due to a back injury that required surgery. The Packers released him to help clear the salary cap, and Smith signed with the Vikings.
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“I can’t wait to get a chance to face off [the Packers] in the first game and look at that look on Aaron Rodgers’ face when he sees me on the other side of the ball,” Smith said. Rich Eisen’s Show in May.
With the help of Will Ragatz of Inside the Vikings, here’s a look at the teams through the first week of the preseason.
The power of packers
For years, that would have been a no-brainer. Aaron Rodgers. Period. Not any more. While Rodgers scoffs at the notion, this will be a defense-driven team to start the season. There is not a single weakness in the defensive formation. Defensive tackle Kenny Clark, linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and cornerback Jaire Alexanders have Pro Bowls/All-Pros on their resumes, and outside linebacker Rashan Gary is a young star. The cornerback trio of Alexander, Eric Stokes and Rasul Douglas is as good as it gets, and first-round pick Quay Walker looks like a stud at linebacker to pair with Campbell.
The strength of the Vikings
With all due respect to their starting offensive tackles and edge rushers, the Vikings’ greatest strength is their talent at the skill position. There are only a handful of teams in the league — the Bengals and Raiders among them — who can compete with the star power and depth Minnesota has at receiver, running back and tight end. It starts with third-year superstar Justin Jefferson, who is the odds-on favorite to lead the league in passing yards. Whenever healthy, Dalvin Cook is one of the most dangerous defenders in the league. Adam Thielen is still an elite red zone threat; only Davante Adams and Mike Evans have more touchdown receptions over the past two years than Thielen’s 24. Toss in KJ Osborn, Irv Smith Jr., Alexander Mattison and a few other young players, and the Vikings have an incredible array of weapons in Kirk Cousins annihilation.
Weakness of Packers
Let’s assume that left tackle David Bakhtiari successfully returns to the field and returns to form after a third procedure on his left knee. He missed almost all of last season and came off the PUP on Sunday. So maybe Aaron Rodgers will have to find an open receiver, but will he get open? Trading Davante Adams to the Raiders left Rodgers without a No. 1 threat. 1 attempted for the first time in his career. When push comes to shove in a big time against a really good defense, will anyone from the group of Allen Lazard, Sammy Watkins, Randall Cobb or rookies Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson be able to create separation and big plays ?
The weakness of the Vikings
If I were to focus on one player, it would be center Garrett Bradbury. More broadly, it’s the cornerback position. Corner no. 1 for the Vikings is 32-year-old Patrick Peterson (pictured), who has lost a few steps since his peak days in Arizona. Peterson’s intelligence, instincts and smarts make him a solid player, but he’s definitely susceptible to getting beat by speed. Also likely to start on the outside in Week 1 is Cameron Dantzler, a third-year player who has been fairly inconsistent to start his Vikings career. Dantzler has been on the wrong end of many key games in big moments since coming to the league. Starting corner Andrew Booth Jr. has a ways to go in his development and starting nickel Chandon Sullivan is just solid.
With all the focus on the receiver’s body, the offensive line is likely to be a hot mess. Bakhtiari was on a Hall of Fame trajectory before suffering a torn ACL on Dec. 31, 2020. He played in one game last season and the Packers are crossing their fingers and toes as he tries to make another comeback. Elgton Jenkins, a 2020 Pro Bowl guard who replaced Bakhtiar last year, returned last week from his ACL injury. Assuming they stay healthy, Green Bay’s line could be really good. But as Bakhtiari’s odyssey showed last year, who knows? And if things get worse, what could go wrong with Yosh Nijman and Royce Newman blocking for Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith?
The question of the Vikings
Can Kevin O’Connell hit the ground running as a player and head coach? O’Connell doesn’t have much experience calling plays in the NFL, as Sean McVay handles those duties for the Rams. The Vikings need him to operate at a high level in that regard right away because the Packers defense will present a massive challenge. There is a lot of pressure on Kirk Cousins to get the ball to his players and win games at a high rate, something he has only done once in his career (2019). But Cousins is also somewhat of a known commodity as a QB. It’s up to O’Connell to put Cousins in positions to succeed, call the right plays and manage plays effectively. That’s a lot on a first-time coach’s shoulders.
The taste of Vikings in Green Bay
No team loves former Packers more than the Vikings. Former Vikings roster player Gabe Brkic was released last week after a terrible camp in place of the injured Mason Crosby. However, during this year’s NFL Draft, general manager Brian Gutekunst sent his two second-round picks to Minnesota to move up to No. 34 overall to select receiver Christian Watson. Watson has an elite combination of height and speed. Once he’s full after minor knee surgery, the Packers are counting on him to join Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams in the team’s pantheon of big second-round receivers.
Packers Flavor in Minnesota
As Bill mentioned, there are a number of revenge game stories for the Vikings going into this one. Za’Darius Smith and Chandon Sullivan will play against their former team for the first time, and Minnesota will count on both to play well. You know Smith is salivating at the prospect of sacking Aaron Rodgers and partying with his best friend Danielle Hunter in front of a wild US Bank Stadium crowd. It’s not just those two players. Vikings OLB coach Mike Smith and assistant coach Mike Pettine are both former Packers coaches who would love to help Rodgers open the season.
The Packers will win because…
Green Bay’s passing game may not be great after it leaves Davante Adams, but the Vikings’ secondary may not be very good either. A high-quality running game should prevent too many third-and-longs – situations that will benefit Minnesota’s pass rush. Meanwhile, the strength of Green Bay’s defensive front will be tough for any team to handle. The additions of defensive tackle Jarran Reed and first-round linebacker Quay Walker could help improve Dalvin Cook, and Rashan Gary, Preston Smith and Kenny Clark should challenge Kirk Cousins’ ability to create many big plays with leading receiver Justin Jefferson.
The Vikings will win because…
They have the talent to put points on any defense in the NFL, even a great defense like Green Bay’s. The ideal scenario is for the Vikings to feed off the energy in their home stadium and push Jefferson and Cook to an early lead. From there, Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter can pin their ears back and go after Rodgers. The Packers’ lack of talent at receiver makes the Vikings’ weakness at cornerback less important, and the Vikings have players in the front seven — in addition to running backs, they have excellent DTs (Dalvin Tomlinson and Harrison Phillips) and ILBs (Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks) – to slow down Green Bay’s dangerous Aaron Jones-AJ Dillon RB duo. Plus, if it’s a one-two punch, Greg Joseph has had an incredible training camp.