Packers can play spoiler against rival Vikings

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Packers Brett Hundley vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers

GREEN BAY, WI – DECEMBER 03: Brett Hundley #7 of the Green Bay Packers looks to pass during the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field on December 3, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

When you think of the Green Bay Packers’ greatest rivals, the Chicago Bears immediately come to mind.

The Packers-Bears were rivals from the infancy of the National Football League, when head coaches Earl “Curly” Lambeau and George E. Halas roamed the sidelines.  Border states, it was  a natural “Big City” versus “Small Town” rivalry that began in the 1920s and still burns strong today, despite Green Bay’s dominance in the past 25 years with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers under center.

“Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears—you don’t have to say any more,” said Mike Ditka, former Bears hall of fame tight and head coach.

But a division rivalry to the west—the Minnesota Vikings–has become a more heated one since Favre donned a purple jersey in 2009.  And it intensified in the past two months since linebacker Matt Barr’s hit broke Rodgers’ collarbone at U.S. Bank Stadium on October 15.

No flag was thrown on the play, but Packers Nation has not forgotten the hit that sidelined their franchise quarterback and basically shattered any Super Bowl hopes.  The loss of Rodgers significantly altered the season of Green Bay, 4-1 at the time.  The Packers lead the series—which dates back to 1961—with Minnesota:  59-51-2 in the regular-season, 1-1 in postseason.

In a state noted for its hockey passion, football fever reigns supreme with the Vikings’ success and Super Bowl LII being hosted at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4th.

The 11-3 Vikings—winners of nine of their last 10 games—are on a mission to be come the first NFL team to play in a Super Bowl hosted in their city.  Minnesota invades Lambeau Field Saturday night with a focus to defeat the 7-7 Packers for a second time and move closer to securing a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.

The Packers, with Brett Hundley under center, will be playing for pride and the role of spoiler with their postseason aspirations extinguished after last week’s loss in Carolina, despite the return of Rodgers.

The franchise quarterback valiantly returned from his broken collarbone to try to rally Green Bay for another December playoff run, but two months of rust showed at times and the team’s comeback against the Panthers fell short with a fumble on a potential game-tying final drive.

Hundley and the Packers’ offense will have their hands full against one of the NFL’s elite defenses.

Dom Capers’ injury-riddled unit may be without Nick Perry (ankle/shoulder) and Clay Matthews is questionable with a nagging hamstring injury and faces a balanced Vikings attack led by quarterback Case Keenum and a 1-2 running punch of Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon.

Keenum has been the difference maker for Minnesota with his solid play all season.  How he plays in the final weeks of December with playoff pressure intensifying and in the postseason will define his season.

Carolina showed the blue-print for beating the Vikings is to pressure the quarterback with an array of blitzes and force turnovers, but Green Bay has struggled most of the season to consistently disrupt quarterbacks, thus exposing its linebackers and secondary on passing downs—particularly third-and-long.

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The well-balanced Vikings feature the NFL’s second-ranked defense and are on a roll, having won 9 of their last 10 games after a 2-2 start.  Minnesota playing for home-field advantage in NFC playoffs, Green Bay playing for pride. 

Vikings 27, Packers 23

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