The NFC North was expected to be a hotly-contested division this season, with all four teams having a solid team and a viable chance. Thus far, it hasn't disappointed, with three teams sitting at four wins, but the Minnesota Vikings haven't been able to keep up. They're sitting at 1-5 on the season and take on the division-leading Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football in Week 8.
Minnesota is coming off the ugliest game of the season for any team, a 23-7 loss to the New York Giants, a team that was winless heading into the matchup. It was Josh Freeman's first start for Minnesota, and it could not have gone worse. Green Bay, meanwhile, have won their last three matchups, only losing to the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals thus far.
Let's take a look at both teams below, starting with the home team:
Meet the Vikings
Minnesota made it to the playoffs in spite of quarterback Christian Ponder last season. Running back Adrian Peterson wasn't able to save Ponder's job this year, though, and he lost it to Matt Cassel briefly. That experiment did not last long, as the team brought in the aforementioned free agent quarterback in Freeman.
Both Ponder and Cassel were bad prior to Freeman making his first start in Week 7. In that game, Freeman attempted a whopping 53 passes. Keep in mind, though, that the chances of Freeman having a full or even 75 percent grasp of the playbook at that point had to be somewhere close to zero. He completed just 20 of those passes for 190 yards and an interception, with no touchdowns.
Peterson only had 13 carries on the day and it was a disaster for the Vikings. Freeman has been good in the past, though, and a better grasp of the offense after another week of learning could pay off. He might look like a different quarterback come Sunday night, and he'll need to be if the Vikings are to win.
Meet the Packers
One thing going in Minnesota's favor: Green Bay's secondary. If there is a secondary to allow Freeman to have a big day, it's Green Bay's. They give up a ton of yardage and they haven't been able to create the turnovers that used to help them sustain the big gains allowed. They have the No. 24 pass defense in the league, allowing 266.8 passing yards per game on average.
But there's an awful lot more going in the Packers' favor. They have the No. 4 passing offense in the league (300.0 yards per game), the No. 6 rushing offense (134.7 yards per game) and the No. 3 rushing defense (79.0 rushing yards allowed per game).
Aaron Rodgers has been solid, rookie running back Eddie Lacy has been great and the Packers look like they're not going to let go of control in the NFC North. At the very least, it seems unlikely to happen this week.
Local Takes: Vikings
Eric Thompson of Daily Norseman thinks that Christian Ponder gives the team the best chance to win:
Having Christian Ponder back under center this week probably gives the team the best chance to win right now. Freeman isn't ready to take the reigns of the Vikings offense in the same manner that my 6-month-old daughter isn't ready to take on The Odyssey as a bedtime story. Ponder told the media this week that he really learned from his time on the sidelines and knows he needs to be more of a vocal leader when he's back in the huddle.Greg Jennings said he noticed it as well. Perhaps Ponder will take advantage of what is surely his very last chance with the Vikings and keep Freeman and Cassel relegated to expensive clipboard holder status for a while.
Local Takes: Packers
Brendan Kennedy of Acme Packing Company wonders how the Packers will perform without Jermichael Finley:
Times are strange in Green Bay. What was once a high-powered, greatest show on
turfgrass type of offense has become a lumbering, methodical, grind-it-out machine. That's not necessarily a bad thing. The Packers are still scoring points and winning, but one has to wonder - just what will the offense look like without Jermichael Finley? This week we'll find out. It was easy to harp on Finley in the past for doing stupid crap like celebrating a 3-yard completion for a first down, but we often forget that he was one of the Packers' biggest mismatches on offense. Can Mike McCarthy adapt? Can Andrew Quarless step up? Can Aaron Rodgers just throw passes to himself? Lots of questions linger with the absence of J-Mike.
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Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, Daily Norseman and Acme Packing Company, for more analysis and highlights from the game.
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Doctors Believe Packers TE Jermichael Finley will Play Again but Could Go on IR http://t.co/CGgjW7jEpE— Acme Packing Company (@acmepackingco) October 22, 2013
Unsurprisingly, all five of SB Nation's experts picked the Packers to win. For the rest of their Week 8 picks, go here.
The Packers opened as 6.5-point favorites on the road, but the line has widened significantly in their favor throughout the week. According to OddsShark, some of the major sites have the Packers favored by as much as 10.5 points.