If the NFC North ends up sending two representatives to the playoffs this year, it could very well not include the two representatives it sent to the postseason last year. This certainly isn't the way that the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings expected their 2013 seasons to go.
The Packers featured 2011 NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers and he was surrounded by a bevy of talent, even after the departures of Greg Jennings, Cedric Benson, and Donald Driver. But injuries have hit Green Bay perhaps harder than any team in the league, as Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finley and Bryan Bulaga have all wound up on injured reserve. There's speculation that Rodgers himself could be headed there soon, too, especially if the Packers don't rebound from three straight losses.
The Vikings are likely envious of Green Bay's 5-5 record.
At 2-8, the Vikings have slipped far from last season's 10-6 record, despite a healthy performance from 2012 NFL MVP Adrian Peterson. Shifting through three quarterbacks this year, nothing has been able to stop a free-fall for Minnesota as they look ahead to the draft and possibly the next generation at QB for the Vikings.
One team needs to win to stay in the race for the playoffs, the other needs to lose to stay in the race for the number one pick in the draft. Is that how things will play out on Sunday in Green Bay?
Meet the Packers
The Packers will start undrafted free agent Scott Tolzien at quarterback for the second-straight week. Though Tolzien has completing 65.8 percent of his passes this year for a very good 8.5 yards-per-attempt, he has just one touchdown and five interceptions. Those were especially costly in a Week 11 loss to the New York Giants as he made his first career start in place of an injured Seneca Wallace.
All of those injuries mean that Matt Flynn, already with his fourth team in 2013, could be a snap away from playing again for the Packers.
In games with Rodgers, not including his short performance when he was hurt against the Bears, Green Bay is averaging 30.29 points per game. In games without him, they are averaging 15.33 points per game. Against the worst scoring defense in the NFL, could they finally get something going without their All Pro quarterback?
Meet the Vikings
That's right. By allowing 32 points per game, no team is better at giving up scores than the Vikings. Opposing teams have thrown for 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 10 games against Minnesota, with a passer rating of 100.4. Could they make even Tolzien look like Rodgers?
Things might not be any better with starting corner Josh Robinson likely to miss the rest of the season with a broken sternum. The Vikings were the team to sign Jennings and he is questionable with an Achilles injury against his former team.
But the most important question that has plagued Minnesota all season long is whether or not anyone can adequately play quarterback in front of the best running back in the league. Christian Ponder will make his eighth start of the season and that just highlights how bad Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman have really been this year.
The Vikings are in a position to pick second in next year's draft behind the Jacksonville Jaguars, and that could give them the option to take a top QB prospect or perhaps something else, but how many more years can they expect to build around Peterson before the future Hall of Famer's best days are behind him?
Local Takes: Green Bay Packers
Jason Hirschhorn at Acme Packing Company breaks down the Packers difficult road to the playoffs, if they still have one. They're definitely going to need Rodgers to do so:
While Green Bay sits only a game behind Detroit and Chicago in the standings, that gap stands to widen significantly if Rodgers can't return by November 28. That date, of course, is when the Packers travel to Detroit for the Lions' annual Thanksgiving Day game. Without Rodgers, it's a surefire loss for Green Bay, placing the Packers at either 6-6 or 5-7 depending on the outcome of this weekend's game against Minnesota.
Local Takes: Minnesota Vikings
Ted Glover at Daily Norseman breaks down the winners and losers for the Vikings in their 41-20 loss to the Seahawks in Week 11. Where do you think Ponder falls?
Christian Ponder, QB: So the Christian Ponder era ends, not with a bang, but with back to back interceptions. This game was Ponder's career in a nutshell--moments of pretty good wrapped around things that make you scratch your head and go 'dude...what the hell'. The picks and the fumble were awful, the play action TD throw to Wright was money, and everything else was meh. I wanted Ponder to succeed, but after today, I have moved on. Matt Cassel wasn't any better, so the Vikings might as well play Josh Freeman until the end of the season. Then figure out of Freeman is the guy, or draft Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Football, Tajh Boyd, or someone else. Yay.
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Though the Minnesota Vikings have turned out to be one of the worst teams in the NFL at full strength, are they now better than the injury-depleted Green Bay Packers? Without their star quarterback, top tight end, and probably best wide receiver, the Packers are a shell of their former selves.
Even though Tolzien has done more than what could be expected, interceptions are very costly and the Green Bay defense isn't good enough to make up for a bad offense. They've lost their last two games by 14 points each, and both games to teams coming out of the weak NFC East.
And yet, the Vikings are the Vikings. A team that has been mostly demolished by good teams, defeated a couple bad teams. The Packers might have just barely enough in this one.
Green Bay 17, Minnesota 14
Even with no Rodgers, the Packers are 4.5-point favorites according to OddsShark.com.
The Packers travel to play the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day at 12:30 PM EST.
The Vikings return home to play the Chicago Bears at 1 PM EST.