There’s no need to manufacture storylines for this week. It’s Vikings versus Packers. It’s a rivalry game. It’s Lambeau Field. First place is on the line. There’s much to analyze this week leading up to the game. Here are five storylines to follow.
1. Rodgers dealing with knee injury while prepping for Vikings
Green Bay was trailing Chicago 20-0 and Aaron Rodgers was carted from the sidelines to the locker room with a knee injury. Remarkably, Rodgers returned to action at the start of the 3rd quarter and went on to guide Green Bay to an improbable 24-23 win, defying the odds and registering yet another milestone moment in a sure-fire Hall of Fame career. The degree of difficulty doesn’t diminish this week, as Rodgers will deal with his knee injury and push the limits to play on Sunday while also preparing to play one of the NFL’s best defenses.
2. Cousins gets first taste of rich rivalry
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has played two games against Green Bay in his career. Now, he’ll be playing Green Bay twice every season as he joins a storied NFL rivalry. In those two games against the Packers while with the Redskins, Cousins totaled 704 yards with a 4-0 TD-INT ratio and a passer rating of 113.0. In fact, Cousins had one of the best individual performances of his career against Green Bay when in 2016 he earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors following a 375-yard, three-touchdown performance. Sunday’s game will mark Cousins’ first start at Lambeau Field.
3. Vikings, Packers look for encore performances from veteran defensive tackles, young corners
There are parallels to draw between the Vikings and Packers defenses coming off their impressive Week 1 showings. A lot went right for both units, but one commonality is both units were boosted by veteran defensive tackles signed in free agency this past offseason and by young cornerbacks who played well in their pro debuts. The Vikings signed Sheldon Richardson this spring and the former Jets 1st-round pick lived up to the billing, wreaking havoc in the 49ers backfield regularly and finishing the game with six tackles, three quarterback hits and a half sack. Green Bay also signed a former Jets 1st-round defensive tackle this offseason – Muhammad Wilkerson – and he was also a disruptive force. Vikings 2018 1st-round pick Mike Hughes moved to outside cornerback midgame to replace an injured Trae Waynes and wound up returning an interception 28 yards for a touchdown to pad the Vikings lead in the second half; Hughes also had three tackle-s and two other passes defensed. Green Bay’s first two picks in the 2018 NFL Draft were cornerbacks and they both played well in the season-opening win. Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson combined for six tackles and were part of a defensive effort that shutdown the Bears in the second half to help stage the comeback win.
4. A trend? Vikings defense looks to keep taking the ball away
The Vikings had the best defense in the NFL in 2017, but they put an emphasis on improving in one specific area going into 2018 – turnovers. They ranked just 23rd last season with 19 takeaways. In Week 1, the Vikings defense did what it set out to do. They took the ball away from San Francisco’s offense four times – once via fumble (on the goal line) and three times via interceptions. Only the Cleveland Browns had more takeaways in Week 1.
5. Top standing on the line
Both Green Bay and Minnesota won their season openers, which means this Week 2 showdown will produce a solo leader in the NFC North. The winner of Sunday’s game will be in the catbird’s seat at 2-0, with both wins coming against conference opponents. A Green Bay win would also mean a 2-0 division record, while a Vikings win would be the fifth in six contests against their division rival.