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Opposing Viewpoint: Packers Writer Answers 5 Questions About Green Bay

One of the NFL's most heated rivalries will be renewed Monday night when the Vikings host the Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Minnesota (10-4) is already in the playoffs, but a win would keep the Vikings alive in the NFC North race.

Green Bay (11-3) can clinch the NFC North with a victory of its own.

And while there has been plenty of coverage on the Purple in the past week, Vikings.com chatted with Packers reporter Wes Hodkiewicz for a glance at what the other side is thinking before Monday's contest.

Here is the Week 16 edition of Opposing Viewpoint:

So, Border Battle No. 119 has some playoff implications, huh? The Vikings can clinch a postseason spot with a win, while the Packers are already in the playoffs and can wrap up the NFC North with their first-ever victory at U.S. Bank Stadium. What's the mood around Lambeau Field this week?

WH: Energetic but not complacent. For the veterans on this roster, it's been two long years since they've played meaningful football this late into December. For the first- and second-year players, they're hungry to make their first playoff run. As you said, the Packers have a lot left to play for. A win Monday night gets Green Bay the division crown. Another in Detroit gets this team a first-round bye. This is still a team with everything to play for.

How has the identity of the Green Bay offense changed over the season? From afar — and this isn't to knock Aaron Rodgers — but it seems as if running back Aaron Jones has turned into a focal point. Jones has 17 total scores, the second-most in the NFL. Is this the case?

WH: Jones is a dynamic force and Matt LaFleur's offense has brought out the best in him. When Jones produces, the Packers win. They haven't lost when he has more than 100 total yards and are 8-1 in games in which Jones has scored. At the same time, to me, Green Bay's identity is its ability to win in different ways with different players stepping up in key moments. That's been this team's path to 11-3.

I asked you about the leadership of the Smiths — Preston and Za'Darius — before Week 2. While their leadership is still apparent, they each now have double-digit sacks. How do teams try to scheme against the pair of playmakers?

WH: Za'Darius Smith has seen a ton of double-teams over the past month, which is why Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine has started moving Z around more. That attention has freed up defensive tackle Kenny Clark to make a larger impact this month. He has 3.5 sacks in Green Bay's last two wins. Preston is just Mr. Consistent. He doesn't move around as much as Z, but he wins his share of double teams, as well. It's only Year 1, but those two already are up there with Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett and Julius Peppers as the best free-agent acquisitions the Packers have made this century.

Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Packers.

Green Bay will be in the postseason for the first time in the past three seasons. Although there is much to be determined over the final two weeks of the season, what is the vibe in the locker room in terms of the confidence the team can make a deep run?

WH: It's up there. Honestly, I think the close wins through the course of the year have only increased this team's confidence because they've been through the fire. After being on the short end of a lot of those one-score games in recent years, the Packers have found ways to win in 2019. That's powerful stuff that sticks with you. Plus, it's a very tight-knit locker room that doesn't take itself too seriously. The culture is much different than two years ago. That's a tribute to Matt LaFleur and his coaching staff, but also the impact the Smiths, Marcedes Lewis and several other veterans have had on this team. Anytime they've encountered adversity this year, they've addressed it and found answers.

And finally, pick a Vikings player on each side of the ball are you most looking forward to watching Monday night.

WH: Kirk Cousins. I've always been a huge Cousins fan. Personally, I didn't get all the criticism thrown his way earlier this year. The guy is a leader in every sense of the word and one of the most consistent QBs in this league. He's very high percentage, and in this current NFL landscape, that's incredibly valuable for a team. The Vikings wanted stability at quarterback two years ago, and Cousins has been that guy. Yes, Week 2 didn't go his way, but I think Monday night is going to be a great chess match with Pettine.

Defensively, just take your pick. There are stars everywhere, but Eric Kendricks is also one of my favorites. I just love the way he plays the game. I'll be interested to see how Minnesota uses him in this matchup, especially with how much Jones motions from the backfield.

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