EAGAN, Minn. — The 125th Border Battle will open the New Year for the Vikings (12-3) and Packers (7-8).
The teams have played 14 games since they opened the 2022 regular season with a 23-7 win by Minnesota at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Kevin O'Connell has since guided his squad through 11 one-score victories (setting an NFL record for the most by a team in any season), and he's notched the most overall wins by a Vikings first-year head coach.
Minnesota started its run through the NFC North by going 3-0 in home games. After a gap of more than two months, the Vikings began their road lap through the division with a loss at Detroit in Week 14 that delayed Minnesota clinching the division by one week.
After two more dramatic wins at home, the Vikings now head to Lambeau Field to see a Packers team that has lost more games this season than in the 2020-21 regular seasons combined.
The Packers responded to their loss in the opener by winning three in a row and were tied for the division lead through four games before dropping five consecutive decisions and seven of eight. A 3-0 mark in December has positioned Green Bay to challenge for a playoff spot.
CBS will broadcast the game, which is scheduled for a 3:25 p.m. (CT) kickoff, to nearly the entire country, except for Southern California, part of Northern California, Southwest Arizona and Southwest Oregon.
Here is a matchup to watch, along with four storylines.
Matchup to watch: Vikings defense vs. Aaron Rodgers, Part 2
If impacting the quarterback is the metric, the Vikings defense played its best collective game back in Week 1.
Aaron Rodgers completed 22 of 34 passes, but he only totaled 195 yards, did not throw a touchdown and was intercepted by Harrison Smith.
The 67.6 passer rating is Rodgers' lowest in 26 starts against Minnesota (excluding the 2017 start at U.S. Bank Stadium in which he suffered an injury on just his eighth snap).
Those who view things through green lenses can obviously point to the lack of chemistry between Rodgers and receivers in the opener and how that has improved over the course of the season.
Folks looking through a purple prism have lamented the yardage Minnesota has since allowed, even though it's often been offset by a critical turnover or stop.
But on that day, the Vikings were able to affect Rodgers with a combination of coverage and pressure. Newcomers Za'Darius Smith and Jordan Hicks recorded sacks in their Vikings debut, along with Danielle Hunter and D.J. Wonnum. Hunter and Eric Kendricks each recorded a pass defensed to go along with the interception by Smith, which was on the snap that followed a 36-yard touchdown reception by Justin Jefferson for a 17-0 lead with 35 seconds remaining in the first half.
"Aaron's making a lot of plays, and you can really see their passing game coming to life – both on-schedule and off-schedule," O'Connell said. "So, going to be a heck of a challenge. They're always so tough to play at Lambeau Field, and we've got to play a really good game to be competitive and give ourselves a chance to win."
1. Playoff Implications
While Week 5 was too early to forecast much about the playoffs, the Vikings have been the No. 2 seed in the NFC since topping the Saints in London in Week 4.
They still have a slight shot at the No. 1 seed but need to win out and have Philadelphia lose its final two games at home against Saints and Giants. The first Eagles game mentioned is scheduled for noon (CT) Sunday, so the Vikings could know how that one turns out before their own kickoff.
Minnesota is also trying to withstand a charge from a San Francisco squad that opened 2-2 but is now 11-4. If the Vikings and 49ers finish with identical records, San Francisco would end with a better conference record and win the tiebreaker.
View photos of Vikings players from practice on Dec. 28 at the TCO Performance Center.
With no worse than the No. 3 seed guaranteed, the Vikings will try to strike the balance between getting another win, which is likely necessary to maintain the grip on the No. 2, and doing what they can to reduce the workloads for some players to give them a chance of being as fresh as possible for the postseason.
Green Bay has significant stakes in this one, too, with Rodgers trying to fulfill the prophecy he stated at 4-8 that the Packers would win out and make the playoffs. They can't clinch a playoff berth this week, but they could be eliminated if either of the following scenarios occur:
- Loss vs. Vikings + Lions win vs. Bears OR
- Loss vs. Vikings + Commanders win vs. Browns
The Lions-Bears (in Detroit) and Commanders-Browns (in Washington) start at noon (CT).
A series that's always special means even more when both teams are in or in the running for the playoffs.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 14, 2023.
2. Adjustments for Jefferson?
When the teams met in Week 1, Jefferson ran through Packers zones and around defenders on the way to nine catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns on 11 targets.
It was merely the first bite of the tasty historic season that was to come. Last week, Jefferson broke Randy Moss' single-season yardage record (1,632 receiving yards in 2003) with a 25-yard gain on his second reception and topped Cris Carter's all-time mark for catches in a season (122 in 1994 and 1995) on his final reception of the game.
Will the Packers change things up in their attempt to slow down Jefferson this time around?
If so, Kirk Cousins has shown the ability to find other receivers and make teams pay for devoting too many resources toward Jefferson.
K.J. Osborn posted a career-high 157 yards on 10 catches against the Colts, and tight end T.J. Hockenson totaled a career-high 13 catches last week against New York on the way to his third career game with 100-plus yards and second game with two scores.
Hockenson was acquired from the Lions before the Vikings Week 9 game at Washington, so this will be his first game this season against Green Bay. He's positioned to have the unique claim of playing against every NFC North team once.
Recent results probably make it tougher for opponents to completely sell out on stopping Jefferson, which could help his pursuit of Calvin Johnson's record (1,964 yards in 2012) or even take a run at the otherworldly figure of 2,000?
He needs 209 to set the new record and 35 more to reach 2,000.
3. In the elements
There's a couple of fans who interact with our Monday Morning Mailbag who have been dreading January trips to Green Bay and Chicago.
Sunday's forecast is cloudy with a low of 29 and high of 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Windfinder.com is projecting a wind of 2 mph for Green Bay in the 3 p.m. hour.
Look back at photos through the years featuring games between the Vikings and Packers.
That's quite tolerable for these parts, compared to last season's trip when the temp was 11 with a wind chill of minus-1.
The warmup from last week's brutal cold will help the Vikings spend some of their practice time outside this week to better acclimatize as Minnesota prepares for its first outdoor game since Nov. 13 at Buffalo, which had a temperature of 38 with a NW wind of 8 mph.
The Packers are 17-1 in regular-season games played in December and January under Head Coach Matt LaFleur. The lone loss was the 2021 finale against Detroit when several starters were removed because Green Bay had already secured the No. 1 seed.
4. Return game
Za'Darius Smith and Chandon Sullivan have helped teams win the NFC North for the fourth season in a row and their first in Minnesota after spending the previous three with Green Bay.
Both were hyped and helpful in Minnesota's Week 1 win, with the outside linebacker recording two quarterback hits and his first sack with Minnesota.
Sullivan may have turned in the most memorable asterisk performance in team history against the Colts when he appeared to have not one, but two, fumble return touchdowns that were wiped off the board.
The duo signed this offseason after strong recommendations from Vikings Assistant Head Coach Mike Pettine (Green Bay's defensive coordinator from 2018-20) and Outside Linebackers/Pass Rush Specialist Mike Smith, who was with the Packers from 2019-21.