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5 Vikings-Packers Storylines to Watch

There's a first time for everything — and actually a first time for a couple of things.

Such is the case for the Vikings to host the Packers on Kickoff Weekend at noon (CT) this Sunday.

While the teams have met in Week 1 six previous times, all of those previous meetings have occurred in Wisconsin.

As luck would have it, this one will be unprecedented because it will be played without fans at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Here are five storylines to watch this week, as well as a list of connections between the Border Battle rivals.

Here are five storylines to watch this week, as well as a link below to the game preview by the Vikings PR staff and list of connections between the Border Battle rivals.

1. Surreal, for real

To be clear, weird things have happened for the Vikings before. The collapse of the Metrodome roof 10 years ago forced home games in Detroit and at the University of Minnesota, but the sight of all the empty Purple seats of the venue that was rocking in 2016 when the Vikings defeated the Packers in the inaugural game will be surreal, for real.

The absence of fans doing the SKOL Chant, singing of "SKOL Vikings" after touchdowns and getting raucous when Green Bay is at the line looking for a third-down conversion will take away a home-field advantage that is among the best in the NFL.

"It's not going to be like the U.S. Bank we're accustomed to, realistically, and it'll be a little strange," said Vikings safety Harrison Smith, who has been named a captain for the first time. "But I think once the game starts and you're just focused on executing your job, I think it won't really be that weird. I think the weirder aspect might be the pregame and in between plays, what that will be like without a little crowd input or little chirps here and there and stuff like that. But I think it'll be fine."

Nonetheless, who isn't ready for some football, for real?

2. Marquee running backs

One of the best showdowns could be the dual between Vikings running back Dalvin Cook and his counterpart Aaron Jones, who are each entering their fourth pro seasons.

According to Next Gen Stats, Cook led all running backs with 72 outside runs that reached at least 15 miles per hour in 2019. The video below notes that Cook had 10 such runs in Week 2 at Green Bay on his way to a career-best 154 yards.

Adding to the juice, Cook also is serving as a first-time captain.

Jones rushed 23 times in each game against the Vikings last season. He totaled 116 yards and a score and added four receptions for 34 yards at Green Bay in Week 2. The encore game was even better for Jones, who rushed for a career-high 154 yards and two scores, averaging 6.7 yards per carry in Week 16 at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Both running backs set new personal bests for reaching the end zone with Cook rushing for 13 scores and Jones tying for the NFL lead with 16 scores on the ground.

3. Extending internal clock

This will be the 15th Border Battle for Smith and the 10th for fellow safety Anthony Harris. They know full-well the knack that Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has for extending plays and executing rare throws.

As for tips he's passed along to young Vikings cornerbacks that are led in experience by third-year pros Holton Hill and Mike Hughes, "the first thing I would mention is that the play might be longer than you're used to."

"Every play seems to last a little longer when you play Aaron Rodgers and the Packers," Smith said. "Everybody has an internal clock to some degree of how long a play is, and normally it lasts a little longer, so you might get a little more fatigued, [and] you can't relax when you think a play's over."

Smith said although the scheme has changed, the 16-year vet is "still Aaron Rodgers," an eight-time Pro Bowler and two-time MVP.

"He's still making outrageous throws and creating, and then getting them into the right call versus the looks that we give him," Smith said. "He's always one of the toughest matchups, no matter what the scheme is."

4. Protecting or moving the pocket?

The Vikings did very little tinkering along the offensive line and figure to start — from left to right — Riley Reiff, Dakota Dozier, Garrett Bradbury, Pat Elflein and Brian O'Neill.

The Vikings are trying to add a little more power to the left side with Dozier and more athleticism on the right with Elflein.

Protecting Kirk Cousins in the pocket will be important against a Packers team with a stout defensive line and impressive edge rushers Za'Darius Smith, who notched 3.5 sacks against Minnesota in Week 16 last season, and Preston Smith.

Cousins has excelled on plays that have involved play-action fakes and bootlegs, and he can be accurate on plays with movement to the right or left. It will be interesting to see the mixture of methods the Vikings implement to protect Cousins.

5. As clean as possible

Players haven't had the benefit of a preseason game. Longest-tenured Viking Kyle Rudolph commented last week that if felt a little like the end of July instead of early September because the team has only been in camp mode.

Minnesota injected as many game-like scenarios as Head Coach Mike Zimmer could fathom and fit into a limited offseason, but there's no doubt that some water will be uncharted.

The Vikings also were unable to bring in outside officials for practices as often as Zimmer would have preferred. "Makeshift" officials from inside the organization did their best to keep players honest in training camp practices but may not have been as particular as a professional crew.

Look back at photos through the years featuring games between the Vikings and Packers.


Local Connections

Packers T/G Billy Turner attended Mounds View High School in Arden Hills, Minnesota. He played for Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak, Offensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator Rick Dennison and assistant offensive line coach Phil Rauscher in 2016 when Kubiak (head coach), Dennison (offensive coordinator) and Rauscher (offensive coaching assistant) were with the Broncos. Turner's father, Maurice Turner, ws a 12th-round pick by the Vikings in the 1983 NFL Draft. He played 23 games for Minnesota from 1984-85 before finishing that season with Green Bay.

Vikings LB Ryan Connelly, who attended Eden Prairie High School, played collegiately at Wisconsin.

Vikings-Packers Connections

Packers inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti's father, Tom, was a defensive assistant coach for Minnesota from 1996-99.

Packers defensive backs coach Jerry Gray held the same role with the Vikings from 2014-19.

Vikings Senior Defensive Assistant Dom Capers was defensive coordinator with the Packers from 2009-17.

Coaching Connections

Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak was head coach of the Texans from 2006-13; LaFleur was an offensive assistant in Houston from 2008-09.

Professional Connections

Vikings QB Kirk Cousins (2012-17) teamed with Packers OLB Preston Smith (2015-18) in Washington. Cousins worked directly with Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur in Washington from 2012-13.

Vikings backup QB Sean Mannion was with the Los Angeles Rams when LaFleur as the offensive coordinator in 2017.

Vikings T Rashod Hill overlapped with Packers TE Marcedes Lewis in Jacksonville in 2016.

College Connections

Vikings K Dan Bailey and Packers G Lane Taylor at Oklahoma State

Vikings LB Anthony Barr and LB Eric Kendricks with Packers NT Kenny Clark at UCLA; Vikings running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu was UCLA's running backs coach from 2014-15 and offensive coordinator in 2016

Vikings RB Mike Boone and LB Eric Wilson at Cincinnati with Packers TE Josiah Deguara

Vikings CB Cameron Dantzler and Packers LG Elgton Jenkins at Mississippi State

Vikings RG Pat Elflein and Packers C Corey Linsley at Ohio State

Vikings assistant special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken overlapped with Packers TE Marcedes Lewis at UCLA

Vikings CB Jeff Gladney at TCU with Packers LB Ty Summers and S Vernon Scott

Vikings DT Jaleel Johnson and Packers CB Josh Jackson at Iowa

Vikings DE Yannick Ngakoue and Packers S Darnell Savage at Maryland

Vikings DE Ifeadi Odenigbo at Northwestern with Packers DL Dean Lowry and DL Tyler Lancaster; Vikings LB Eric Wilson also began his college career at Northwestern, overlapping with Odenigbo and Lowry; Vikings offensive quality control coach Christian Jones played wide receiver for the Wildcats from 2011-15

Vikings PR/KR K.J. Osborn and Packers LB Jonathan Garvin at Miami

Vikings T Riley Reiff and Packers LB Christian Kirksey at Iowa

Vikings TE Irv Smith, Jr., and Packers P JK Scott at Alabama

Vikings DT Shamar Stephen and Packers backup QB Tim Boyle at Connecticut

Vikings DT Armon Watts and Packers LB Randy Ramsey at Arkansas