Green Bay @ Minnesota
Power rankings: Green Bay 8, Minnesota 10
When Green Bay has the ball:
Green Bay is a perennial Super Bowl contender. For a years now, many felt that a second receiver behind Davante Adams was all they needed to get over the hump. The Packers never got that receiver, and instead traded Adams to the Raiders. Of course, the Packers still have Aaron Rodgers, a 38 year old future hall of famer who needs no introduction. It is worth noting that the last time Rodgers had a receiving core this poor was 2015, where he had career lows in completion percentage (60.1%), yards per attempt (6.6), and PFF grade (75.5). Weapons matter, even if you're one of the best quarterbacks of all time. With Allen Lazard (ankle) doubtful, the top options at receiver by projected targets are: Sammy Watkins, TE Robert Tonyan, Randall Cobb, RB Aaron Jones, rookie WR Christian Watson, and rookie WR Romeo Doubs. Doubs was just a 4th round pick (132 overall) out of Nevada, but the reports out of training camp pin him as a potential difference maker, which is certainly something to watch for as the season progresses. The offensive line should be top tier, assuming all are recovered from injuries. LT David Bakhtiari and RT Elgton Jenkins are both working their way back through injuries -- Bakhtiari played just 27 snaps in week 18 last year, and Jenkins tore his ACL week 11. Both are officially questionable, but given that they practiced all week as limited, they should play. Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon will make up one of the better running back duos in football. The Vikings defensive line is in a similar spot as the Packers offensive line -- Za'Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter make for an impressive 1-2 punch at edge rusher, but both are coming off injuries. Hunter played just 7 games in 2021 (torn pectoral muscle) and missed the entire 2020 season with a herniated disc. Smith, meanwhile, played just 37 defensive snaps last season while dealing with a back injury. Both are fully healthy and ready to go -- Smith, the ex Packer, brings in the revenge game narrative. The linebacking core features Eric Kendricks, who is routinely one of the better coverage linebackers in football, a nice thing to have when you're playing a team who's best receiving option may be it's running back. Kendricks will start alongside Jordan Hicks, a free agent brought it from Arizona who is a solid, underrated, and dependable starter. The secondary features a mix of age and youth, including a past his prime Patrick Peterson at corner. CB Camerson Dantzler, a 2020 3rd round pick, has put together two solid seasons to start his career, and should be the top option. At safety, 33 year old Harrison Smith is still playing at a high level. He'll start alongside Camryn Bynum, a 4th round pick from 2021 who played well in his rookie season on limited snaps.
When the Vikings have the ball:
Here's a fact: Kirk Cousins is good at football. Fight me (please don't fight me). I'm not putting him with any elite group, but the 34 year old has a PFF grade of 80 or better in 4 of the last 6 seasons, including each of the last 3. Plus, he gets to throw the ball to Justin Jefferson, a 23 year old who has already established himself as a premier receiver in the NFL. The number 2 option is Adam Thielen -- Thielen has enjoyed an impressive career, particularly for a UDFA, but he's 32 and coming off his worst season since 2015 (by PFF grade) while dealing with an ankle injury. KJ Osborn, TE Irv Smith JR, and RB Dalvin Cook are next in the line by projected targets. Osborn, a 2020 5th rounder who primarily plays out of the slot, played his first snaps in 2021 and showed some signs of being a productive receiver, but consistency was an issue. The offensive line is a story to watch as the season unfolds -- it could end up with a very strong tackle duo of Christian Darrisaw and Brian O'Neill. O'Neill is an established player entering his 5th season, while Darrisaw was a rookie in 2021 who was selected 23rd overall. He finished with a 71.9 PFF grade and got better as the season progressed. Along the interior could be a different story -- LG Ezra Cleveland and C Garrett Bradbury have 5 years of playing experience between the two of them, with each season grading in the 60s. RG Ed Ingram is a rookie out of LSU who was selected 59th overall. The running game will feature a lot of Dalvin Cook -- assuming he can stay healthy, nobody needs me to tell you how good he can be. For me, the most exciting part of the Vikings offense is the coaching game -- Kevin O'Connell comes in as the former Rams offensive coordinator to take over for Mike Zimmer, a 66 year old who is stuck in the establish the run era of football. The Vikings will be up against a Packers defense that should be one of the better units in football. Rashan Gary and Preston Smith are an excellent 1-2 punch at edge rusher -- Gary broke out in his second season, trailing only Maxx Crosby in pass rush win rate at 26%. Along the interior, veteran Kenny Clark is a solid interior pass rusher. At linebacker, De'Vondre Campbell broke out last year, where he was widely considered the best linebacker in football. The secondary, which earned the 7th best coverage grade by PFF last season, returns Jaire Alexander, arguably the best corner in football who played just 227 snaps last season. That takes a lot of pressure off of CB Erick Stokes, the 29th overall selection from 2021 who played admirable as a rookie given the injury situation with Alexander. Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage round things out at safety.