Week 16 of the NFL regular season concludes Monday night in Minneapolis with the NFC North crown up for grabs. The Green Bay Packers (11-3) will visit the Minnesota Vikings (10-4) in one of the best games of the season to date. The Packers have won three in a row, including last week’s win against the Bears, while last Sunday’s drubbing of the Chargers gave the Vikings their second straight win.
Here is a preview for Monday Night Football, along with odds and a free pick.
By The Numbers
The Packers have made it a habit of winning games ugly, as they have 11 wins but don’t have a particular stat they’re elite in. Green Bay is 21st in total yards with 336.6 per game and 14th in points per game with 23.6.
The Packers rank 17th in both rushing and passing yards per game, while also converting 35.5 percent of their third downs, 22nd in the NFL. However, the Packers have just nine turnovers, the second fewest in the league.
On defense, Green Bay will bend but not break. Despite allowing 371.3 yards per game, the 10th most in the league, the Packers are ninth in points allowed with 20.2. Their defense has shown vulnerability against both the pass and run, ranking 22nd and 24th, respectively, while also sitting 19th in third-down defense.
The Vikings have won a lot of their games a little bit more convincingly than Green Bay and grade out better in most stats. Minnesota boasts a top-10 offense, one that ranks fifth in points per game with 27 and ninth in total yards per game with 372.6.
The Vikings are also 12th in passing yards with 236.8 and fourth in rushing yards with 135.9, to go along with a third-down offense that is successful 44.1 percent of the time, ninth in the league.
Defensively, Minnesota allows the fifth-fewest points per game with 18.5. The Vikings are also 14th in yards allowed with 338.9, but see a significant difference between their eighth-ranked run defense and 20th-ranked pass defense. Defending on third downs, the Vikings are successful 39.7 percent of the time, just one spot ahead of the Packers.
Who To Watch
After years of being carried by Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have another Aaron who has played a huge role in their successful season. Aaron Jones is having a breakout year as the primary running back, rushing for 830 yards and an NFL-leading 14 touchdowns. He also has 425 receiving yards and three touchdowns, averaging nearly 10 yards per reception.
This season there has been a strong correlation between Jones’ productivity and the Packers’ success, evident in their Week 2 win over the Vikings in which he ran for 116 yards and a touchdown. While Rodgers and receiver Davante Adams are big threats, Minnesota knows it must do a better job of limiting Jones this time around.
Speaking of Minnesota, this is a team that has found an identity with their star running back Dalvin Cook. The third-year back is up to 1,135 rushing yards and 519 receiving yards, with just one fewer rushing touchdown than Jones. He also had a big game in Week 2 against Green Bay, getting 154 yards and a touchdown, his season high in rushing.
However, Cook has been dealing with a chest injury all week and has been ruled out of this game. Now we’ll see how much the Vikings game-plan changes without him. Perhaps it will mean more throwing for Kirk Cousins to either Stefon Diggs or Adam Thielen, or perhaps backups Alex Mattison and Mike Boone will shoulder Cook’s load in the backfield.
I’d lean toward the latter, with Minnesota knowing it can expose Green Bay’s run defense and Boone showing promise in his limited time on the field.
It’s a pretty light load on Green Bay’s injury report, with only defensive lineman Dean Lowry listed as questionable. Tight ends Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis were both limited as of Saturday but did not carry an injury designation heading into Monday. Others like tackle Bryan Bulaga and linebacker Blake Martinez should be ready to go.
As mentioned earlier, Cook has been ruled out for Minnesota. His primary backup Mattison is also dealing with an ankle injury, practicing just once all week, and is considered questionable. Everything else looks pretty good for the Vikings, with cornerback Xavier Rhodes and defensive tackle Linval Joseph among those on the report who will be ready to play.
Odds and Pick
The Vikings are -5.5 to win against the Packers, even without Cook. Minnesota is a perfect 6-0 at home this year, while the Packers are 4-2 on the road.
With no Cook, I expect this game to be closer than the line says. Rodgers and Jones will power a balanced attack to keep this game close. However, I think Cousins is a lot better now than he was in Week 2, and will be the difference-maker against Green Bay. Expect him and Boone to have good games and for the Vikings to win, but the Packers to cover +5.5.