#6 Minnesota Vikings (Wild-Card Qualifier)
- 2012 Record: 10-6
- Point Differential: +31 (13th)
- Strength of Schedule: +1.4 PPG (t-7th)
- Offensive PY/P Rating: 2.92 (15th)
- Defensive PY/P Rating: 1.71 (8th)
- Net Yards per Pass Attempt: 5.3 (30th)
- Yards per Carry: 5.4 (1st)
- Net Yards per Pass Attempt Allowed: 6.0 (10th)
- Yards per Carry Allowed: 4.0 (7th)
- Number of Bona Fide Superstars: 3 (Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen, Adrian Peterson again)
- Unintentional Comedy Potential: Medium
#3 Green Bay Packers (NFC North Champion)
- 2012 Record: 11-5
- Point Differential: +97 (7th)
- Strength of Schedule: +1.2 PPG (t-9th)
- Offensive PY/P Rating: 3.18 (7th)
- Defensive PY/P Rating: 1.74 (11th)
- Net Yards per Pass Attempt: 6.6 (12th)
- Yards per Carry: 3.9 (22nd)
- Net Yards per Pass Attempt Allowed: 5.7 (7th)
- Yards per Carry Allowed: 4.5 (26th)
- Number of Bona Fide Superstars: 2 (Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews)
- Unintentional Comedy Potential: High
7:00 P.M. Saturday, January 5th, NBC (Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya)
I swear I’m not trying to be a Mr. Grumpy Pants Poop Face in writing the following essay and if Adrian Peterson ultimately ends up winning the MVP award this year, that absolutely wouldn’t be the worst choice in the history of the league (that would be Mark Moseley, 1982. A KICKER WON THE MVP FOR CRYING OUT LOUD). Whenever AP gouged my Bears for a long run this season – and this happened often – I wouldn’t even get mad. He’s obviously become immune to all forms of attempted tackling, I would think to myself. Let’s just try to tackle Christian Ponder on the handoff exchange. The guy’s unbelievable. Adrian’s always ran with a controlled fury, but this season it seemed like there was no longer any control – just anger wrapped up in fury wrapped up in ferocity. From what I’ve seen on grainy YouTube videos, Jim Brown ran much the same way. Apart from him, however, I can’t imagine any running back ever inspiring as much sheer terror in opposing defenders as Adrian Peterson has this season. The man has truly had one of the greatest seasons of all time.
He is also not the league’s most valuable player. And this is because, fundamentally in the way the game is set up, quarterback is more important than every other position. Period. More important than left tackle, more important than defensive end, more important than middle linebacker, more important than wide receiver, more important than punter (SHOCKER) and, yes, more important than running back. Throwing the ball typically gains two more yards per attempt than running the ball – it is much more of a boom-or-bust proposition than running, but when you’re hitting the boom periods you produce far more yards, which in turn produces far more points, which in turn produces far more wins. When a running back has a superlative season without the help of an excellent passing game, you get Eric Dickerson’s 1984 season (2105 yards, 10-6 record), Barry Sanders’s 1997 (2053 yards, 9-7), Chris Johnson’s 2009 (2006 yards, 8-8) and AP’s 2012 (2096 yards, 10-6). When a quarterback has a superlative season without the help of an excellent running game, you get Aaron Rodgers’s 2011 (45 TDs against 6 INTs, 15-1 record), Peyton Manning’s 2004 (49 TDs vs. 10 INTs, 12-4) Dan Marino’s 1984 (48 TDs vs. 17 INTs, 14-2), and Tom Brady’s 2007 (50 TDs vs. 8 INTs, 16-0). There is no more dangerous weapon in pro football than the forward pass and, as a result, there is no more important position in pro football than quarterback.
We can see this point being illustrated even in the two previous Vikings-Packers games from this season. Adrian was, of course, marvelous in both: 210 yards on 21 carries in the Dec. 2 game at Lambeau and 199 yards on 34 carries in last Sunday’s game at the Metrodome. The Vikings lost the first game, however, 23-14 because of Christian Ponder’s struggles: he managed only 119 yards on 25 attempts and threw two extremely costly interceptions to Morgan Burnett in the red zone. Last week, the Vikings were able to skate past an outstanding opposing performance from Aaron Rodgers because of the efficiency of their own quarterback: Ponder threw for 234 yards on just 28 attempts and avoided throwing an interception. From an efficiency standpoint, AP was actually better in the first game. But in both cases, the play of the quarterback Ponder turned out to be the deciding factor. And given that Ponder has given many more performances at the level of the first Vikes-Pack game than the second, that doesn’t bode well for Minnesota’s chances Saturday night.
On the other side, imagine the difference in record you would get if you switched the quarterbacks around on these two teams. Aaron Rodgers averaged 7.33 Net Yards per Attempt this year; Ponder averaged 4.99. If Ponder is the starting quarterback of this year’s Packers team, you’re taking at least 140 points off the board and at least 3-4 wins along with it – and given the influence quarterbacks have over the performance of the rest of their offense, those figures may be wildly conservative. Rodgers has faults that showed up much more often this year than last – he holds on to the ball for glacial amounts of time, for example, and takes probably 25% more sacks than he really should – but he almost never makes killer, self-destructing mistakes. The Packers have only turned the ball over more than twice in a game once in the past two years (a certain home playoff game from last January that we won’t go into further detail on). If you’re going to stop Rodgers and the Green Bay offense, you’ll likely have to do it completely on your own strength. Minnesota’s defense is good this year – they finished 8th in Predictive Yards per Play defensively – but it’s a lot to ask for them to take over the game against this quarterback.
Given the Packers’ poor-as-usual run defense (26th in yards per carry allowed), there’s certainly a chance that AP could bust out and rush for 300 yards while carrying the entire state of Minnesota on his back in the process. I’m not going to be surprised by what that guy accomplishes ever again. However, as in the first two games these teams played this year, the outcome will likely be decided by one battle: Rodgers vs. Ponder. If you need another hint about who should be favored, I’m sorry, I can’t help you.
Projected Final Score: Green Bay Packers 27, Minnesota Vikings 21
Team to Bet On If Gambling Were Legal: Vikings (+7.5)