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NFC Wild Card Preview: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers

As with everything with the 2012 Minnesota Vikings season, their team’s total performance rides on an individual: Adrian Peterson. The Packers, meanwhile, are heavy favorites, and look to avoid another stinker like they had against the Vikings just last week in Minnesota’s dramatic 37-34 win.

“We’re very confident. We know the type of environment it’s going to be,” said Peterson, the early MVP candidate running back who finished just nine yards short of Eric Dickerson’s single season record. “I feel like we’re peaking at the right time.”

The Vikings have their work cut out for them, however; they’re eight point underdogs in the game, and are a much better home squad than an away one, finishing the year 3-5 on the road. If the Vikings want a chance at winning, they will obviously need a monster day out of Peterson. Nothing happens with the Vikings offense that doesn’t start with him. However, perhaps most importantly, they’re going to need Christian Ponder to complete open  passes downfield, and that’s a skillset that Ponder has been unable to harness so far in his career, completing an average of just 36.9 percent of throws 15 yards downfield or more. The league average is 42.8 percent, though last week against the Pack Ponder had a tremendous day downfield, completing four of five deep attempts.

Injuries will also play a key role in this game, as the Packers expect the return of wide receiver Randall Cobb and Pro Bowl-caliber defensive back Charles Woodson. The Vikings are trending in the opposite direction, however; their best cornerback, Antoine Winfield, broke his hand in the game against the Packers last weekend.

“I mean, just what he’s meant to our defense, his playmaking ability, his ability to make plays at the line of scrimmage,”Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy said of Woodson’s return. “He’s extremely productive, so I’m just glad to have him back on the field.”

The Vikings also have to watch out for the dreaded “We’re Just Happy to be Here Syndrome.” You see it frequently in teams that make the playoffs that had no expectation for their season. They can’t afford any kind of letdown against a Packers team that will be hungry to prove it isn’t the squad that dropped a crucial game in Minnesota last weekend.

“This is playoff football, and really, yes, we had every intention of winning the game in Minnesota. It didn’t work,” McCarthy said. “I’m not just fluffing it by, but you have to, because the door is open for the playoffs to begin. It’s the playoffs. It doesn’t matter who we play, where we play them. We feel confident that we’re going to get it done and do whatever we need to get it done.”

The Packers have a heavy advantage in this game, and it’s easy to see why Vegas made them such large favorites. Green Bay loves to spread the ball around in three wide receiver sets, and the Vikings are the second-worst team in all of football at defending spread wideout sets. With the injury of Winfield, inarguably their best defensive back, it could be a long day for the Vikes through the air. Take the Packers at -8.

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