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Vikings-Packers: 5 things you can count on

Do the Vikings stand a chance without Kirk Cousins?
Mike Zimmer

Minnesota Vikings fans couldn't have written a better script. With their playoff dreams fading, the Vikings travel to Lambeau Field for a Week 17 showdown with the Green Bay Packers. Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman's jobs are on the line and they need a win to stay in the playoff hunt.

Then, Kirk Cousins tests positive for COVID-19.

The Vikings' Doomsday Clock hit midnight on Friday as their quarterback will miss Sunday's game after being placed on the COVID list. With Sean Mannion starting, all the signs point to the Vikings season being over, but here are five things you can count on for Sunday night.

1. An old-school NFC North battle.

Sunday's game is forecasted to be one of the coldest in Lambeau Field history. With the passing game a major question, the Vikings' best chance to pull off the upset will be establishing the run.

The offense missed Dalvin Cook last week but he walks into a cushy matchup. The Packers are allowing 4.8 yards per carry this season and just got done allowing 217 yards and 8.9 yards per carry last week's win over the Cleveland Browns.

But the same strategy could apply on the other side of the ball. While the Packers have allowed the most yards per carry this season, the Vikings are tied for third with 4.7 yards per carry. After allowing 131 to Sony Michel (and his two bad knees), the defense could be worse after Michael Pierce was ruled out with a non-COVID illness on Saturday.

The weather and both teams' inability to stop the run could throw this game back to the 1980s, which could play in favor of the Vikings.

2. Davante Adams shredding the Vikings' secondary

The Vikings' defense comes into Lambeau Field banged up. Harrison Smith didn't practice on Wednesday due to foot and shoulder injuries and Cameron Dantzler is listed as doubtful with a calf injury. Even if both players were at full strength, the secondary just isn't good enough to stop Adams.

Adams ranks fifth in the NFL with 2.76 yards per route run. While a majority of his snaps are on the outside, Matt LaFleur does a great job of moving him around the formation including in the slot, where he ranks third in the league with 3.23 yards per route run.

That's bad news for Mackensie Alexander, who is allowing 1.45 yards per coverage snap and a 117.6 passer rating when targeted in the slot this season. 

With Kris Boyd, who is allowing 2.89 yards per coverage snap, expected to fill in for Dantzler on the outside. Adams should be in for a monster night.

3. Sean Mannion's quest for his first career touchdown

In his sixth season in the league, Mannion has yet to throw a touchdown. On Sunday, he'll start in the first relevant game of his career as both his previous starts came when his team was resting its own starters.

While Mannion could be experiencing his own "8 Mile" moment, he'll also go up against a secondary that is hitting its stride.

Rasul Douglas has an interception in each of his past three home games and Eric Stokes has PFF's 12th highest coverage grade since the Vikings' last meeting with the Packers. With Chandon Sullivan also filling his role, this would have been a tough task for Cousins let alone a veteran in his third career start.

Mannion has been praised for his ability on a greaseboard. But the NFL's version of Good Will Hunting will have a hard time finding his first career touchdown pass on Sunday night.

4. Kenny Clark destroying the Vikings offensive line

The last time the Vikings and Packers clashed, Kenny Clark was a problem for the offensive line. The Packers defensive tackle generated a team-high five pressures in a losing effort but all signs point to him having a similar performance on Sunday night.

The Vikings may have dodged a bullet after reinstating Oli Udoh from the COVID list on Saturday but it may not be an upgrade. Udoh leads all offensive linemen with 15 penalties this season and has been a disaster since converting from tackle.

Some may ask what third-round pick Wyatt Davis is doing these days but the coaching staff has deemed Udoh a better option. With Clark showing no signs of slowing down, there's a good chance that he'll be in the backfield just as much as Aaron Donald (seven pressures) was last week.

5. A loss that leaves no doubt

According to FiveThirtyEight, the Vikings currently have a nine percent chance to make the playoffs. With a win over the Packers, that number increases to 50 percent and could go as high as 65 percent if Philadelphia loses to Washington.

But that number could drop to three percent with a loss. With the way this team is trending, it could be what's needed to provide some clarity.

Throughout this season, there have been several times where it felt a rebuild was inevitable. A loss to Cooper Rush, a last-second loss to the Detroit Lions and last week's no-show against the Rams have all shown that this isn't working. Yet according to KSTP's Darren Wolfson, the Wilfs were undecided on the fate of Zimmer and Spielman this week.

Maybe Cousins' positive test could shift the blame away from the Vikings' brain trust. But a blowout loss to the Packers could be the event that triggers a full-blown rebuild.

Prediction: Packers 23, Vikings 7

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