When: 3:25 p.m. Sunday, U.S. Bank Stadium
TV, radio: Ch. 9, 100.3-FM
Line: Packers by 1 1/2
THREE STORY LINES
O’Connell makes his debut
The last time the Vikings had a head coach trying to win his first regular-season game, they played in St. Louis, took the field with Matt Cassel as their starting quarterback and won behind 102 rushing yards from Cordarrelle Patterson while the Rams were focused on Adrian Peterson. On Sunday, Kevin O’Connell’s regular-season debut comes on national TV, at home against the Vikings’ biggest rival. “I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t going to be a little extra excited, a little bit more than just any other game,” O’Connell said.
New defense, familiar challenge
Mike Zimmer’s time-tested 4-3 scheme is gone, and in its place is the Vikings’ version of the Vic Fangio-influenced scheme that’s become trendy across the NFL (including in Green Bay). The Packers practice against a defense with plenty of similarities to the Vikings’ attack, and they’ve still got Aaron Rodgers — coming off back-to-back MVP seasons — running their offense. Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, whose time in Green Bay ended two years before the Packers drafted Rodgers, will try to get the better of the Vikings’ biggest nemesis.
Offense finally takes the field
The Vikings held Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen out of all their preseason games, meaning their top offensive players are both completely fresh and entering the season without a single snap of game action in O’Connell’s offense. The group will try to get started quickly against what might be the Packers’ most talented defense in years, with Green Bay adding Georgia linebacker Quay Walker and defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt in the first round.
TWO KEY MATCHUPS
Vikings WR Justin Jefferson vs. Packers CB Eric Stokes
In the Vikings’ 34-31 win over the Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium last year, Jefferson beat Stokes twice for 79 yards, including a 23-yard score that put the Vikings up by 7 with just over two minutes to go. The Vikings have big plans for Jefferson in O’Connell’s offense; the Packers are counting on Stokes to take a step forward in his second season. This could be an individual matchup we see in this rivalry for years to come.
Vikings C Garrett Bradbury vs. Packers DT Kenny Clark
The Vikings have talked hopefully about the center improving in his fourth year; he’ll have to prove it right away against Clark, who’s been one of Bradbury’s toughest matchups for the past several seasons. Expect the Packers to test Bradbury’s communication with rookie right guard Ed Ingram, by running stunts and blitzes that force the two to react and pass players off on the fly.
ONE STAT THAT MATTERS
20: Years since a Vikings head coach won his first matchup against the Packers. Mike Tice was the last to do it in 2002, when his 2-7 Vikings surprised an 8-1 Packers team with a 31-21 win at the Metrodome. Brad Childress (2006), Leslie Frazier (2011) and Mike Zimmer (2014) all lost their first game vs. Green Bay.
THE VIKINGS WILL WIN IF …
Their new-look offense can put together a productive day against a talented Packers defense, while their defensive coverages can force Rodgers to hold the ball long enough for Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith to have big days against a Packers offensive line that’s trying to get healthy. The Vikings could also benefit from the fact Rodgers is playing his first game with a new set of receivers after the Packers traded Davante Adams.
THE PACKERS WILL WIN IF …
They run the ball well with Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, while Rodgers connects with his receivers and the Packers’ secondary can find a way to keep Jefferson from having a massive day. Green Bay also hired Rich Bisaccia to help fix the pitiful special teams units that cost the Packers the NFC divisional playoff game in January; if there’s another big special teams gaffe from the Packers, it could swing a close game.
Green Bay’s defense presents a formidable challenge for a Vikings offense that’s been trying to master a new system. In a Week 1 game where both teams have things to figure out, the Packers can lean on their defense and Rodgers to prevail. Packers 23, Vikings 20