The final Monday Night Football installment of the season, luckily for football fans, carries tremendous playoff implications.
The Green Bay Packers currently lead the NFC North with an 11-3 record, but the Minnesota Vikings are right behind them at 10-4. Green Bay won the first matchup between the two teams and thus can clinch the NFC North with a win on Monday night, but if the Vikings come away victorious, we won't find out which team takes the division title until next week.
Having established that the division and at least one home playoff game are on the line, let's just get right into it and break things down.
How to watch
When the Packers have the ball
Aaron Rodgers has yet to have a pass intercepted on the road this season ... but he's also averaging just 6.33 yards per attempt in road games, limiting him to just 209.0 passing yards per game in those contests. It's probably not much of a coincidence that two of the Packers' three losses have come on the road, where Rodgers just has not been the same guy that he typically is at Lambeau Field. Almost all of his road production has come in two games: a thrilling win over the Matt Moore-led Chiefs, and a snow game against the Giants a few weeks back.
Rodgers goes up against a Vikings pass defense that has been getting by more on reputation than production for most of this season. Xavier Rhodes (130.2 passer rating allowed on throws in his direction, per Pro Football Focus) has fallen off the face of the earth and looks like one of the small handful of worst regular corners in the NFL this season. Trae Waynes (111.4) hasn't been much better, and Mackensie Alexander (92.5) and Mike Hughes (95.8) have not exactly been stingy in coverage, either.
Any of these cornerbacks should be extremely beatable for Davante Adams on the outside, but it's notable that Adams' yards per reception average is down almost two full yards since his return from injury back in Week 9. He's had at least four catches in all six games, but almost managed 64 yards or fewer in four of those six. Adams has managed only five catches of more than 20 yards across those six contests, the same number he had in only four games prior to the injury. (He had 19 such plays last year.)
Rodgers doesn't appear to trust many -- or even any -- of his other receivers at the moment, and there's a pretty good reason for that. Marquez Valdes-Scantling has caught less than half the throws in his direction this season, and he has made a couple of crucial drops. Geronimo Allison has five drops on only 49 targets. Allen Lazard has stayed in the rotation since his emergence during the period where nearly all of the Packers' receivers were injured, but he's not managed to shake free for more than three targets since Week 10. Jimmy Graham seemingly cannot handle a full complement of snaps anymore, and Marcedes Lewis simply isn't much of a threat through the air.
Instead, Rodgers' secondary passing game targets are his running backs. Aaron Jones has been the more explosive of the two, and it's not an accident that his best receiving games have been some of the Packers' best offensive performances. Jamaal Williams is typically more of a screen and check-down option, but Rodgers at least appears to consider him reliable, particularly on third downs and in the red zone. The Vikings are only 16th in DVOA against passes to running backs this season, per Football Outsiders, so perhaps there's some opportunity here for them to get Jones and Williams going in the passing game.
The Vikings' run defense has been excellent overall this year (fourth in DVOA), as the defensive line and linebackers have emerged as the true strength of the unit. (Plus Harrison Smith. Basically it's just the corners who are bad, which makes attacking the Vikes via the pass a more fruitful option.) The Vikes have only rarely allowed big plays via the run, which is a strong attribute to have against a home-run hitter like Jones.
When the Vikings have the ball
The Vikings have already managed to clinch a playoff spot, and their chances of winning the NFC North, while real, are still somewhat remote. (12.5 percent, according to Sportsline's Stephen Oh.) And so they are going to hold both Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison out of this game, which means we're going to see a whole lot of preseason superstar Mike Boone in the backfield.
In two seasons of preseason action, Boone has carried 90 times for 391 yards and three touchdowns, adding 13 receptions for another 145 yards. He's managed only 32 carries in regular-season games, but he's taken those 32 carries for 144 yards -- a healthy 4.5 yards per carry average. It'll be interesting to see how having their No. 3 back in the backfield affect the Vikings' ability and willingness to run early and often.
According to Sharp Football Stats, Minnesota has called run plays at the NFL's third-highest rate in neutral situations (plus or minus 14 points), handing the ball off 47 percent of the time. Green Bay's run defense has been eminently beatable all year and Boone has impressed in his limited action, but this is obviously a much different scenario than he'll have faced in the NFL before.
Whether they lean heavily on Boone or not, we should expect the Vikings' passing attack to be heavily based on play-action concepts, as usual. If you've been paying attention to Sunday night broadcasts in recent weeks you will have heard Cris Collinsworth repeatedly explain that play-action passes are typically successful regardless of whether a team is running the ball well, or even running it at all. It's a difficult concept for people to accept because of the way play-action has been discussed for so long, but it's held true over multiple studies.
There is almost no team that has internalized this better than the Vikings, who have used play-action at the second-highest rate in the NFL since Week 5. Kirk Cousins is 82 of 109 for 1,171 yards, 13 touchdowns, and zero interceptions on play-action passes during that time, good for a league-best 149.1 passer rating, according to Pro Football Focus. The Green Bay defense, meanwhile, has been solid against play-action passes, allowing 77 completions on 114 attempts, for 1,054 yards, four touchdowns, three interceptions, and a 97.6 passer rating.
Minnesota got Adam Thielen back from injury last week against the Chargers, and while he caught just three passes for 27 yards and played only 51 percent of the snaps, a lot of that was because the Vikings won 39-10. Even Stefon Diggs only played 71 percent of the snaps. Each of those players should have a winnable matchup on the perimeter this week, as Packers cornerbacks Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, and Tramon Williams played better earlier in the season than they have of late. (That's true of King, in particular.) Diggs has been practically uncoverable for just about anyone since Week 6 (coincidentally, when Thielen first suffered his injury), catching 44 passes for 819 yards and four scores during that span.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph has also come on in recent weeks, recording at least three catches and/or a touchdown in seven of Minnesota's last eight games. The Packers are 28th in DVOA on passes to tight ends this season, per Football Outsiders, so Rudolph should have a chance to make some plays on Monday night as well.
Prediction: Vikings 26, Packers 21