Sunday, Jan. 2 brings the second and presumably final meeting between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings this year. Packers players and fans will be looking to put the last showdown between these two teams behind them. The 34-31 loss in Week 11 only served to bruise egos and inflame the confidence of a dangerous Minnesota team.
But the circumstances of this week’s meeting are much different. The Vikings enter Lambeau Field in a must-win to keep their playoff hopes alive. Dalvin Cook has been allowed to return due to the NFL’s updated protocols, and his presence would be a significant boon for the Vikings against a suddenly porous Green Bay run defense.
However, this week, there may be a point of commonality between the NFC North divisional rival fanbases. A Vikings loss would surely spell the end of their playoff hopes because the Packers would cruise closer to the No. 1 seed in the NFC and a first-round playoff bye. And a Green Bay win would mean the playoffs are out of reach for the Vikings for another consecutive year. Therefore, ownership would be looking to change the front office and coaching staff.
The prospective of cleaning house is the only logical move for a Minnesota team mired in mediocrity. They haven’t been good enough to make noise in the playoffs, nor have they been bad enough to get a high draft pick to change the franchise’s direction. In the Mike Zimmer era, Minnesota Vikings have seemingly built to do one thing: beat the Green Bay Packers once a year.
This is why, if and when Zimmer gets fired, that both franchises will rejoice.
From Green Bay’s perspective, this is a no-brainer. Zimmer’s Vikings have always played the Packers and Aaron Rodgers well. While Rodgers boasts a 15-10-1 record against Minnesota for his career, he is only 7-6-1 against them during the Zimmer era.
The Athletic’s Arif Hasan did a deep-dive on the statistics of this head-to-head matchup. He outlined how Zimmer’s defensive ingenuity has relegated Rodgers to performing like an average quarterback. Against the Vikings, Rodgers sees notable regressions in expected points added (EPA), adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A), and expected points added per dropback.
Despite Minnesota’s shortcomings, they always give Green Bay fits whenever the two teams meet. Outside of the Jay Cutler-era Chicago Bears, the Vikings have been the Packers’ most formidable division rival since hiring Zimmer. He has been one of the only coaches who can truly scheme any gaggle of defensive players into a cohesive unit and make Rodgers struggle. Wins against Minnesota could come easier without Zimmer.
From the Vikings’ perspective, they have to let Zimmer go at this point. Minnesota cannot afford many more seasons hovering around .500 with nothing to show for it. When they make the playoffs, they don’t make any noise. When they don’t, they are not playing poorly enough to earn a good pick. Minnesota has done well enough in the draft the last few years, but it hasn’t resulted in consistent winning. Something has got to give.
Saying goodbye to Zimmer also means waving farewell to the third-best coach in Minnesota Vikings history. Zimmer has a .563 winning percentage in his nearly eight seasons as head coach, ranking only behind franchise icons Bud Grant (.621) and Dennis Green (.610). He has brought stability to a franchise that had been floundering in the wake of Green’s dismissal.
The trio of coaches who preceded Zimmer — Mike Tice, Brad Childress, and Leslie Frazier — each had their moments but never delivered the consistency and vision that Zimmer did. Zimmer changed the culture, orchestrating a defense that struck fear in the hearts of opponents.
But as currently constructed, Minnesota appears to have peaked with this core. Sure, the Vikings are good enough to beat the Packers once a year, but what else can they do? This Rick Spielman and Zimmer tandem with Kirk Cousins at quarterback does not have what it takes to win at a high level. Zimmer was the best thing to happen to the Vikings since that one magical Brett Favre year. But, much like Favre, Zimmer’s magic has run dry. It is time for a change.
Packers and Vikings supporters alike should be rooting for the imminent changing of the guard in Minnesota. It gives the Vikings the opportunity to move on to a regime with a higher ceiling, and the Packers would be able to sleep at night knowing that their future matchups with Minnesota will be easier for the next few years. Fortunately for both sides, Zimmer’s dismissal can best be expedited with a big Green Bay win on Sunday.