It’s true that the New Year’s Eve Border Battle is a de facto playoff game for the two teams, but I’m a little surprised it wasn’t flexed out in favor of the Ravens-Dolphins game. Maybe NBC knows these two teams rarely fail to provide high drama. Maybe the network honchos recalled that the Justin Jefferson–Jaire Alexander matchup is usually must-see TV.
Yeah, about that. Where do we start with Jaire? Has he played his last game as a Packer? I’m not ready to predict or call for that, but it wouldn’t shock me. Clearly, things have deteriorated between him and the team. It feels like it began with the Rasul Douglas trade, which removed the grown-up from the secondary room.
His actions in Charlotte, coupled with whatever else he’s done to irritate the rest of the team, were absolutely worthy of a one-game exile. It won’t cost him much, only around $60K because of how his salary is structured. But it hurts him where it matters: He doesn’t get the chance to face JJ, with the nation watching in prime time. Then again, maybe he just doesn’t care.
It’s a disappointing development all the way around, following on the heels of the De’Vondre Campbell soap opera a week ago. Who do you have on your bingo card to be the next to fall? The betting favorite in Vegas is probably Quay Walker.
You can completely understand why Kevin O’Connell and his staff elected to turn to rookie Jaren Hall under center against Joe Barry’s failing defense. In the last three weeks, Tommy DeVito, Baker Mayfield, and Bryce Young have had career games against the Pack. After Sunday night, Vikings fans may be ready to anoint Hall as the team’s QB of the future.
He may target Jefferson 20 times. With T.J. Hockenson done for the season and Jordan Addison questionable, his options are limited in the passing game. But K.J. Osborn and Brandon Powell must be dying to face this secondary, no matter who’s at quarterback. Hall lacks experience, but he’s seven months older than Love, so he’s unlikely to be a deer in headlights despite the national stage and the playoff implications.
The Vikings figure to try to lean on the running game early to take the heat off Hall, and the Packers have actually been halfway decent against the run in the last couple of games. After Ty Chandler crashed back to earth last week, expect a split with Alexander Mattison. Neither is great in pass protection, so there will be opportunities to pressure Hall into several key mistakes.
Jordan Love and the Pack struggled mightily with Brian Flores’ scheme in the first matchup, but that defense has looked a lot more beatable the past two weeks. With guys like D.J. Wonnum and Byron Murphy ruled out, the Vikings’ inexperienced depth will be tested.
Love gets Jayden Reed back, and the Packers will likely feature him heavily against Minnesota’s backup slot corner. Christian Watson will miss another game, and it sounds like Dontayvion Wicks will be a game-time decision – opening up opportunities for guys like Malik Heath and Bo Melton. With Luke Musgrave still sidelined, Tucker Kraft gets another opportunity to show how far he’s come in the last couple of months.
The Pack’s offense, though, needs to revolve around Aaron Jones, who showed us last week what a dynamic impact he can have on this offense. His speed and ability to hit the edge are made for the fast track at US Bank Stadium. He needs to touch the ball 25 times on Sunday night.
It’s hard to know what to expect. The Vikings are just 2-5 at home this season. Then again, the Pack’s defense may have checked out, ready to hear who their new leader will be in 2024. I think both teams will be able to move the ball, and the game will come down to a mistake by the less experienced, though older, quarterback. The Packers have the better QB and the better running game and that will be the difference. Green Bay earns a split and keeps their playoff hopes alive.