The Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings will kick off the 2020 season with an NFC North battle at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday. The two teams combined for 23 regular-season wins in 2019, and both teams won a playoff game. They’re expected by many to compete for the NFC North title in 2020.
To preview the Week 1 showdown, Packers Wire asked Jack White of Vikings Wire to answer five questions about Mike Zimmer’s team entering Sunday:
Packers Wire: The Vikings still have their two elite safeties, but how does the cornerback position look with Davante Adams headed to Minnesota for Week 1? Who will start on the outside and in the slot?
White: This year, the Vikings saw a mass exodus at cornerback in free agency, but that might not have been a bad thing. Xavier Rhodes had one interception in 2018 and none in 2019. Of cornerbacks who played more than 300 snaps last season, only six were graded worse than Rhodes, per PFF. Trae Waynes was decent but there is definitely room for improvement. Mackensie Alexander was pretty good as the team’s nickel corner. I think the only player of those three they should have kept is Alexander.
So what will the cornerback group look like now? It appears that Holton Hill and Mike Hughes will be the starters out wide. The Vikings have used the nickel package quite often in the past, so that slot corner will likely play a lot. My guess is that when first-round pick Jeff Gladney comes in, Hughes and Hill stay outside. But when third-round pick Cameron Dantzler comes in, Hughes will move inside and Dantzler will play out wide, a role that suits him better. They’ll probably switch off like that.
Packers Wire: The Vikings traded away Stefon Diggs and then drafted Justin Jefferson in the first round. How are the early returns on Jefferson replacing Diggs?
White: I think it’s probably too unfair to ask Jefferson to replace Diggs right away. If the Vikings wanted to bring in a wide receiver who was going to be as good as Diggs immediately, the team would have had to be aggressive in the trade market or in free agency. I think with Jefferson, you have to ask whether he can be part of a committee that will replace a lot of Diggs’ production. On the Vikings unofficial depth chart, Bisi Johnson was listed ahead of Jefferson. He is a second-year player who has had a good training camp. There’s also Irv Smith Jr., who they can use more in the passing game after a promising rookie year. Diggs will be missed but the Vikings have possibilities of improving other areas in the passing game, leading to minimal regression.
Packers Wire: The Packers beat up on the Vikings’ offensive line last year, especially in the last meeting. Does that group look better to start 2020? Are there new starters?
White: They might even be worse. The Vikings terminated Josh Kline’s contract this offseason. Kline was the starter at right guard, and he had a decent 2019. The new starter is Dakota Dozier, a player who made four starts this past season. Besides that, the offensive line has the same starters: Riley Reiff, Garrett Bradbury, Pat Elflein and Brian O’Neill. Elflein, who was inconsistent in 2019, has moved to the right side, filling in Kline’s old role. With Dozier, Bradbury and Elflein being the interior of the offensive line, I think Green Bay can probably take full advantage.
Packers Wire: Who is one key player for the Vikings on both sides of the ball for this matchup?
White: The key on offense is running the ball and doing so effectively. Minnesota is a run-heavy team. Last time these two teams met, Dalvin Cook was out. The Vikings need Cook to have a big day to stay in the game and hold onto the ball.
On defense, the key is getting to the quarterback early and often, so I’m going to cheat a bit and list two here: Yannick Ngakoue and Ifeadi Odenigbo. The young cornerbacks will likely go through some growing pains, so it’s imperative that Minnesota creates pressure. If they can’t and Aaron Rodgers has all day to throw, it seems likely that wide receivers will be open and the Packers will have little trouble moving the chains.
Packers Wire: Predictions! Do the Vikings win on Sunday? Do they win the NFC North? Final record?
White: I think the Vikings lose 17-14 Sunday. The Packers defense will be too much for them. That said, I think Minnesota will be able to make the playoffs this year, just not as division winners. The Vikings finish second to the Packers in the NFC North. Final record for the team? 9-7.