The teams: The Green Bay Packers (5-5) vs. the Minnesota Vikings (2-8).
The time: Noon CST Sunday.
The place: Lambeau Field, Green Bay.
The TV coverage: FOX – WITI (Ch. 6 in Milwaukee), WMSN (Ch. 47 in Madison) and WLUK (Ch. 11 in Green Bay).
The announcers: Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch in the booth and Erin Andrews reporting from the sideline.
The coaches: Green Bay's Mike McCarthy is 85-47 (including 6-4 in the postseason) in his eighth season as the Packers' coach and as an NFL head coach. Minnesota’s Leslie Frazier is 18-31 (including 0-1 in the postseason) in his fourth full season as coach of the Vikings and as an NFL head coach.
The series: The Packers lead the all-time regular-season series, 55-48-1 and hold a 21-17-1 edge in games played in Green Bay. The Packers have also won seven of the last nine meetings, including a 44-31 victory in Minneapolis on Oct. 27.
The rankings: The Packers’ third-ranked offense is No. 6 in rushing and No. 5 in passing. Their 18th-ranked defense is No. 12 against the run and No. 21 against the pass. The Vikings’ 26th-ranked offense is No. 16 in rushing and No. 25 in passing. Their 30th-ranked defense is No. 14 against the run and No. 29 against the pass.
The line: The Packers are favored by 4 1/2 points.
The injury report: Packers – Out: RT Don Barclay (knee), CB Casey Hayward (hamstring), CB James Nixon (knee), OLB Nick Perry (foot), QB Aaron Rodgers (collarbone). Doubtful: DT Johnny Jolly (groin). Questionable: CB Sam Shields (hamstring). Full participation: CB Micah Hyde (groin), C Evan Dietrich-Smith (knee), OLB Mike Neal (abdomen), DT Ryan Pickett (knee), OLB Andy Mulumba (ankle), OLB Clay Matthews (thumb).
Vikings – Out: LB Erin Henderson (not injury related), CB Josh Robinson (chest), TE Kyle Rudolph (foot). Questionable: RB Adrian Peterson (groin), C John Sullivan (concussion), WR Greg Jennings (Achilles’ tendon), DE Brian Robison (neck), LB Michael Mauti (knee). Probable: DE Jared Allen (back), RB Matt Asiata (shoulder), TE Rhett Ellison (ankle), DT Fred Evans (knee/shoulder), DT Letroy Guion (chest), LB Chad Greenway (wrist), QB Christian Ponder (left shoulder).
THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
Safety hazards: Questioning the production of safety Morgan Burnett will not get you anywhere in conversation with the Packers’ defensive coaching staff. Even if you limit your criticism solely to his failure to make “splash” plays – entering Sunday’s game, he doesn’t have an interception, a sack, a forced fumble or a fumble recovery – the coaches will tell you that Burnett has had one bad game, against Philadelphia two weeks ago. And even then, they barely admit that much.
“Morgan has played some good football for us. He can’t get caught up in reading some of the other things that may be out there,” said safeties coach Darren Perry, Burnett’s staunchest defender. “He’s a good football player and we have no doubts about him. We just have got to keep him going and making sure as a unit that we’re playing together and we’re not giving up the big play, because that’s where you want to make sure that you’re not slipping, because that just demoralizes a defense.
“When he came back (after missing the first three games with a hamstring injury), it was a noticeable difference for us in the secondary. Hey, when you lose, you’re going to get criticized. So you’ve just got to take it in perspective and see where we are and where we’re going.”
The Packers gave Burnett a four-year, $24.75 million contract that included an $8.5 million signing bonus in July. He came into this season with six career interceptions to go along with four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. He also has three career sacks.
Burnett is viewed as the latest in the Packers’ lineage of Pro Bowl safeties, a group that went from LeRoy Butler to Darren Sharper to Nick Collins. But to this point, Burnett hasn’t made enough plays to be viewed in that light.
“It’s all about doing your job, really. It’s not about one guy worrying about his stats. It’s about winning,” Burnett said. “Right now, that’s our main focus. You want to dominate together as a defense. It’s not about numbers or who’s doing what. We just have to stay the course and do our job.”
Bouncing back: What will the future hold for cornerback Tramon Williams? He’s set to turn 31 in March and will be the Packers’ highest-paid defensive player next season with a $6.9 million base salary and $600,000 in bonus money, and before last Sunday’s game against the New York Giants, there was reason to wonder about his level of play. But he was terrific against the Giants, snapping a 23-game streak without an interception, tackling like a man possessed (eight solo tackles) and looking like he did in 2010, when multiple personnel men said he was one of the league’s top 5 cover men.
Whether he can sustain that level of play is unclear, but the Green Bay defense needs him to play that way now more than ever, especially if Shields sits out a second straight game with a hamstring injury. Williams hasn’t been the same player as he was before his 2011 shoulder injury, but he reminded everyone what he can do when on top of his game.
“I thought Tramon had a really good game, but at the end of the day we need to win football games. But him personally, yes, he probably had one of his finer games since we’ve been working together,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “His technique was really, really good. The things that we talked about, where we wanted to send balls, where we wanted to send certain players, and how they’re going to attack us and how we’re going to defend them, he was flawless on those things. That was good to see his attention to detail on every aspect of how we wanted to do it.”
Asked how much he thinks Williams has left, Whitt replied, “That’s a question that I’m not prepared to answer right now because my mindset is not even there. I’m worried about how Tramon is going to play [on Sunday]. After the season, that would be a better time for me to answer that question. … If he plays the next six games and going into playoff like he played this last game, we’re going to say, ‘Wow.’ (But) it would be better answered after the season.”
“You feel that something has to be changed, or someone has to step up or do something a little different, and I feel that I’m one of the guys who needs to step up, whether it’s by example or whether it’s by being a vocal leader,” Williams said about whether he felt he needed to make a statement. “Different guys do it different ways. We just have to make sure we’re getting effort out of everybody. I’m not saying we’re not, but when it comes to times like this, you want to make sure you’re maxing out on everything.”
Under siege: Opposing defensive coordinators had reached the point with Rodgers that they didn’t even bother blitzing him anymore. That hasn’t been the case for his replacement, third-stringer Scott Tolzien. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Tolzien has been blitzed on roughly 1/3 of his dropbacks, and the results haven’t been pretty.