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World’s Best Preview Two-Minute Drill: Here’s To Good Health

In a quick-hitting final look at tonight's showdown, it's Minnesota's home cooking, Green Bay's health, Monday night history and much more.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Minnesota Vikings won’t have Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook available for tonight’s game against the Green Bay Packers.

Next week at Detroit, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford will be watching from injured reserve.

In a midseason showdown at Kansas City, reigning MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes was inactive with a knee injury.

Whether it’s the injury gods or the impact of coach Matt LaFleur, the Packers have been incredibly healthy this season – and especially so when compared to past seasons. According to ManGamesLost.com, a subscription site that tracks NFL injuries, Green Bay has fielded the ninth-healthiest team in the league this season. Over the previous 10 seasons, Green Bay was the seventh-most injured team.

Left guard Lane Taylor has missed most of the season and receiver Davante Adams missed four games. Otherwise, Green Bay’s injury reports have been short and sweet. For tonight, the only player on the injury report is defensive tackle Dean Lowry, who is questionable but practiced all week.

Being healthy is critical at three spots, in particular. One, obviously, is at quarterback. Aaron Rodgers hasn’t missed a snap due to injury. The other two are the offensive line and secondary, where continuity is critical. On the line, though right tackle Bryan Bulaga has missed significant parts of two games, Green Bay’s “new” starting five has started the last dozen games together. In the defensive backfield, safety Darnell Savage missed two games and cornerback Kevin King missed one.

Based on the yo-yo’ing of teams up and down the annual injury lists, there seems to be an element of luck involved. However, LaFleur put his stamp on things in training camp, with most of his practices running shorter than 2 hours, and the preseason, with most of his front-line performers playing little, if at all. The short practices have continued into the regular season. Several times this year, LaFleur’s first practice of the week (Wednesdays with a Sunday game and Thursdays with a Monday game) was conducted without helmets.

“I was well aware of [the injury history] coming in here, and just making sure we communicated in getting everybody on the same page,” LaFleur said. “And I've been really happy with how our medical staff, how our training staff, just the communication, how they worked together. I think it's been pretty productive. The one thing I’ll say here especially, because I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of different places, these guys definitely care about our players, which is big.”

By the way, the healthiest team this year is Minnesota.

No place like home: With a 6-0 record, the Vikings are the only team to be undefeated at home. They are 3-0 against the Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“It means we’re due,” Rodgers said.

As is usually the case, the home-field advantage shows up on defense. Minnesota is allowing just 14.2 points per game at home – a touchdown better than on the road. The pass defense, which has been vulnerable this season, has been leaps-and-bounds better at home. The Vikings have allowed an opponent passer rating of 79.0 at home, the sixth-best in the league and almost 15 points better than on the road. Talk about a stark contrast: At home, the Vikings have allowed eight touchdowns vs. nine interceptions with 3.5 sacks per game; on the road, it’s 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions with 2.5 sacks per game.

“Well, the noise, for sure,” Rodgers said. “Going back to the old Metrodome, that was a loud place too. Might have pumped in some noise, not that they were the only team doing it, but it’s always been loud in Minnesota. They’ve got really good sports fans and they know when to cheer and it can cause some problems with communication.”

Monday Night Follies: For years, the introductory song to “Monday Night Football” proclaimed it a “Monday night party.” Not for Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is 0-8 under the Monday night lights.

“Yeah, I’d love to get a win for a lot of reasons. Hopefully we can get that done,” Cousins told reporters this week. “It is what it is. Can’t change the past but we certainly have a great opportunity Monday night.”

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Cousins has topped a passer rating of 100 in four of his eight “MNF” starts, so it’s not as if he’s been throwing the ball into the seats or into the hands of the opponent. In the Vikings’ first Monday appearance, he was 22-of-38 for 276 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in a 37-30 loss at Seattle.

“Kirk has done a great job for us this year. He’s been outstanding, he’s played great all year long,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “If we get beat on Monday night, it’s not going to be because of Kirk Cousins. It’s because we didn’t win as a team. … Hopefully he has a great game and hopefully we win, but it’s not all on him. We have 21 other players, and they have to go out and execute just as much as he does. But unfortunately, [he] and I get all the blame.”

More Mondays: On the other hand, Rodgers has won his last five starts on “Monday Night Football,” with 14 touchdowns and one interception in those games. His last loss came on Nov. 4, 2013, when he suffered a broken collarbone in the first quarter against Chicago. His previous Monday night appearance was the “Fail Mary” game at Seattle. Including a 45-7 rout of the Vikings in 2011, Rodgers has six wins, a serious injury that took away a chance to win and a bad call that stole a win in his last eight “MNF” appearances.

Quarterback hunter: Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter entered the week tied for third in the league with 13.5 sacks. At the ripe old age of 25 years, 40 days, Hunter two weeks ago against Detroit became the youngest player in NFL history to reach 50 career sacks.

“Danielle is a terrific football player,” Zimmer said in a conference call. “I don’t know that he’s elevated his game. He’s always been pretty good. He’s a very hard worker. He gets notoriety because he’s a terrific athlete but he’s a good player. He was a good player before. He’s still got a lot of room to grow. He can be a great, great player.”

Hunter will rush almost exclusively against Bulaga.

Finishing stronger: The Packers survived last week against Chicago, marking a second consecutive game in which the opponent rallied in the fourth quarter. For the season, Minnesota is plus-48 in fourth-quarter scoring, tied for the fourth-best mark in the league. The Packers are minus-9. Hear from defensive coordinator Mike Pettine on that topic in the video below.

Backs in the end zone: Aaron Jones enters the game tied with Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey with a league-high 14 rushing touchdowns. That’s the most by a Packers back since Ahman Green had 15 rushing touchdowns in 2003. Jones has played a huge role in Green Bay ranking second in red-zone efficiency with a touchdown rate of 68.9 percent.

The Vikings, on the other hand, have allowed a league-low five rushing touchdowns and field the league’s second-best red-zone defense (47.5 percent touchdowns).

“I don’t remember a back having that many touchdowns in a long time around here,” Rodgers said. “It’s been nice having him in the red zone. I think if you look at our red-zone numberswe’ve done really goods scoring touchdowns. And the key to that as opposed to years past is, I think we’re running the ball a lot better in the red zone and ‘33’ has been a big part of that.”

Kings of the North: By season’s end, the Packers and Vikings will have combined to win 10 of the last 12 NFC North Division titles. The Packers have won five and the Vikings have won four. Green Bay will make it six with a win tonight or next week at Detroit.

The Full World’s Best Preview

Two-minute drill: Health and home cooking

Offensive decline was years in making

Inside the Vikings: Who will replace Cook?

Rodgers vs. Zimmer, Round 13