Packers Blown Out By 49ers, Improving Vikings' NFC North Title Chances
Week 12's Sunday Night Football clash between the Packers and 49ers was anticipated to be a tightly-contested battle between NFC heavyweights. Instead, a national audience was treated to a blowout victory that made it extremely clear who the better team is at the moment.
The Niners throttled the Packers in all three phases, winning 37-8 and making a statement in the process. Their defense was particularly dominant, holding the Packers under 200 yards of offense and sacking Aaron Rodgers five times. Even when he wasn't being sacked, Rodgers managed just 104 passing yards on 33 attempts, as the entire Green Bay offense was shut down completely by the 49ers.
The tone was set from the first series of the game, one that ended with a strip-sack of Rodgers that set the 49ers offense up for their first possession at the Green Bay 2-yard line. One play later, they led 7-0. At halftime, it was 23-0. And after a Packers touchdown threatened to spark an improbable comeback, Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle produced the knockout blow.
It was an incredibly impressive performance from the Niners, who move to 10-1 on the season and are pretty clearly the best team in the NFC (and arguably the entire NFL) at this juncture. Their defense, led by a rising star in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and playmakers at all three levels, is so dominant that the Niners don't need all that much from their offense to win games. As it turns out, their offense is pretty good too. Remaining games against the Ravens, Saints, and Seahawks will offer further tests, but this team looks like it could be Miami-bound.
The Packers, meanwhile, have plenty of questions to answer after an ugly loss. Despite coming off of a bye week, Rodgers and the offense couldn't get anything going all night. Some of that blame has to fall on the players, and some has to fall on head coach Matt LaFleur. The Packers' defense was solid at times, but gave up consistent yardage on the ground and a couple killer big plays through the air. After a game like this, it's fair to wonder if their championship dreams are realistic.
What does this result mean for the Vikings?
The Vikings and Packers are both owners of an 8-3 record through 11 games. Thanks to the Packers' head-to-head victory back in Week 2, they remain on top of the NFC North, but this loss loosened their hold on the division lead quite a bit. FiveThirtyEight currently projects it to be a virtual toss-up, as their model gives the Vikings a 49 percent chance to win the division.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, their schedule is a bit tougher than the Packers' going forward. Three of each team's five remaining games are against the rest of the division, but the Packers' other two opponents (Giants and Redskins) have a combined record of 4-18, while the Vikings other two opponents (Seahawks and Chargers) have a combined record of 13-9.
The simplest path to a division title for the Vikings is to win out. That means beating the Seahawks in Seattle next Monday night, handling the Lions and Chargers, and then beating the Packers in what projects to be a huge Week 16 matchup before closing the season against the Bears. At 13-3, the Vikings would also presumably secure a first-round bye.
If the Vikings lose to the Seahawks in a week, things start to get dicey in the division. Even if they beat the Packers in Week 16, the Vikings would still need the Packers to lose another game. If both teams finished 12-4 and the season series was tied 1-1, the Packers would win the second tiebreaker (division record) due to the Vikings' loss to the Bears in Week 4.
To summarize: The Packers' loss in Week 12 may have exposed their limitations, and it helped the Vikings a lot. But given the Packers' remaining schedule, it may not matter unless the Vikings beat the Seahawks next Monday.