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Packers vs. Vikings: Five key matchups's Wes Hodkiewicz identifies five key matchups in Saturday’s Packers-Vikings game



1. Aaron Rodgers vs. Harrison Smith

The Packers quarterback has been at the top of his game over the past month. He has completed 113-of-164 passes (68.9 percent) for 1,371 yards and 10 touchdowns for a 114.7 passer rating over the last five games. He's also thrown 168 consecutive passes without an interception. Rodgers said this week he's hopeful the calf injury he's been playing through may be closer to 100 percent against the Vikings. Smith, voted to his second consecutive Pro Bowl, has missed the last two games with an ankle injury but returned to practice this week. The Vikings will be keeping their fingers crossed Smith may be able to play, especially after suffering their biggest loss of the season last weekend against Indianapolis (34-6). Former undrafted free agent Anthony Harris likely will start at safety if Smith can't go.


2. Jordy Nelson vs. Xavier Rhodes

Rhodes, Minnesota's first-round pick in 2013, missed the first matchup against Green Bay with a knee injury but returned the following week against Carolina. The fourth-year cornerback leads the Vikings with four interceptions. Last weekend in Chicago, Nelson eclipsed 1,000 yards for the fourth time in his career on a 60-yard completion from Rodgers that set up Mason Crosby's game-winning field goal from 32 yards as time expired. Nelson, named a first alternate for the Pro Bowl, leads the Packers with 82 catches for 1,037 yards and a league-leading 12 TDs in his first year back from the knee injury that sidelined him for the entire 2015 season. The ninth-year receiver has caught at least one touchdown in 10 of the Packers' 14 games this season.


3. T.J. Lang vs. Linval Joseph

Joseph, a 6-foot-4, 329-pound behemoth, presents a 60-minute problem for interior linemen. While Everson Griffen remains the face of the Vikings' pass rush, Joseph is the cog in the middle of Mike Zimmer's defense. He's difficult to move off his spot against the run, and possesses enough power and quickness to cause issues in the pass game as well. Joseph has a career-high 68 tackles this year with three sacks and two forced fumbles. Lang, selected to his first Pro Bowl this week, is expected to play after exiting late with a back injury against the Bears. While he's battled hip and foot injuries this season, Lang remains the heart and soul of the Packers' offensive line. Green Bay believes it's turned a corner with its run game, which jumped from 22nd to 15th following last Sunday's 226-yard performance behind Ty Montgomery and Christine Michael.


4. Julius Peppers vs. T.J. Clemmings

The injuries have hit the Vikings hard this season, especially at the tackle position with Matt Kalil, Jake Long and Andre Smith on season-ending injured reserve. Clemmings, a fourth-round pick out of Pittsburgh in 2015, has stepped into the starting post at left tackle on an offensive line that's allowed 34 sacks this season. The Packers put pressure on Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford in the teams' first meeting with four sacks and 12 hits, but couldn't do it consistently enough to get him off his spot. The Packers are hoping to get more from a healthier Clay Matthews this week, but Peppers has been Green Bay's primary pass-rusher with four sacks over the last five games. The 36-year-old veteran made one of the biggest plays of last Sunday's game with a strip-sack and recovery of Bears quarterback Matt Barkley on the first play of the second half. It was his eighth forced fumble in two-plus seasons in Green Bay.


5. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix vs. Sam Bradford

Clinton-Dix, voted to his first Pro Bowl on Tuesday, has been the MVP of the Packers' defense in the second half of the season with 33 tackles and five interceptions in Green Bay's last seven games. The third-year safety, who celebrated his 24th birthday Wednesday, earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors after picking off Barkley to end back-to-back series a week ago. Clinton-Dix will look to keep the big plays coming against Bradford, who's putting together one of the most accurate seasons in NFL history (71.6 percent). Averaging 6.9 yards per pass, Bradford has thrown only 14 touchdown passes in 13 games. The former first-overall pick hasn't received much help from Minnesota's run game, which is averaging a league-low 70.6 yards per game without Adrian Peterson for most of the season.'s Wes Hodkiewicz identifies five key matchups in Saturday's Packers-Vikings game.

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