Bidding Farewell to Dome Sweet Dome

Tears will be shed Sunday night as the Packers make their final appearance at the Metrodome. Granted, they will be tears of joy. No more rock hard playing field, artificial sound cranked in, sardine-like concourses and the occasional house of horrors (TJ Rubley).

NBC had other things in mind when they put this one on the prime time schedule. It's not even Halloween and Vikings fans are already plotting out their draft position. Meanwhile, the Pack are dodging injuries to significant players on a weekly basis, but have quietly won three straight as they head into a soft part of the schedule.

That said, nothing comes easy at the Metrodome (except that tasty 34-3 annihilation three years ago) and if the Vikes have any self respect, they will put on a much better show than the one they served up to the nation on Monday night.

The move back to Ponder will make the offense look a lot better than it did against the Giants (yes, I really just wrote that). Of course my eight year old daughter Aly could get behind center and look better than Freeman looked. Ponder will come in as relaxed as he's ever been. The team has made it clear that they are moving on from him and actually may be showcasing him for a trade. The trade deadline is next week. If he performs decently, I wouldn't be surprised to see a team like the Rams surrender a mid-round pick to get them through this season.

Ponder is their most mobile quarterback, able to move out of the pocket to buy some time. With the Pack's pass rush slowed by injuries to their starting outside linebackers, Ponder should be able to make some plays downfield. We all remember how Adrian Peterson torched the Pack last season; I'll be shocked if he's able to duplicate the effort on Sunday night. He may break a long one, but the Pack's third ranked run defense is not a mirage, and the last time Johnny Jolly was on the team, in '09, AP failed to crack the century mark in either game.

Where the Pack has a clear-cut edge is on offense, even without three of Aaron Rodgers' favorite weapons on the field. The Vikings defense is atrocious--it was bad before Harrison Smith got injured, now it's awful. And they haven't faced a QB of Rodgers' pedigree. They also haven't faced this team as it carves out its new identity: one that moves the ball on the ground as well as anyone in the league. No running back has more yards the past three weeks than Eddie Lacy, and with James Starks returning this week to provide a change of pace, the running game should be even stronger.

I love how this team is taking on the look of the Steelers and Ravens teams of the last decade. Punish you with a strong running game, stop the run and let their quarterback win games when he needs to.

My biggest concern in this one is on special teams. Let's hope Tim Masthay kicks out of the end zone to keep the ball out of Cordarelle Patterson's hands. He's a terrific kick returner and can turn field position like a switch. The injuries have decimated the Pack's special teams--we saw Travis Benjamin torch them a couple of times last week. Patterson could provide a spark, a momentum changer, and the Packers need to take him out of the equation.

We'll all be watching Greg Jennings in his first game against the Pack. I expect the boos to drown out the cheers when he's introduced Sunday night. Ponder gives him a chance to make some plays; we'll see what the secondary has in store for him. I have to think Rodgers will use Jennings' training camp gum-flapping as motivation. It's how he rolls.

The Packers are favored by nine points and nobody on the planet not named Paul Allen believes the Vikings can steal one, based on how they've looked all season. But it's Halloween time and we've seen scary things happen in the dome. One thing about the NFL: just when you think you know everything something happens to make you realize you know nothing. We take nothing for granted. But despite the injuries, despite the fact that Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jermichael Finley won't be out there, the Pack is playing at an entirely different level than the Purple.

The crowd will likely be two-thirds Vikings fans and one-third Packer fans, but we'll be loud and an early lead would make it sound even more disproportionate. The final game at the Metrodome should go our way.

Packers 31 Vikings 17


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