The Packers needed a win to secure the NFC's No. 1 seed on Sunday night, and their rival Vikings -- who got the last laugh in the two sides' shootout earlier this year -- needed a win to keep their postseason hopes alive. Only one of the NFC North foes came to play under the prime-time lights, however: the guys in green and yellow. Behind another nearly flawless showing from Aaron Rodgers, who could well be on his way to a second straight MVP award; and pedal-to-the-medal coaching from Matt LaFleur, now with three consecutive 13-win seasons under his belt, the Packers dominated "Sunday Night Football" in Week 17, doing circles around a Vikings squad missing starting quarterback Kirk Cousins to seal a 37-10 victory, eliminate Minnesota from playoff contention and, most importantly, secure the conference's only first-round postseason bye.
Here are some instant takeaways from Sunday night's Packers rout:
Why the Packers won
They're the NFC's best, plain and simple. Rodgers stamped his case for a second straight MVP with a sterling performance that could've made the Vikings look even worse in prime time, failing to deliver in a couple of early red-zone trips but otherwise effortlessly wrist-flicking his way up and down the field. Aaron Jones had his way whenever he touched the ball, and Davante Adams did the same whenever Rodgers targeted him. Had a few more plays in Minnesota territory gone their way in the first half, they might've been up nearly 30 at the break. A bruising A.J. Dillon all but powered that kind of lead later in the contest anyway.
And that says nothing of the Packers' defense, which was still missing Jaire Alexander but had no trouble bottling up a Vikings lineup without Cousins (COVID-19), with Rashan Gary and Preston Smith each downing backup Sean Mannion, and the rest of Green Bay's linebacker corps rendering Dalvin Cook and Mike Zimmer's physical ground game nonexistent. This, friends, was just a total talent mismatch in the Packers' favor.
Why the Vikings lost
The easy culprit is Cousins, whose unavailability due to COVID left Minnesota shorthanded in a game that was always going to demand peak offensive performance, but let's face it: they lost because they're just worse in every facet of the game. Mannion wasn't fazed by the emergency start at QB, but his presence (and lack of practice time) clearly limited the playbook, with Zimmer's squad initially relying exclusively on short-area calls (like a fourth-and-3 play-action throw to fullback C.J. Ham in tight coverage) and then failing to break either Cook or Justin Jefferson into space.
They were bad situationally, but they were also just bad in general, averaging fewer than 3 yards per play deep into the second half. Adam Thielen's absence due to injury exacerbated the lack of options, and by the time rookie Kellen Mond took over under center with about eight minutes to go, they'd already packed it in, down almost 30. Defensively, Zimmer's unit stood tall early on, at least in the red zone, but predictably folded once Rodgers settled in, with Patrick Peterson and the Vikings' downtrodden secondary offering no answers against the pass.
Up until halfway through the second quarter, the Packers had moved the ball just fine, only to stall in the red zone, turning the ball over on downs and settling for field goals two other times. But then came Rodgers' 20-yard floater to Allen Lazard in the end zone on second down from Minnesota's 20-yard line with just over four minutes until halftime. Lazard went up and easily got it over the Vikings' Kris Boyd, and it confirmed that A-Rod had finally settled in. The touchdown put the Packers up 12-0, but by that point, it already felt like a three- or four-score game, and Green Bay never looked back.
Play of the game
Give it to Rodgers and Lazard, who made the deep, lofty touchdown look easy against the Vikings long before the game got really out of hand:
Honorable mention, even though it had no real outcome on the game: Vikings lineman Garrett Bradbury showing off some soft hands with this improbable catch off a pass that bounced right out of the hands of teammate Tyler Conklin:
The Packers (13-3) can now safely turn their eyes to the postseason; with the NFC's No. 1 seed locked up, they're likely to rest starters in Week 18 against the Lions (2-13-1), who fell to the Seahawks in a blowout loss on Sunday. The Vikings (7-9), meanwhile, will likely be playing for pride in what could be Zimmer's final game as head coach, with Minnesota set to host the Bears (6-10) to close the season.