There’s a lot of bad blood between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings who took part in two of the better regular season match-ups this year.
Green Bay won the first round back in early December and this past week the Vikings took round two to earn a shot at a third and final round.
With elimination on the table it would be easy to say superstars Adrian Peterson or Aaron Rodgers will be the difference, but that’s a bit too easy.
Here are some of the lesser known players who will be the x-factors in Saturday night’s rumble in Green Bay.
Minnesota Vikings Defensive X-Factor: Safety Harrison Smith
No one is mentioning Smith in the rookie of the year discussion even though he deserves to be discussed with the likes of the Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner and the Packers cornerback Casey Hayward. Smith, the Vikings first round pick at 29th overall leads the team with three interceptions and has 103 tackles. In the Vikings loss at Lambeau in week 13, the rookie had 11 tackles, an interception (one of Rodgers’ eight this season) and a pass deflection. With all four of Green Bay’s stud receivers healthy, Smith is going to need to be smart (use that Notre Dame education) and take advantage of any opportunity thrown his way.
Green Bay Packers Defensive X-Factor: Defensive Tackle B.J. Raji
Unless you accumulate sacks, no one ever wants to talk about the “other” guys on the defensive line. In the thrilling 37-34 loss to the Vikings last week, Raji looked better than he has all season. When he wasn’t giving Dikembe Mutombo’s patented finger-wag, he was stuffing running lanes to make it a little harder for Peterson to run wild. If his hard play can be just a little contagious, the Packers can do enough to limit the Vikings on offense.
Minnesota Vikings Offensive X-Factor: Quarterback Christian Ponder
Ponder doesn’t have a problem not being talked about. He does have a problem dodging criticism though. The million dollar question in 2012 has been; How hard it is to play quarterback when you have an alien going for 2,000 yards in the backfield? Up until the Vikings’ late surge, Ponder would have answered pretty damn hard because of his constant struggles. But of late, the kid is making accurate throws and limiting his mistakes (zero interceptions in last three weeks). If he can connect on a couple of deep throws, it will be just enough to keep the Packers defense from stacking the box against Minnesota’s MVP candidate in the backfield.
Green Bay Packers Offensive X-Factor: Running Back DuJuan Harris
This little guy didn’t even see the Vikings in round one because he hadn’t yet been signed to the team. With a slightly improved offensive line and Harris’ underrated speed, the second year back is averaging 4.6 yards per carry. His 14 carries for 70 yards last week were the closest thing the Packers have had to a running game in a very long time. For the Packers to win on Saturday, they will need Harris to keep playing inspired football. Maybe, just maybe the Packers can have their first 100-yard rusher in what seems a century.
Do you agree or disagree with my x-factor players? Let me know by commenting below.
Nick Grays is a senior writer at the Sports Bank where he covers the Wisconsin Badgers and Green Bay Packers. He also enjoys to share Fantasy Advice and pretend to be a Golf expert from time-to-time. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here or visit his blog Nick Knows Best. If social media is not your thing, shoot him an email at email@example.com.
DuJuan Harris (packersnews.com)
Harrison Smith (zimbio.com)Follow paulmbanks