Packers vs. Vikings -- Week 13

Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisc. (grass, outdoors)

When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (Fox)

Spread: Packers by 8.5

Forecast: Mid-40s and light wind

Records: Packers (7-4; NFC North 2-0); Vikings (6-5; NFC North 2-1)

Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Nov. 14, 2011: Packers 45, Vikings 7; Oct. 23. 2011: Packers 33, Vikings 27. Series record: Packers lead 53-48-1.

What matters: Green Bay will look to bounce back from last week’s embarrassing 38-10 loss to the New York Giants, a reality check that ended the banged-up Packers’ five-game winning streak. The defeat brought the team back down to earth and also sent more key players to the training room -- among them, run-stopping DE C.J. Wilson, who suffered a knee injury.

The Packers talked all week about the importance of divisional games, and this one is huge. If they win, they keep pace with the first-place Bears. If they lose, they fall into a second-place tie with the Vikings. Before the season began, the Packers probably looked at this Week 13 matchup at home against Minnesota as a gimme. Now, though, it’s a challenging must-win affair for a team that will again be without its star playmakers on defense: OLB Clay Matthews and DB Charles Woodson.

Who matters: Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, the NFL’s leading rusher and a player who, in the Green Bay locker room, is talked about in superhuman, otherworldly tones. Less than nine months removed from last year’s ACL tear and surgery, Peterson has run for 1,236 yards and seven touchdowns. Over his last five games, Peterson has averaged 147.4 yards a game at an astounding 7.4-yard clip.

This week, Wilson called him a “beast,” DE Mike Neal said he was a “monster,” and more than one defensive lineman remarked that studying his game-tape cutups was like watching a highlight reel.

Like Aaron Rodgers for the Packers, the Vikings go as Peterson goes. Last season, Green Bay was able to win both games against Minnesota, despite allowing 226 rushing yards to AD. If the Packers are that powerless on Sunday, they may not be as fortunate against an improved Vikings team.

Key matchups: Peterson vs. Packers monstrous DL Ryan Pickett. Of course, it’ll take the entire defensive line (and the rest of the defense) to slow down Peterson. But Pickett (6-foot-2, 340 pounds) is vital. He was banged-up during the week with a quadriceps injury but practiced fully on Friday and should be on the field against the Vikings.

If the Packers have any hope of keeping Peterson in check, it starts with Pickett, especially without Wilson, who is an excellent defender against the run. Pickett is having arguably the best season of his 12-year career, playing in every game and getting regular interior penetration to disrupt run plays. The play of Neal, DT B.J. Raji and rookies Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels on the defensive line also must be top-notch.

Vikings DE Jared Allen vs. Packers LT Marshall Newhouse and RT T.J. Lang. Allen will likely spend most of the game going against Newhouse, though last week Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul moved around a bit and purposely lined up opposite Lang much of the game. Allen has terrorized the Packers in the past, racking up 12 sacks against them over the last three years.

Newhouse is a much-improved pass blocker, but he still struggles against elite rushers. If Allen switches over to target Lang, who moved outside from left guard in Week 9 to replace injured RT Bryan Bulaga (hip), Lang could find Allen’s speed and tenacity overwhelming.

Injuries of note: Four important starters are out: Matthews (hamstring), Woodson (collarbone), Wilson (knee) and CB Sam Shields (ankle). The first two are the Packers’ top playmakers, Matthews as a pass-rusher and Woodson as a savvy ballhawk in the secondary. Wilson is one of the Packers’ best run stoppers, and Shields is a speedy outside corner who was having a strong season before his Week 6 injury.

Also out are TE Andrew Quarless (knee) and RB Johnny White (concussion). WR Donald Driver (thumb) and S Sean Richardson (back) are questionable. WR Greg Jennings, who had abdominal surgery on Nov. 1, is expected to play in his first game since Week 4.

Inside stuff: The Packers’ offensive line -- banged up from injuries, beaten up by the Giants’ defensive line last week, and perhaps beaten down by the media -- has gone silent. For the most part, none of the linemen spoke to reporters this week, and those that did either provided trite platitudes or made excuses for leaving the locker room and not talking.

On Friday, none of the five starters agreed to an interview. Since Bulaga went on injured reserve Nov. 12, Lang has had to move outside to right tackle, where he’s looked uncomfortable with his technique and feet. Reserve G/C Evan Dietrich-Smith was inserted at left guard and has struggled with penalties and gifted pass rushers.

The boycott could be a statement about perceived maltreatment from the media or it could genuinely be because, as RG Josh Sitton said, “We're just focusing on this week.”

Connections: A rivalry that recently pitted the Packers against several of their notable former teammates doesn’t have the same enmity anymore. Over the past seven years, ex-Packer Pro Bowlers such as QB Brett Favre, S Darren Sharper and K Ryan Longwell, as well as former assistant coach Brad Childress, have crossed the border from Wisconsin to Minnesota.

But now, there are few notable connections. Former Packers practice squad WR Tori Gurley was signed to the Vikings practice squad earlier this season but was soon released. LB Robert Francois entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Vikings in 2009.

Stat you should know: 145.4, as in Rodgers’ passer rating in his last three games against the Vikings, all wins. It's the first time since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger that a quarterback has registered a 140-plus passer rating in three straight games against the same opponent, according to Elias. In those three games, Rodgers has completed 69 of 91 passes (75.8 percent) for 886 yards with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. For his career, he’s 5-3 with a 116.5 passer rating in eight starts against the Vikings.

Record watch: With a victory, the Packers can extend their franchise-record nine-game winning streak against NFC North foes. It’s the second-longest active streak in the NFL, behind only Baltimore’s 12-game winning streak against AFC North teams.

Looking ahead: Green Bay plays three of its final four games against divisional opponents, including a season-finale rematch at Minnesota. In the interim, the Packers have the Lions at home, the Bears in Chicago and the Titans at home.

Prediction: Packers 24, Vikings 16

Follow Packers reporter James Carlton on Twitter: @CBSPackers and @jimmycarlton88.

For more Vikings news and notes, follow Joe Oberle on Twitter @CBSVikings and @joeoberle.