Over the past three years, the Vikings have made substantive investments in their offensive line, designed to fix one of their biggest problems at a time when the NFC North was loading up with pass rushers.
Bears defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, who joined the team in 2016, posted 6½ sacks in his first six games for Chicago against the Vikings. Chicago sent five picks to Oakland for Khalil Mack last September; the edge rusher had 2½ sacks and 16 pressures in his first three games against Minnesota.
This offseason, the Packers gave $66 million to Za'Darius Smith and $52 million to Preston Smith, breaking with their longstanding habit of free-agency frugality under second-year GM Brian Gutekunst. Preston Smith had eight pressures and a half-sack in two games against the Vikings this season; Za'Darius Smith had 14 pressures and 3½ sacks, which all came in Green Bay's 23-10 win on Monday night.
The Packers' disruptiveness in two games this season — which has coincided with Kirk Cousins' two lowest-rated games of the year — is among the most significant reasons why Green Bay is closing in on a first-round bye while the Vikings prepare to head on the road as the NFC's No. 6 seed in the playoffs. In Week 2 at Lambeau Field, and again at U.S. Bank Stadium on Monday, the Packers pressured Cousins through the middle of the Vikings' rebuilt line especially, turning the game on their ability to rattle Cousins without blitzing him.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Packers (who pressured Cousins on 65.7% of his dropbacks in Week 2) got to the quarterback 47.2% of the time on Monday night — despite blitzing him on just one of his 36 dropbacks.
All five of the Packers' sacks on Monday night came when they brought standard pressure. On three of those five sacks, Green Bay sent just three rushers after Cousins, who finished the night with just 122 yards on 31 passes.
Asked how the pressure affected his night overall, Cousins simply said, "It had an impact. They have a pretty good rush."
The Vikings are locked into the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs and will play the No. 3 seed in the first round, but that third seed could be any one of four teams.
• New Orleans is No. 3 if San Francisco beats Seattle and Green Bay beats Detroit — or if the Packers lose and the Saints lose at Carolina.
• Green Bay is No. 3 if it loses and the Saints win.
• Seattle is No. 3 if the Seahawks beat San Francisco and the Packers win.
• San Francisco is No. 3 if it ties Seattle and the Saints and Packers win.
"Winning the division is great because you get a home playoff game," coach Mike Zimmer said Tuesday about his team's missed opportunity, "but we weren't good enough to do that. We'll just try to do something better."
The Vikings are likely to rest some of their injured players Sunday when they play the Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium, but Zimmer said Tuesday he hadn't made any decisions yet.
Linebacker Eric Kendricks left Monday's game because of an injured quadriceps muscle; Zimmer said Kendricks was having an MRI to determine the severity of the injury. Running backs Dalvin Cook (chest) and Alexander Mattison (ankle) are also likely to miss Sunday's game.
The Vikings ran for only 57 yards on 16 carries Monday, with third-stringer Mike Boone (11 carries for 28 yards) stymied at every turn. The Vikings dropped to seventh in the NFL in rushing yards per game (130.6).