Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins aim to pay dividends in NFC North clash

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers argues a call in the first half against the Chicago Bears.Photo: USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin-USA

QB Aaron Rogers: "Just taking it one day at a time."

The Minnesota Vikings signed quarterback Kirk Cousins in free agency with an unprecedented fully guaranteed contract.

Before the final preseason game, the Green Bay Packers gave quarterback Aaron Rodgers the richest contract in NFL history.

These two high-priced quarterbacks presumably will take center stage on Sunday when the Packers host the Vikings in a NFC North heavyweight showdown at Lambeau Field.

Rodgers, who was sidelined with a broken collarbone for most of last year's Vikings sweep, didn't practice on Wednesday due to a knee injury sustained during the second quarter of last week's game against the Chicago Bears. After being carted to the locker room, Rodgers returned for the second half and sparked a rally from a 20-0 deficit.

"I want to play, obviously," Rodgers said on Wednesday. "Just taking it one day at a time. See how it feels tomorrow and see how it feels Friday, Saturday and hopefully ready to go Sunday."

Head coach Mike McCarthy said he'd give Rodgers the entire week to get ready. Rodgers replied with a simple "nope" when asked if he'd have to practice this week.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, who was busy moving so didn't see Rodgers' comeback live last week, has no doubt about who's going to be under center for Green Bay on Sunday.

"Well, you know he walks on water, so I'm sure he's going to play," Zimmer said.

The Vikings won the NFC North and reached the NFC Championship Game last year with Case Keenum at quarterback. With the NFL's best defense, the Vikings figured Cousins -- with three consecutive 4,000-yard passing seasons -- was the missing piece necessary to get the team to the Super Bowl.

That's pressure.

"Playing in this league, there's going to be expectation and pressure, regardless of what your specific circumstances are," Cousins said. "I remember being a rookie and a fourth-round draft pick and looking around at the roster and realizing that if I didn't play well every day at practice and in preseason games, I wasn't going to be there. That was pressure and I had expectations that I had to meet there."

While the spotlight will be on the quarterbacks, the defenses will have something to say about the verdict and these teams' ultimate destinations come December and January.

For Green Bay, new coordinator Mike Pettine's debut was a success. Using a steady diet of six- and even seven-defensive back packages, the Packers held Chicago's revamped offense to one touchdown and 294 total yards.

For Minnesota, the defense has always been the story under Zimmer. In 2013, the final season as coach for Leslie Frazier, the Vikings went 5-10-1 and gave up 480 points, the second-most in franchise history. During Zimmer's first four seasons, the Vikings rank third in points allowed -- including a league-best 252 last season.

With defensive end Everson Griffen, defensive tackle Linval Joseph, linebacker Anthony Barr, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Harrison Smith, the Vikings had five Pro Bowl players on this side of the ball last season. In free agency, they added a former Pro Bowler in defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. The core group of Zimmer's defense is entering Year 4 together.

"I like this group of guys," Zimmer said. "Like you said, they've been together for a long time. The communication and working together is really good, but we have to go out and play. We gave up some big plays last week, which we can't do against this team. Hopefully, we'll continue to get better but I don't know where the ceiling is. I hope it's real high. We were lucky last year in that we stayed pretty healthy defensively, so hopefully we can continue to do that, as well."

Rodgers is 4-3 against Zimmer's Vikings, including last year's game at Minnesota, when he was knocked out with a broken collarbone by Barr in the first quarter.

"There's no weaknesses on their defense," Rodgers said. "You look at all three levels -- a lot of times when you're playing a defense, when you think about the team, you can maybe name three or four guys off the top of your head that you know about or you've seen play or you've heard about. It's different with this team. You know most of them because they're big names. It's a lot of big names on that team, a lot of guys who have gotten paid second contracts and made a lot of plays for a number of years."

SERIES HISTORY: 114th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 59-52-2. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is 16-8-1 against Minnesota but 4-4 versus Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. Minnesota won both games last season en route to capturing the NFC North title. Including the postseason, Green Bay is 12-7 against Minnesota with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. His passer rating in those games is 111.3.

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