Doug Wolter: Vikings all in against the Packers
If it were any other team but the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings might be better off losing their season finale.
But don’t even think about it. A win against the arch-enemy Packers are all the Vikings care about now, regardless of the playoff ramifications. In fact — though no one would want to admit this — beating the Packers might actually be bigger than the playoffs right now.
I’m not even going to explain how the Vikings, and their fans, feel about the Cheeseheads (and I use that term endearingly, of course). They surely feel what they feel even more today, with the memory of Green Bay’s 30-13 victory over the Purples in the 10th game of the season (at Minnesota) still fairly fresh.
Here’s the current scenario (not that you need a reminder): The Vikings are on the road Sunday night to play the Pack in the regular season finale, and a victory for either team clinches the NFC North title. If the Vikings win, they’ll host the Seattle Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs. If they lose and Seattle loses at Arizona, the Vikes will go on the road to play the Washington Redskins. If the Vikings lose and Seattle wins, they’ll go to Green Bay again for their first playoff test.
I don’t know about you, but if I were the Vikings I’d much rather play the Redskins, even in Washington. The Redskins are just an average team.
I certainly wouldn’t want to turn around and go right back to Green Bay. And facing the Seahawks would be my least favorite scenario of them all. The 2014 Super Bowl champions are extremely dangerous. Not only that, but the Seahawks faced the Vikings in Game 12 of the regular season this year and manhandled them 38-7.
That game hurt. But the Green Bay loss, I guarantee you, hurt more. It was a strange game, The Packers didn’t even play well themselves, but still they were able to roll over the home-standing Vikings like cheese spread over a cracker.
Sunday’s game is visceral. It’s personal — squared. These teams don’t like each other. Never have. Never will. And as important as this game is for the standings, and for playoff seeding, I think it’s fair to say it’s even more important for the emotions it stirs.
It won’t be easy for the Vikings to beat the Packers in Lambeau Field. But then, maybe it won’t be so difficult after all. The Packers have been strangely pedestrian for most of this season, and on the heels of their embarrassing meltdown in Arizona on Sunday (38-8), serious self-doubts are surely oozing into their cheese-filled craniums.
A hail-Mary pass saved the Packers in one of their many poor performances recently in Detroit. But no hail-Mary pass could save them against the Cards.
Indeed, the Packers haven’t looked like themselves for weeks. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose ability to make pass connections with his receivers seemed literally magical until the troubles started, has this year seemed numbingly average. What’s more, his receivers — who at one time made difficult catches appear routine — have been dropping easy receptions repeatedly. Green Bay’s offensive line has looked awful for much of the year, and it looked its very worst against the Cardinals as The Great Rodgers was sacked eight times.
The Vikings cannot be overconfident heading into Lambeau, however. With very impressive back-to-back wins over Chicago (38-17) and the hapless New York Giants (49-17), they’ve laid their share of cracked eggs, too. They can’t afford to forget that they were up when the Packers were down heading into their first regular season showdown, too, and the Packers clipped them.
The NFL continues to be a strange league where every game is like a box of chocolates.
You never know what you’re going to get. Just ask the Carolina Panthers, who ruined their perfect season with a loss to a terrible Atlanta team, or the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were going strong until inexplicably falling to Baltimore.
Of course, the Vikings already know how the tide can suddenly turn in the NFL. But I’d frankly rather be in their shoes than the Packers’ shoes.