The Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings have been bitter rivals for years. A head-to-head matchup with the NFC North title at stake on Friday at the Metrodome should only serve to deepen that rivalry.
Both teams enter this game 8-6, but while Green Bay has already clinched a playoff berth, Minnesota has yet to do so. The winner of this game will take the division crown, but the Vikings could also qualify for the playoffs even with losses in each of their final two regular-season games.
Even with an 8-8 record, the only way Minnesota wouldn’t reach the postseason is if both Carolina and St. Louis win their two remaining games and Seattle wins once more. Either a loss by the Panthers or the Rams in either of the next two weeks clinches a berth for the Vikings if they don’t beat the Packers.
“That’s really what it’s all about,” Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper said. “If I didn’t want to win the Super Bowl, I wouldn’t play football. If I didn’t want to be a champion, I wouldn’t play. So for me to get to the playoffs, that’s really the only thing I’m playing for. We have to play like that—like every play is the last play.”
Adding to the intrigue of Friday’s game is the short turnaround for both teams.
Green Bay and Minnesota both played close games Sunday, with the Packers losing at home to Jacksonville 28-25, and Minnesota escaping with a 28-27 victory at Detroit.
While most teams that played Sunday had Tuesday off, the Vikings and Packers were already preparing for this critical contest.
Packers tight end Bubba Franks was asked which part of preparation was going to be more difficult for him and his teammates in the shortened schedule, their mental approach or their physical readiness.
“It depends on how you prepare,” he said. “I think coach is doing a pretty good thing in the things he’s doing this week to prepare us. Our legs will be there, it’s just mentally we need to make sure everybody’s on the same page.”
Green Bay figured to stand a very good chance at clinching the division title at home against Jacksonville, but Brett Favre turned the ball over four times and fell to 31-4 at home after Dec. 1.
Despite the surprising loss, the Packers became the ninth team in NFL history to make the playoffs after a 1-4 start. They clinched a berth before kickoff because Chicago, Dallas, Carolina and the Giants all lost.
“Our goal is to win the division and that is still out there,” Packers coach Mike Sherman said.
Favre, hoping to rebound from one of his worst performances of the season, is just 3-9 lifetime at the Metrodome.
“It hasn’t been one of my favorite places to play,” said Favre, who has split his last four games in Minnesota.
Favre believes his team needs to have an effective rushing attack to beat the Vikings.
“When you can run the ball, you limit their ability to just pin their ears back and come at you. If you fall behind and have to throw every snap, you’re playing right into their hands,” he said. “So, you have to be able to control the pass-rush. The No. 1 way to do that is by running the football.”
Running the football, however, is something the Packers have not done very well lately.
Starting running back Ahman Green hasn’t rushed for a touchdown since Oct. 31 and is averaging only 55.5 yards over his last four games. Green, however, has rushed for 282 yards in his last two games against the Vikings.
Minnesota caught a huge break Sunday when the Lions failed to convert an extra point that likely would’ve sent the game into overtime.
“You take the wins any way you can get them,” Vikings coach Mike Tice said.
Sunday’s game proved that Tice’s team still has several areas of concern, most notably the pass defense, which allowed Joey Harrington to throw for a career-high 361 yards after he threw for 47 yards against the Packers the week before.
Getting cornerback Antoine Winfield back Friday would be a huge lift for Minnesota.
Winfield, who has missed the last two games with a sprained ankle, looked good in a workout Monday, according to Tice.
While Green Bay hopes to run the ball, the Vikings figure to let Culpepper look for star receiver Randy Moss consistently. Moss has more career receiving yards (1,213) and touchdowns (11) against the Packers than any other team, despite missing the last meeting on Nov. 14 with an injury.