EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — It’s Packers Week.
Fresh off clinching the NFC North crown with a victory Sunday over the Bengals, the Vikings returned to work Monday morning ready for the next task at hand.
Minnesota won’t have to wait long as the Vikings visit Green Bay for a 7:30 p.m. (CT) Saturday on NBC.
Besides the usual emotion between the teams, the Week 16 matchup could see extra theatrics since Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was injured earlier this season against Minnesota.
Vikings right guard Joe Berger said he doesn’t expect anything too wild.
“I mean, hostile and Wisconsin I can’t really put together,” Berger said. “So yeah, it’s a division game, it’s a big game.”
The Vikings sit at 11-3 and are playing for playoff positioning over the final two weeks of the season.
Green Bay, meanwhile, is 7-7 and might still be fighting for a playoff spot, but the Packers need the Falcons to lose to the Buccaneers tonight.
Those who have been around the rivalry for multiple seasons said Saturday’s game won’t be lacking any excitement or passion.
“I think that’s something I realized getting up here in the NFC North, is that no matter what the season’s going like, the division games are big games,” Berger said. “They’re always close and come down to the end, and you’ve got to come ready to play.
“You come in and know it’s going to be a long day’s work. You have to put the work in, the time in studying – you know, nothing’s given to you,” Berger said. “Nothing’s easy or even close. It’s another game, and we’ll approach it just like we have the rest of them.”
Added Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph: “Green Bay, that’s our rivalry. I was brought into this rivalry. It’s a great rivalry. I like playing against Green Bay and to go down there and beat them again would be great.”
This will be the 23rd time (22nd in the regular season) that Vikings defensive end Brian Robison has lined up against the division foe in his career.
“That’s what rivalries are about. You can throw the records out the window,” Robison said. “We’re going to go into a hostile, cold environment there in Green Bay at Lambeau Field, and we have to be ready to play.
“At the end of the day, it’s another game that we have to hopefully be ready to come out as victors and get ready to go,” Robison said. “It’s Green Bay week, so let’s go.”
A first for many
There weren’t any over-the-top celebrations Sunday after hats and T-shirts were passed out in the locker room Sunday to signify a division title.
But the NFC North championship certainly felt a little sweeter for some. A total of 20 members of the Vikings current 53-man roster were able to enjoy the first division title of their careers.
Minnesota won the NFC North in 2015, so a majority of the roster was around back then.
But quarterback Case Keenum and running back Latavius Murray were among those who won a division championship for the first time.
“It feels awesome. This is unchartered territory for me, so I don’t take it lightly,” Keenum said. “I think we got a special group of guys, and I’ve said it all year long, to come through and to win when we needed to.
“Especially after last week, I think it was special. To do it at home in front of our crowd, that crowd is awesome,” Keenum added. “To guarantee a home playoff game here, I can’t imagine. I have a feeling it is going to be even more amped up. It’s exciting. It’s great. It’s the next step, the next goal that we had set. It’s exciting.
Added Murray: “It feels good. It is my first divisional championship. Every team I have been on, that has been the first goal. It feels great with this team, this organization, this locker room, and these coaches. I think we have a really special group.”
The other 18 players to capture their first division title were: Ryan Quigley, Laquon Treadwell, Stacy Coley, Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse, C.J. Ham, Mack Brown, Kentrell Brothers, Ben Gedeon, Danny Isidora, Pat Elflein, Rashod Hill, Riley Reiff, Avaiante Collins, David Morgan, Tashawn Bower, Stephen Weatherly and Jaleel Johnson.
Ham comes full circle
A division title isn’t the only thing Ham is celebrating this week.
When the Vikings fullback takes the field Saturday in Green Bay, it will mark exactly one year since he was elevated to the active roster for the first time in his career.
Ham had been on Minnesota’s practice squad all season before suiting up for his first game.
“It’s kind of crazy, I realized that this was the game I got the call-up,” Ham said. “It was the first game I suited up in the NFL, and it’s come full circle.
“It’s something that hasn’t really sunk in yet. We’re 14 games into the season, and it doesn’t even feel like it because it went by so fast,” Ham added. “I’m just trying to be the best I can for this team. I know it’s one of those things where after the season I can sit down with my family and look at all the blessings we’ve had this year.”
Ham didn’t record any playing time against the Packers as a running back last season, but he has played a key role on offense after switching to fullback this season.
He has seven carries for 13 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run in Week 2 against the Steelers, and has six receptions for 62 yards.
Ham’s blocking ability has also helped the Vikings rushing attack rank eighth in the NFL with 121.3 yards per game.
A peek at 2018
Minnesota’s win over Cincinnati did more than clinch a division title and secure a spot in the playoffs.
It also helped set the Vikings schedule for next season, as opponents for 15 of Minnesota’s 16 games are now determined.
The Vikings will have a “first-place schedule,” as they will travel to Philadelphia, which has already won the NFC East.
The lone game that is up in the air is a home game against the NFC South winner, which could be Atlanta, Carolina or New Orleans.
Besides the six NFC North games, the Vikings are slated to play the AFC East and NFC West divisions.
Minnesota will travel to New England, New York (Jets), Seattle and Los Angeles (Rams), and will play host to Miami, Buffalo, Arizona and San Francisco.