EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings have a rare opportunity for a role as a survivor (at least in the short term) and spoiler (potentially for a longer term) in Week 17 on Sunday Night Football.
Sure, the rival Packers have already clinched the NFC North, thanks in large part to what happened in the following non-Norse locales…
Cincinnati: Vikings lost 27-24 in OT; Packers won 25-22 in OT
Arizona: Vikings lost 34-33 on final play; Packers won 24-21 on end zone interception with 12 seconds left
Baltimore: Vikings lost 34-31 in OT; Packers won 31-30, securing the victory when the Ravens failed on a 2-point conversion attempt with 42 seconds remaining
San Francisco: Vikings lost 34-26; Packers won 30-28 on 51-yard field goal as time expired
That's four places and eight total games involving Minnesota (7-8) or Green Bay (12-3) against common opponents, and yes, that's four Vikings losses by a combined 15 points, and four Packers wins by nine points.
Thus, instead of competing for a division title, Minnesota can only boost its hopes for a playoff spot with a victory (the Vikings must win if the Eagles win earlier Sunday) and try to throw a wrench in Green Bay's path to the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC Playoffs.
According to analytics site fivethirtyeight.com, the Vikings are entering Week 17 with a 13-percent chance of making the playoffs, which increases to 50 percent with a victory, regardless of what else happens. (The likelihood drops to 37 percent by adding an Eagles win).
Matchup to watch: Everything vs. Aaron Rodgers
The Vikings thought they'd have to play a complete game against the Rams last week and experienced the results of not doing so.
Minnesota perplexed Matthew Stafford, limiting him to a passer rating of 46.8 and picking off the former Lions QB three times.
Rodgers, who is in line to lead the NFL in interception rate for the fourth season in a row and sixth overall, isn't likely to be as giving. He's thrown 33 touchdowns against four interceptions.
In the past five games — a run that began against Minnesota in Week 11 — he's racked up 16 touchdown passes without tossing a single pick.
Containing Rodgers' potential damage takes a little bit from everybody.
Coaches have to come up with some more wrinkles, and defenders have to be on top of all the details and avoid casually substituting, because Rodgers is the best at getting 5 free yards as a defender is running off the field to the sideline. Matt LaFleur even challenges this when it goes uncalled.
The hard count also comes into play. Rodgers is adept at drawing defenders offsides and taking a heave, which results in another 5. Or worse, a pass interference penalty deep. Or even worse, a touchdown.
The offense can help by sustaining drives to keep the ball away from Rodgers, and special teams can play a big role in field position.
In short, the Vikings need a complete game — perhaps their most complete game of the season – in order to complete the sweep.
Look back at photos through the years featuring games between the Vikings and Packers.
Here are five storylines of interest this week:
1. Dalvin's status
The Vikings missed Dalvin Cook last week against the Rams after the running back landed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Based on timings of other players who have returned, Cook could be back this week. It remains to be seen if he'll be at or less than full-strength.
Cook totaled 294 yards on 55 carries against Pittsburgh and Chicago in Weeks 14 and 15. He's also had some big Border Battle games, including 86 rushing yards and a touchdown this season, and 226 scrimmage yards and four scores last season at Lambeau Field.
2. Dual threat returns to rivalry
Packers RB Aaron Jones missed the Border Battle in November, but he has returned to the lineup.
While his yards-per-rush has dropped from 5.5 a season ago to 4.4, Jones has again been a threat as a pass catcher. He's caught 47 or more passes in each of the past three seasons and has a career-best six receiving touchdowns in 2021 (he had six through his first four seasons).
Jones (163 rushes for 723 yards) is joined by AJ Dillon (159 rushes for 677 yards), and they'll attack a Vikings run defense that ranks 28th in the NFL (130.5 yards allowed per game).
3. WR showdown
There's a strong instance of "game recognizing game" between Vikings second-year receiver Justin Jefferson and Packers 2014 second-round pick Davante Adams.
Both have been selected to the Pro Bowl, making two in as many seasons for Jefferson and five consecutive for Adams.
Jefferson has already topped his numbers from his record-setting rookie campaign with 97 catches, 1,451 yards and nine touchdowns.
Adams has 106 receptions, 1,362 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. He needs 10 more catches and 25 more yards for new personal bests.
Jefferson was asked last week about the admiration between the two receivers who have quick releases and the ability to play from different spots on the field. Adams has given some shout-outs to Jefferson along the way.
"It's an honor, honestly. He's considered [one of the best], if not the best receiver in the league as of now," Jefferson said. "It's definitely good to get that recognition. It's cool. I have a lot more stuff to do, a lot more stuff to learn."
Expect to hear more this week from and about these two, who rank second and third, respectively, in receiving yards this season.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 5, 2022.
4. Zimmer vs. LaFleur
The hiring of LaFleur by Green Bay in 2019 was followed with the Packers winning the next three games in the series.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer is 7-7-1 when leading Minnesota against Green Bay and has been able to claim three wins at Lambeau Field.
LaFleur, 42, quickly rose through the ranks of offenses, and Zimmer, 65, grinded his way as he built his reputation as a defensive guru before becoming a head coach for the first time at age 58.
The contrasts have led to some great competitions so far.
5. The elements
This game will fall one day shy of the six-year anniversary of Minnesota winning at Green Bay on Sunday Night Football to claim the 2015 NFC North title.
The temperature that night at kickoff was listed at 24 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill of 13. The Vikings were wrapping their second year of home games outdoors at the University of Minnesota, so they were acclimated.
Only three current Vikings players — safety Harrison Smith and linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr — started that game. The trio was there again in 2017 when the temp was 10 and the wind chill was 0.
The Vikings might try to practice outside for some of the time this week to prepare for a forecasted (as of Wednesday morning) high temp of 10 and low of 0 in Green Bay.