EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —This weekend's 110th Border Battle between the Vikings and Packers means more than many outside of Winter Park thought it would when the schedule was released this spring.
Minnesota mainstays Chad Greenway, Brian Robison and Adrian Peterson have squared off against this foe 16, 17 and 15 previous times, including a playoff game after the 2012 season.
While the familiarity is high, Greenway said the Vikings won't be comfortable against quarterback Aaron Rodgers when the Vikings (7-2) host the Packers (6-3) at 3:25 p.m. (CT) Sunday and aim to defend first place in the NFC North.
"You never feel comfortable going against him," Greenway said. "He's got such great accuracy and leadership abilities. He's as impressive a guy as I've ever played against, and I've got a lot of respect for him and really their whole team in general."
The Vikings rank second in the NFL in points allowed, first in punt return average allowed and third in stopping opponents on third downs, but Head Coach Mike Zimmer has said he doesn't look at stats until Thanksgiving, and has a commitment to maintain focus.
"We respect the heck out of them and their organization and everything that they've done, but we're looking forward to the test," Zimmer said.
Greenway has 133 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and a pass defended in his career against the Packers. Robison has 6.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and 32 tackles in eight years of matching up with the Packers, who have won four straight division titles since winning Super Bowl XLV.
"The division goes through Green Bay, and we've proven nothing until we can go beat them, so this weekend is tough for us," said Greenway, who started at middle linebacker last week in Oakland for the first time of his career because of a ribs injury to Eric Kendricks and a season-ending ankle injury that Audie Cole suffered against St. Louis while filling in for Kendricks, who was a full participant Friday and is listed as probable for Sunday's game.
Early risers:Greenway said that young players on the Vikings roster have provided quite a boost during Minnesota's five-game win streak.
"They say veteran leadership, but I think you can give more credit to the young guys for being able to play in big spots," Greenway said. "We have so many young guys that have played crucial roles, and I think it's a credit to them to grow up quickly and maturely and be able to perform in those tough situations.
"You see [Stefon] Diggs make a great catch and run [last week], Danielle Hunter comes in and makes some plays," Greenway continued. "Really, you know, Edmond Robinson on special teams made a tough couple of really nice plays. I think we're getting a lot out of our young guys that are coming in in their first or second year guys that are just not acting that way."
In addition to second-rounder Kendricks, the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Month for October, third-round pick Hunter has played in the rotation on the defensive line, and fourth-round selection T.J. Clemmings has started every game at right tackle in place of injured Phil Loadholt.
The Vikings depth at cornerback, which includes NFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week 10 Terence Newman, Xavier Rhodes and nickel Captain Munnerlyn, has allowed the Vikings to play first-round pick Trae Waynes on special teams, where he's tied for the team lead with seven special teams tackles. Waynes also has filled in when injuries sidelined Rhodes (against the Chargers) and Newman (against the Rams).
Zimmer said the Vikings are trying to balance getting more reps for Waynes to continue developing. Considered an expert by many in coaching defensive backs, even a "DB guru" by some, Zimmer said he's pleased with the way Waynes has improved so far.
"It is a delicate situation because Trae has really improved a lot since he came in here," Zimmer said. "He's getting better all the time. There'll be times throughout the year that we'll continue to try and get him in games and – knock on wood – corners, they get little hammies (hamstrings) and things like that. It's tough, but Terence deserves to play, he's helping. We'll keep trying to get Trae in there when we can."
Diggs and MyCole Pruitt have been great finds in the fifth round, and Austin Shepherd and Edmond Robinson, both selected in the seventh round, have helped on special teams and offense (Shepherd) as a backup*to Matt Kalil, who is questionable* for Sunday because of a toe injury, and defense (Robinson).
Injury reports: For the Vikings: Kalil was limited Friday after not practicing the previous two days. S Robert Blanton (back) was added to the report Friday and also is as questionable for Sunday's game. Peterson (hamstring), Anthony Barr (hand/knee), Tom Johnson (concussion), Matt Asiata (quadriceps), Sharrif Floyd (ankle/knee), Adam Thielen (shoulder), Marcus Sherels (shoulder), Justin Trattou (foot), Teddy Bridgewater (left shoulder) and Kendricks (ribs) fully participated and are probable.
For the Packers: WR Jared Abbrederis (rib/chest) did not participate for a third straight day and has been ruled out. T Bryan Bulaga (knee), G T.J. Lang (shoulder), T David Bakhtiari (knee), DB Micah Hyde (hip), LB Clay Matthews (ankle/knee), G Josh Sitton (knee), WR Ty Montgomery (ankle) and LB Jayrone Elliott (ankle) were limited. QB Aaron Rodgers (right shoulder), S Morgan Burnett (ankle), WR James Jones (quadriceps), RB Eddie Lacy (groin), LB Mike Neal (hip) and LB Nick Perry (shoulder/hand) fully participated. Hyde, Lang and Montgomery are questionable; all others are probable.