This was supposed to be the biggest game of the year. This was supposed to be the battle for supremacy in the 2010 NFC North. This was supposed to be the latest chapter in a border state blood feud that goes back nearly 100 games. This was supposed to be two teams and fan bases that despise each other, with players and fans talking trash throughout the blogs and Twitterverse before the game like an bizarre episode of Bad Girls Club.
But it wasn't.
We're supposed to be reading thinly-veiled barbs from Vikings players towards their biggest rival. Instead, the Vikings' locker room has resembled a Buddhist monastery all week. Most of the Packer fans I know would usually be flooding my Facebook wall with stuff like "YOU READY TO GO DOWN THIS WEEK?!?!" (I know, not very original, but I'm fairly certain that's the extent of Packer fan creativity.) But this time around? Silence. They probably think it's not even worth the effort.
I can't remember the last time the Packers came to town with less fanfare about the game. As Ted touched on in his Q&A with Acme Packing Company, it has pretty been tough to move the Hate Meter level this week. We're too busy worrying about how our season is heading for a disastrous train wreck faster than the actual train in "Unstoppable". (Side note: if you haven't seen the SNL parody from last week yet, check it out. Jay Pharaoh's Denzel impression is amazing. Plus: Scarlett Johansson!) By the time we're done spitting the proper amount of venom about our lame-duck head coach, aging quarterback, and underachieving team, there's barely any left for the 'Sconnies.
While this game doesn't quite feel as big as it should, it's still pretty huge. The Vikes aren't technically dead yet--I can say with a high level of certainty that six losses will get you an invitation to the NFC Playoffs this year. These two teams have been heading in opposite directions for a while now, but there are still a few reasons to cling to some hope this Sunday.
Here are some of the points that the few remaining Eternal Purple Optimists can point to heading into the game:
- The Vikings are 12-1 at home with Brett Favre at quarterback, including 3-1 during this calamitous season.
- We were a couple bad calls, non-challenges, and inches away from winning at Lambeau--it's not ridiculous to think that the Vikings could get the bounces this time around.
- Sure, Chad Clifton absolutely abused Jared Allen in Green Bay like he was the big brother keeping the little brother's punches at bay by simply holding his arm out against his head. But if the Vikings can get the crowd involved, maybe that extra half-second it takes to get the snap count right will make all the difference.
- Hey, Sidney Rice might play! (Remember, this is the optimist's view! My take on Sid: I don't blame him for making sure he's 100% before coming back to this dumpster fire of a season. However, he's been cleared to play for two weeks, and I'm pretty sure Percy Harvin is sick of being our entire receiving corps. Heck, with how badly Harvin is getting beat up week to week, I bet Percy would gladly trade injuries with Sid right now.)
- If we can pull off the upset, we're only two games back of Green Bay and our schedule seems to be a little more favorable. After Sunday, they still have games at Atlanta and New England with home tilts against the Giants and Bears. The Vikings have very winnable games against the Redskins, Bills, and Lions along with hosting those same Giants and Bears. You never know, right?
I really, really want to completely buy into that positivity. None of those points are too outlandish, right? But like most fans, my optimism will be on a very short leash on Sunday.
If Minnesota is actually going to pull it off, they better make damn sure they come out of the gates flying. Three and out first series? BOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Favre throws a first quarter pick? BOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Packers take a 7-0 lead? FIGH-YER CHIL-DRESS! *Clap-clap-clapclapclap* Translation: it won't take much to completely obliterate Dome field advantage.
It's not just the fans either. Last week in Chicago, the players' body language screamed "Here we go again" after every miscue. Too many shaking heads and shrugged shoulders. I think a lot of the Vikings are incredibly close to saying "I guess this just isn't our year"...if they haven't already. If the Packers jump out to a quick lead, I think it could get ugly in a hurry. Like Ron Howard's brother ugly. Nobody wants to see that.
Remember when I said Vikings fans are too worried about their own team to properly focus on the Packers? I just did it with this post. I've just passed the 800 word mark without a single mention of how the defense needs to stop Aaron Rodgers from getting outside of the pocket or how the offensive line better be aware of Clay Matthews on every play. Crap!
While us Viking fans can complain about our woes until we're blue in the face, the Packers have roughly 97 people on injured reserve--yet they're still 6-3. They've dealt with the adversity about as well as one can hope. Meanwhile, the 2010 Vikings have handled tough times about as well as Lenny handled puppies in "Of Mice and Men". I think and hope the Vikings can win on Sunday. But from what I've seen so far this season, I don't believe they will.
Prediction: Packers 27, Vikings 17...and one new NFL Head Coach opening, Lord willing.
Here are the rest of my Week 11 NFL picks (home team in CAPS):
Bears over DOLPHINS: Yes, I'm writing this post the Bears are up 16-0 to start the fourth quarter. But my pick was already locked in on our Daily Norseman Pro Football Pickem group. See for yourself. Not too tough to pick against a third string quarterback.
BENGALS over Bills: It will be interesting to see if the Bills can win their second game in a OH MY GOD I DO NOT CARE AT ALL ABOUT THIS GAME. Instead, to make up for that Clint Howard thing, here's a picture of the Bengals cheerleaders:
COWBOYS over Lions: Whenever a team loses 25 games in a row on the road, I usually pick against them on the road. Just a reminder: these two teams with a combined record of 4-14 are hosting the Thanksgiving games next week. Make sure you load up on extra tryptophan this year, because you don't want to stay awake for either of those games.
STEELERS over Raiders: Hey look everyone, the Raiders aren't awful! I know Pittsburgh is pretty beat up, but let's see them beat a decent team on the road before we wake Al Davis up.
JETS over Texans: Well, at least the Vikes didn't lose like Houston did last week. The good news for the Texans is that I don't think they'll have to worry about losing a heart breaker this week--this game will be over well before the last play.
Ravens over PANTHERS: As a Notre Dame hater, few things in this world bring me more joy than watching Jimmy Clausen fail miserably in the NFL. (EDIT 8:48 AM: As pointed out in the comments, Clausen is not starting this week. I realize this, and it only adds to his failure that he can't even stay on the field. But I should have worded it better. Enjoy the St. Pierre Show Panthers fans!)
Browns over JAGUARS: Bill Simmons tweeted a great nickname for Peyton Hillis this week--The Avalanche. He's big, white, and when he's running downhill you better get the hell out of the way.
TITANS over Redskins: I now present the short play "If Donovan McNabb's contract extension happened in real life":
[Setting: typical corporate office. Jenkins nervously enters as his boss waves him in.]
Boss: Hey Jenkins, have a seat. Now I know your sales are lower than they've ever been this year, and just last week at the department meeting I called you out in front of the rest of the team for sleeping at your desk. But I just got a call from corporate, and they want me to give you a 50% raise.
Jenkins: Um, thanks!
CHIEFS over Cardinals: Has anyone in Arizona made "FREE LARRY" t-shirts yet? If not, someone should.
Falcons over RAMS: Possible trap game here, but if Atlanta wants to be taken seriously as a Super Bowl contender they better win this game.
SAINTS over Seahawks: Doesn't this seem like one of those weeks where Drew Brees throws for 350 yards and 5 touchdowns? Yes, I have him on two of my fantasy teams that are scraping to make the playoffs--why do you ask?
49ERS over Buccaneers: My old roommate, the huge Bucs fan, calls the Bucs' run defense "The Sub Zero Defense". You remember when Sub Zero put ice on the ground in Mortal Kombat and his opponent clumsily slipped through the stage? That's what their run defense reminds him of. Not a good sign going against Frank Gore.
PATRIOTS over Colts: These two playing in November is even more of a certainty than the Vikings and Giants playing in December. I think Indy is just too beat up to compete with the Pats.
Giants over EAGLES: Waaaayyyyyy too many people are hopping on the Michael Vick
dog kennel bandwagon. Let's see him light up a good team before we start comparing him to...well, Madden 2007 Michael Vick.
CHARGERS over Broncos: My suicide pool pick, even though I was knocked out by the Cowboys last week so I don't really care anymore. Since this is an AFC West game, one team is going to score at least 49 points, right?
Last week: 8-6
Season so far: 91-53