As the Minnesota Vikings started practicing for their Sunday Night Football match-up against the New York Giants on Wednesday, they got some pretty good news as far as their injury report is concerned.
After sitting out of Sunday's victory over the Chicago Bears, safety Harrison Smith, defensive tackle Linval Joseph, and linebacker Anthony Barr all returned to the practice field on Wednesday, though all were listed as "limited participants" in practice. Joseph has missed the last three games with a foot injury, while Smith and Barr each went out in the first quarter of the Vikings' loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 13.
When he was asked about how he would handle his injured players based on how some other things fall on Sunday, head coach Mike Zimmer sounded a bit non-committal.
I know that if we did something different other than play our best football -- I'm too much of a competitor in each game that I wouldn't want to fight," he said. "I do want to be smart. And that would be moreso with guys that are hurt or something like that. Our mindset is to go win both these two games: play our guys, game plan, prepare the way we do, because I do think that it's important. We've played good these last two games, and I think it's important that we continue to build. If we happen to get in the playoffs, I think it's important that we continue to push to where we want to get to.
Zimmer has stated on more than one occasion that his team's goal is to win the NFC North. The Vikings have all but assured themselves of a spot in the playoffs, and they could have that wrapped up before they take the field on Sunday night. If the Carolina Panthers defeat the Atlanta Falcons during Sunday's early games or the Seattle Seahawks knock off the St. Louis Rams in the late session, the Vikings will lock themselves into a playoff berth.
The Vikings will also be keeping an eye on the late game between the Green Bay Packers and the Arizona Cardinals, and with good reason. If the Packers should pull off what would be a pretty significant upset over the Cardinals, the Vikings would need a win on Sunday night to force a "NFC North title game" at Lambeau Field in Week 17. On the other hand, if the Cardinals were to win that game, the season finale would be for the NFC North title regardless of whether the Vikings win or lose on Sunday night.
With kickoff at TCF Bank Stadium scheduled for 7:25 PM Central time on Sunday night, the Vikings would have to have their list of inactives submitted to the league just before 6:00 PM, ninety minutes before kickoff. With the Cardinals/Packers game not set to kick off until 3:25 PM Central, there's a very good chance that their game could still be in question at that time.
However, if the Cardinals should appear to have the game well in hand at that point, and given the knowledge of the way the defense performed without Joseph, Barr, and Smith this past Sunday against the Chicago Bears, you have to wonder if the Vikings would be tempted to give their "Big 3" on defense another week off. It doesn't strike me as the sort of thing that Mike Zimmer would want to do, necessarily, but if Sunday night's game is rendered (essentially) meaningless by the results of other games, it might be something the team would consider.