Way back in April, when the 2015 NFL schedule was first released, a lot of folks thought that the Week 17 contest at Lambeau Field between the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers could very well be for the NFC North division title. With the way the chips have fallen, that's exactly what we're looking at. Had you asked fans of the Minnesota Vikings back in April if they would accept that scenario, I believe an overwhelming majority of them would have said yes.
But now, the Vikings are locked into the playoffs, and are going to be playing on Wild Card weekend regardless of what happens on Sunday. It's simply a matter of where they're going to be playing. They could find themselves playing at home against the Seattle Seahawks or traveling to face either the Washington Redskins or making a second consecutive trip to Lambeau Field to face the Packers.
It has been suggested that, rather than winning the NFC North and guaranteeing themselves a home playoff game, the Vikings might be "better off" losing to Green Bay on Sunday. . .again. . .in order to get themselves a match-up against a "lesser" opponent in the divisional round of the playoffs. To those people, I say the following:
Stop. Seriously, stop. Stahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhp.
Yes, it might make Vikings fans feel a little better to potentially end up with a trip to the nation's capital than to get a visit from a Seahawks team that beat the heck out of the Vikings about a month ago. Then again, in case folks haven't noticed, the Redskins. . .led by a completely out of the blue season from Kirk Cousins. . .have been playing some pretty good football recently, so getting to see them in the first round of the playoffs doesn't necessarily guarantee a trip to the divisional round.
And I don't even want to get into what the mood might be like if the Vikings got a second straight trip to Green Bay and lost to the Packers for the third time this year and the second time in two weeks, if that were to happen. Saying that it would be pretty ugly around here would be a pretty big understatement, I think. I'm not saying that would definitely happen, but it most certainly would be unpleasant if it did.
No, the best thing for this team going forward would be to walk into Lambeau Field on Sunday night, take home a victory in hostile territory. . .as both the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions have managed to do this season. . .and take home their first NFC North title since 2009.
For starters, this is a pretty young football team. They were thought to be a year away from being a serious threat, but here they are with the opportunity to do something huge in Mike Zimmer's second year. And in order for this team to take the next step in their development, they need to get over that green and yellow hill and get to the top of the division. The team's elder statesman, Chad Greenway, has said that there's a bit of an intimidation factor for this team when it comes to Green Bay.
"I think there's some truth to that honestly," Greenway said. "Really since [Aaron] Rodgers has come in and taken that role over and actually during the time of [Brett] Favre as well. But we just haven't played that well against them. . . . So I think it's just the old adage of, you know, the division goes through Green Bay. We have to go there and prove that we can win, we have to prove that we can beat that football team. . . . [W]e have to get over that hurdle and that's something we didn't do and we played uncharacteristically in that game [on November 22] and it just kind of goes to show that fact that we need to play better against them specifically. . . . But again there's some truth to that for sure."
In the last 11 regular season games between these two teams, the Vikings are 1-9-1. . .and that tie came in a game that Aaron Rodgers didn't play in. In order for this team to continue to grow and develop, they absolutely, positively have to get past Green Bay at some point. This weekend seems like it's as good a time as any to get past it.
To me, this sort of looks like something that we're going to see from a lot of people at this time of year. . .New Year's Resolutions. We all know the person that swears up and down that they're going to go to the gym every day and lose X number of pounds or inches or what have you. In a lot of cases, that lasts for about two or three weeks and then, for whatever reason, they lose interest and things regress back to "normal." In some cases, they stick with it and develop a whole new look and a whole new mentality.
A loss to Green Bay on Sunday and a playoff game against an opponent that we might perceive to be weaker, in my opinion, falls under the first scenario. Sure, it would make us feel good for a little while, and they might even get a Wild Card playoff win out of it. But after that. . .barring a run that ends in a Super Bowl title. . .we'd end up going into the offseason saying exactly the same thing that we've said every other offseason for the past five or six years. "The division goes through Green Bay. . .this team's not going anywhere until they beat the Packers." We've heard it and, frankly, I bet a lot of you are as tired of hearing it as I am. I know the Vikings' players have got to be sick of hearing it, if Greenway's comments are any indication.
On the other hand, a win over Green Bay on Sunday could be the thing that propels this franchise to a whole different level. Yes, it means that the Vikings would get to play a team in the Wild Card round that pounded them a month ago on their home field. Even if that were the case, in the long term, getting past the Packers is a much greater obstacle than losing a Wild Card playoff game. After all, this isn't a fantasy football league where we're going to redraft the entire team next season. . .the players on this team would be able to use that victory and a division championship as something to build on going forward into 2016, and they could finally get that green and yellow block out of their minds. The NFC North wouldn't just be "Green Bay and everyone else" anymore. . .not with the final regular season standings showing Minnesota in first place.
Let's worry about whether or not this team matches up well with the Seahawks or not after this Sunday's season finale. . .one that will, hopefully, end with a Minnesota Vikings' victory and an NFC North division title.