Vikings players well aware of rivalry, stakes

Vikings players know what's on the line and are making no attempt to downplay the rivalry with the Packers or the significance of Sunday's game. The fact that there are playoff implications for both teams only intensifies the sense of urgency. What more could a regular-season finale have?

Hype typically surrounds any Vikings-Packers game. Green Bay and Minnesota have enjoyed a time-honored rivalry that has witnessed the rise and fall of both franchises.

A new chapter is going to be written Sunday. The Vikings and Packers have a game at Mall of America Field that doesn't require any playing up. There can't be much more at stake. The Packers need a win to lock down the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Vikings need a win to make the playoffs.

"It's a border war," running back Toby Gerhart said. "People live and die for this game, regardless of records. If we were in last year's situation – 3-12 going into the final game – and we beat the Packers, the year would have ended a lot better. This year there's a lot on the line and that's what this rivalry is about."

Given where the Vikings came from when the season began, coming off a franchise-worst record and purging the roster of veterans, few could have predicted when the schedule came out that the Vikings-Packers game in Week 17 would have playoff implications for both teams.

"I don't think anybody realistically thought we would be in the position we are today," cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "Coming off a 3-13 season with a whole lot of new personnel – a lot of young guys – playing in the division that we play in, not too many people expected that we'd be where we are. It's been a very exciting year – a lot of ups and downs – but I like where we are. It's how it should be, playing Green Bay with a chance to go to the playoffs"

When the Vikings lost to the Packers at Green Bay Dec. 2, there was a feeling that they had what it took to beat Green Bay but simply didn't execute. As the weeks have progressed since then and the Vikings have won three straight, it became readily apparent that Week 17 would become a critical game for one or both teams.

"As the season has wound down, people have looked at this game a little different," linebacker Erin Henderson said. "They knew there might be some implications to it, as if they needed any more hype when you think about the Packers and Vikings and what that rivalry brings to the table. There's a lot at stake. We look forward to the challenge."

The Vikings have adopted a kill-or-be-killed mentality toward the final four games. When the team was 6-6 and not in control of any tie-breaker advantages against teams inside and outside their division, it was clear that the only way the Vikings could assure themselves a playoff spot was to win out from that point and even then would need other teams to lose. That has happened and the Vikings are one game away from completing their improbable comeback.

"For us every game for the last month has basically been a must-win, and if you lose you're out," guard Brandon Fusco said. "We've realized that and pretty much put all our marbles on the table. We don't even think about the possibility of making (the playoffs) if three or four other teams lose. We control our own destiny now. It's taken a lot of the stress away, knowing that we can get in if we handle our own business."

In the last three games, the Vikings defense has dialed up its intensity and has dictated the pace of the games. Linebacker Chad Greenway said he can't put his finger on exactly what has changed, but the pressure of win-or-go home has been taken to heart in the Vikings locker room.

"I don't know if it's being in a do-or-die situation or not," Greenway said. "You have no other option than to play well and win. Otherwise, the other option is to be done. I don't know if that's the reason we're playing better, but it's working."

What will make the latest chapter in the half-century rivalry between the Vikings and Packers so vital is that Minnesota isn't the only team with a lot at stake. With a win, the Packers will have one of the biggest home-field advantages in the postseason.

"They need this game just as bad as we do, because if they win they get a bye and have whoever they play coming to Lambeau," Greenway said. "It's a huge game for both teams. This is the reason why you play. This is the situation you want be in – playing at the end of the year to get to the playoffs."

The attention Sunday's game will garner nationally will be focused on the playoff implications, but, along the way, there is sure to be the David vs. Goliath aspect of it because few people outside of Winter Park could have imagined that the Vikings could be in reach of a 10-win season coming off a 3-13 campaign last year.

"For us, it's big," guard Charlie Johnson said. "It's somewhere that we wanted to be, that we hoped to be. I don't know if a lot of people expected us to be here, but it's an exciting time to be playing a meaningful game at the end of the year. The guys in this locker room expected to be here. We had that belief. It's no surprise to us. We're here and we have to take advantage of it."

In the eyes of most outside observers, even if the Vikings lose Sunday, the 2012 season will be viewed as a success. However, for those that have lived through it, failure is not an option. They've come a long way, but they haven't finished the job yet.

"It's not OK just to play well and lose," Greenway said. "That's not going to get it done. We've played pretty well in two out of the last three games we've played them but we didn't win. This has got to be a ‘W' one way or the other. If not, winning the last three games won't matter as much."


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



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This year there's a lot on the line and that's what this rivalry is about.\" Given where the Vikings came from when the season began, coming off a franchise-worst record and purging the roster of veterans, few could have predicted when the schedule came out that the Vikings-Packers game in Week 17 would have playoff implications for both teams. \"I don't think anybody realistically thought we would be in the position we are today,\" cornerback Antoine Winfield said. \"Coming off a 3-13 season with a whole lot of new personnel – a lot of young guys – playing in the division that we play in, not too many people expected that we'd be where we are. It's been a very exciting year – a lot of ups and downs – but I like where we are. It's how it should be, playing Green Bay with a chance to go to the playoffs\" When the Vikings lost to the Packers at Green Bay Dec. 2, there was a feeling that they had what it took to beat Green Bay but simply didn't execute. As the weeks have progressed since then and the Vikings have won three straight, it became readily apparent that Week 17 would become a critical game for one or both teams. \"As the season has wound down, people have looked at this game a little different,\" linebacker Erin Henderson said. \"They knew there might be some implications to it, as if they needed any more hype when you think about the Packers and Vikings and what that rivalry brings to the table. There's a lot at stake. We look forward to the challenge.\" The Vikings have adopted a kill-or-be-killed mentality toward the final four games. When the team was 6-6 and not in control of any tie-breaker advantages against teams inside and outside their division, it was clear that the only way the Vikings could assure themselves a playoff spot was to win out from that point and even then would need other teams to lose. 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