Minnesota at Green Bay, for the NFC North championship, in the final game of the regular season. This is precisely why the NFL has moved to preserve the last week on the schedule for intra-division games.
The Vikings and Packers will play Sunday night, the league’s most-watched television time slot, at hallowed Lambeau Field in the January cold. The winner gets the No. 3 seed for the NFC playoffs, plus a sense of satisfaction that will last in some form at least until next fall.
The loser must go on the road to start the postseason as a wild-card team, with some inevitable bitterness about the rival team taking the division title.
“We could play on a basketball court, and I’ll be ready to play for this one,” Vikings running back Adrian Peterson said.
Over 55 years and 110 matchups, plenty of memorable games have been played between these border-state teams. But at the mercy of the NFL’s schedule makers, these late-season meetings have been more of a rarity than a routine. The Vikings and Packers have squared off in the final game of the season in 1984, 1991, 1992, 1996 and 2012, but that’s it. They’ve played a mere 20 times over the last three weeks on the schedule.
The times they have met with the playoffs on the line, then, have naturally stood out in the series.
Here are some memorable meaningful games in the past between the Vikings and Packers:
FAVRE’S FIRST YEAR
The Vikings clinched the NFC Central in the second-to-last week of Dennis Green’s first season as coach in 1992, going 11-5. The final game of the regular season was against the Packers, who had a first-year coach in Mike Holmgren as well as a new quarterback named Brett Favre.
The Packers were still in the running for a spot in the playoffs entering that game at the Metrodome, but they were outgained 447-211 in total yardage in a 27-7 loss. Favre threw three interceptions and Green Bay finished 9-7.
CHRISTMAS COMES EARLY IN 2004
The teams were matched up on Christmas Eve at the Metrodome in the second-to-last game on the schedule, with both teams entering the afternoon at 8-6 and the winner set up to clinch the division title.
Back and forth they went, with neither team leading by more than seven points, until Ryan Longwell’s 29-yard field goal on the final play of the game gave the Packers a 34-31 victory. Favre, who like Longwell eventually went on to play for the Vikings, passed for 365 yards and three touchdowns.
The Vikings still made the playoffs as an 8-8 wild-card team and went on to face (guess who?) the Packers in the first round.
MOONED BY MOSS
With four touchdown passes by Daunte Culpepper, the Vikings got their revenge two weeks later with a 31-17 playoff victory at Lambeau Field. The game was remembered best for a catch in the end zone by Randy Moss, who celebrated by pretending to pull down his pants at the Packers fans behind him.
The game on Nov. 1, 2009, was merely at the midpoint of the season, but there’s hardly a more significant moment in this rivalry than the day Favre took the Vikings into Lambeau Field with boos raining down on him. He left with a 38-26 victory. That was essentially the division title game, too, because the Vikings wound up winning the NFC North at 12-4, while the Packers finished 11-5.
PETERSON’S RUN FOR THE RECORD
Peterson rushed for 199 yards on Dec. 30, 2012, leading the Vikings to a 37-34 victory over the Packers at the Metrodome and into the playoffs. That left him 9 yards short of becoming the NFL’s all-time single-season rushing leader. The Packers had already clinched the NFC North, but they still had a first-round bye in their sights. Then, like in 2004, the teams met again in the first round of the playoffs. This time, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers took care of their home field and took down the Vikings 24-10.