Last year in Week 17, it was already a given that both the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers were going to be in the playoffs. The only question was which one was going to be the division champion and which one was going to be a wild card.
A year later, the Vikings and Packers find themselves in a much different situation. A loss by either likely eliminates them from postseason contention and both are looking up at the Detroit Lions.
There was plenty at stake when the teams met in Week 17 at Lambeau Field, but there may be more at stake given their current circumstances.
While the Vikings have struggled, one player who has emerged as a Pro Bowl-caliber player is cornerback Xavier Rhodes. He’s no stranger to the Vikings-Packers rivalry by now and it’s been 15 weeks since he last played against Aaron Rodgers.
While the teams are currently heading in different directions – Green Bay winners of their last four games and the Vikings losers of seven of their last nine – Rhodes knows that the outcome Sunday will be largely based on his the Vikings handling quarterback Aaron Rodgers, acknowledged as one of the top – if not the top – quarterback in the NFL.
“It’s pretty much the same things we always have to concern ourselves with him,” Rhodes said. “He makes great throws. He’s accurate with the ball. He can run. He can throw on the run. He’s got great receivers. They’re a great team and Aaron Rodgers is a big reason for that.”
Rhodes has been asked on numerous occasions this season to shadow a team’s top receiver. But that task is made more difficult in Green Bay because the Packers not only have perennial Vikings-killers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, but Davante Adams, who has emerged this season as a legitimate go-to receiver.
Nelson leads the Packers with 82 catches for 1,037 yards and 12 touchdowns, but Adams isn’t far behind. He’s caught 65 passes for 922 yards and nine touchdowns, making the Packers passing game even more deadly than it usually is.
“Adams is doing an awesome job,” Rhodes said. “You see that Aaron has found a new target. Adams is getting better at getting in and out of his breaks and locating the ball. He adjusts to the throws because Aaron loves those back-shoulder throws. The chemistry and bond has gotten better between those two guys. He’s becoming a threat in their offense.”
The challenge that the Vikings defense will have against Rodgers isn’t simply that he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the game today. He is surrounded by unit groupings that are doing their job at a high level – one to protect him and the others to find downfield soft spots and weaknesses that can be exploited.
“First and foremost, you’ve got to give it to his O-line,” Rhodes said. “Those O-line guys do a great job helping him out in that area. Also, his receivers (help him). When you do have pressure, he tends to get out of the pocket and his receivers tend to get open. Those two groups all help Aaron Rodgers out and help make him the quarterback he is. He’s one of the best in the NFL – a Hall of Famer – so you’ve got to give it to him.”
As the Vikings head to Lambeau Field Saturday afternoon, they will do so knowing that their playoff chances are slim. But they won’t know their fate when they take the field. All they can do is go out and do their part to make things miserable for the Packers and keep their own flickering playoff hopes alive.
Rhodes will have to be a big part of that and he’s preparing to win a third straight game against Green Bay and a second straight at Lambeau Field because, as long as there is a chance, he intends to try to make the most out of the postseason opportunity that remains.
“As long as we still have a chance, we’re going to keep fighting,” Rhodes said. “We need some help along the way, but all we can control is what we do and we want to go into Green Bay and show them that we’re a playoff-caliber team that can bring it to them.”