The Vikings and Packers have played 86 times, but the 87th meeting, scheduled for Christmas Eve at the Metrodome, might be the most important one in series history.
The winner wins the NFC North title. Period. It won't matter what happens in the final week of the season.
"Friday night, four days from now, is as big a game as we've had around here in a long time," coach Mike Tice said Monday. "We're playing for the division title, and we started out this season with two goals, and one of those goals can come to fruition on Friday night, which is to win the division title, and what better way to do it than to play against one of your rivals, Green Bay, at home, in front of hopefully more Vikings fans than Packers fans."
Both teams are 8-6 after the Vikings beat Detroit 28-27 and the Packers lost to Jacksonville 28-25.
"I'm sending Jack Del Rio a fruit basket tomorrow morning," said Tice, referring to the Jaguars' head coach and Tice's close friend and former teammate. "We've battled through a lot to get to this point. What else could be this exciting? The NFL looks like geniuses right now for scheduling this game on Christmas Eve for a division title."
The Packers won the first meeting, 34-31 on a last-second field goal. If the Packers win Friday, they'll clinch the division based on the first tiebreaker, head-to-head.
If the Vikings win, they win the division because their lead in the third tiebreaker, common opponents, would be insurmountable. The Vikings beat Tennessee and Jacksonville, two teams that beat the Packers.
"This is a great game to coach in," Tice said. "A game for the division title against the Green Bay Packers. If I was a little thinner, I might even think of suiting up for it, but the only thing I have thin is my hair line, so I don't think there's a possibility that I'm going to be able to help out this week. I'll just hold the headphones and the pencil."
PACKERS WITHOUT FERGUSON
Wide receiver Robert Ferguson was expected to be released from a Green Bay hospital Tuesday, but the chances of him playing football Friday against the Minnesota Vikings are almost nil.
Ferguson was unable to move his legs for a short period of time after absorbing a clothesline hit from Jacksonville strong safety Donovin Darius Sunday in the fourth quarter of the Jaguars' 28-25 victory over the Packers at Lambeau Field.
On Monday, coach Mike Sherman said Ferguson regained some movement in his legs in the ambulance and improved as the night wore on. Despite head and neck pain and some weakness in his arm and foot, Ferguson was able to walk.
"He said he would be back at practice on Wednesday, which is typical of Robert Ferguson," Sherman said. "He's a great kid, a special guy."
There were no indications that Ferguson suffered a spinal injury, but the blow to the head was treated as thoroughly as the potential injury that he suffered to his neck. It is likely that he suffered some degree of concussion.
"They gave no indication that it's career-threatening," Sherman said. "But I don't know if you can make that evaluation less than 24 hours out of that type of injury.
"All signs indicate that he's going to be fine. He does have some back pain, did have some headaches last night."
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