One For The Ages

The hype is almost over. Any realistic hope of a Super Bowl run is on the line. Both teams are ready and have their best players on the field. It's time to quit the talking and settle the NFC North title on the field later today.

The buildup to today's Vikings-Packers matchup has grown to a fever pitch and, as the teams take the field at 2 p.m. today in only the second modern NFL game played on a Christmas Eve Friday, the Vikings and Pack will have everything on the line -- a division title, a first-round home game and the best route of any non-bye team to getting to the Super Bowl.

The Vikings once held a commanding lead in the division, as the Packers looked down and out. But a six-game winning streak got the Packers back into the hunt and had control of the division before a home loss last week to the Jaguars.

For coach Mike Tice, this is being dubbed a $1 million game -- if he wins, Red McCombs signs off on the option year of his contract. If they lose, nothing is guaranteed.

Can it get much bigger than that? Let's quit talking and get this thing going.

* The TV ratings are expected to shatter local market records in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Last week's game with the Lions drew a Twin Cities market share of 70 -- meaning seven of 10 TVs that were on were watching the Vikings. That number could be near 90 percent or more today.
* The experts have weighed in on today's game. USA Today's Sports Weekly predicts a 31-28 Packers win. The Sporting News War Room pegs the game 42-38 in favor of the Packers, but seven of the eight invidual beat writers pick the Vikings. Pro Football Weekly is leaning toward the Vikes, with six of their 10 prognosticators going in favor of the Vikes.
* Brett Favre has 16 interceptions this year and six games with two or more.
* While many teams have thrown effectively on the Packers this years, the Jags beat them by running. Fred Taylor rushed for 165 yards and a TD in last week's game.
* VU has been told that the Packers will likely spy linebacker Nick Barnett on Daunte Culpepper to try to avoid letting him scramble for big gains.
* Rookie Ahmad Carroll has drawn the assignments of many teams' No. 1 receiver, but VU has been told he likely will get Nate Burleson and/or Marcus Robinson today. Mike Sherman is concerned about Randy Moss -- who missed the first meeting this year -- and isn't confident about having a rookie covering him. Veteran Al Harris will draw the assignment of containing Moss. Good luck.
* This is the first time the Vikings and Packers have played a game with a winner-take-all for both teams with the division title on the line.
* Since Favre began his streak of games played in 1992, the Packers have won five division titles, while the Vikings have won four. In one swoop today, the Vikings tie the all-time series at 43-43-1 and the division titles in the Favre era at five apiece.
* Think there was an uproar this year with football on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? Wait until next year -- Christmas Eve is on a Saturday next season.
* Some are wondering why either team would consider running the ball today. The Vikings have allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw for 3,549 yards with 25 TDs, just nine interceptions and a QB rating of 93.9. Keep in mind that those numbers include starts by Vinny Testaverde, Rex Grossman, Aaron Brooks, Kurt Warner, Joey Harrington twice and Chad Hutchinson.
* As bad as the QB numbers are for the Vikings, they're aguably worse for the Packers, who have allowed 3,462 yards passing, with 30 TDs, only seven interception and an opponent quarterback rating of 98.0.
* Donald Driver needs just two yards to hit 1,000, which would give the Packers two receivers with more than 1,000 yards receiving.
* Moss is going to need a whopping 329 yards in the final two games to keep his streak of 1,000-yard seasons alive.
* The Packers have averaged 4.6 yards a rush this season, but have allowed opponents to gain the same 4.6 total. Ditto for the Vikings, who average 4.8 yards a carry, but allow 4.8 yards as well.
* Both Favre and Culpepper will likely throw their 500th pass of the season today. Favre comes into the game having thrown 484 passes, while Culpepper has thrown 481.
* Between the Vikings and Packers, the two teams average 794 yards in offense each game.
* Jermaine Wiggins is only two receptions behind team leader Nate Burleson (62) for most catches this season.

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