Can the Vikings climb off the canvas and salvage their self-respect and their season?
When they awoke Monday morning embarrassed if not humiliated with a second straight 3-7 finish, the Vikings probably didn't even want to be in the playoffs. Now, however, they are bracing for their first berth in the playoffs since 1999 and the opportunity for redemption that awaits them Sunday at Lambeau Field against the Packers.
"We know them and they know us," Packers running backs coach Johnny Roland said. "It'll just be another slugfest in Lambeau Field."
The Vikings backed into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed despite a 21-18 loss in Washington. They finished 8-8 one season after finishing out of the playoffs at 9-7 with a last-second loss in Arizona.
As disheartening as their collapse was, the Vikings figure to be invigorated by another shot at the Packers. They've lost a pair of 34-31 games to Green Bay, both ending on field goals (33, 29 yards) by Ryan Longwell as time expired.
"I think Minnesota will have a hard time in Lambeau Field," said Sheldon White, the Detroit Lions' director of pro personnel. "I'm leaning toward Green Bay because of the elements."
The Vikings are 1-5 in Green Bay since 1998. Their lone victory, 30-25 on opening day last year, represents one of the Vikings' two triumphs in their last 22 games on a grass surface. The other was Oct. 10 in Houston, 34-28.
"It's going to be cold," said Vinny Cerrato, the Redskins' vice president of football operations, who watched the Vikings Sunday. "I don't know if it bothers them or not, but their history isn't good. To me, it's hard to bet against (Brett) Favre at home."
Since the merger in 1970, there have been 15 cases in which a team that swept a regular-season series met the same opponent again in the playoffs. The victorious teams hold a 10-5 margin in the third meeting; the group includes the ‘97 Packers, who went 3-0 against Tampa Bay.
White understands that Vikings coach Mike Tice will play the underdog role to the hilt.
"‘Everyone thinks we're dead, that we're falling apart again,' " White said, anticipating Tice's message. "I'd be all over that. But I still give the psychological edge to Green Bay just because they beat them twice, even though they were close games."
"I think the defense that plays the best will win," Cerrato said. "And who can run the ball. Offensively, both teams are loaded."
Randy Moss appeared almost disinterested in the Dec. 24 loss to Green Bay.
"Randy Moss is Randy Moss," Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache said. "In my opinion, he's the finest receiver in football. He made a catch over Sean Taylor that was just a phenomenal play. I think Randy Moss is healthy."
In the two games, the Packers averaged 447 yards, including 154 on the ground. On the other hand, the Vikings averaged 416 yards, including 101 on the ground.
The first game turned on a controversial fumble recovery by Packers tight end Ben Steele on Robert Ferguson's kickoff return with 1 1/2 minutes remaining that led to the decisive field goal. Former Vikings cornerback Derek Ross claimed that Steele took the ball away from him during the 45 seconds that it took officials to inspect the pile.
The second game was won by the Packers when Favre directed two long drives worth 10 points in the final eight minutes.
"I don't see it being much different," Blache said. "I just don't know which team will make the final three points.
"It might be whoever tackles the best. The tackling in that last game was less than pristine.
"It'll be an exciting ballgame. Fans will be very, very entertained."
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