First Time, Only Chance

The Vikings and Packers meet in the playoffs for the first time, and Randy Moss and the Vikings wide receivers have a chance to give Minnesota its first playoff win in four years if they can expose the Green Bay pass defense.

After years of waiting and wishing from fans of both teams, today will present the first postseason meeting of the Packers and Vikings in the history of their storied franchises. With all the memories of Lambeau Field lore as a backdrop, this game has the makings of an instant classic.

It's no coincidence that these two teams ended up meeting together. The Packers swept both regular-season meetings by identical scores of 34-31 — fighting off a furious fourth-quarter Vikings comeback at Lambeau and scoring 10 unanswered points in the final minutes to beat the Vikings at the Metrodome. These are two teams going in different directions — the Vikings have lost seven of their last 10, while the Packers have erased a 1-4 start to win the division.

As always, the identity of the Packers is tied into Brett Favre, but he has struggled to take command in first-round playoff games. Two years ago, he lost in a shootout with Michael Vick and the Falcons. Last year, Seattle had Green Bay on the ropes before a Matt Hasselbeck interception gave the Packers an overtime win. While he is capable of making big plays, Favre also seems driven to force the issue. In his last three playoff losses, he has thrown five touchdowns and nine interceptions. Favre has lasted so long because he doesn't like to be hit — nobody got sacked less this year than Favre. If pressured, he will try to make an improbable completion. Often times, those lead to interceptions.

While Favre is a known commodity heading into the playoffs, Ahman Green is not. An adept runner and receiver, he has been slowed with sore ribs and hasn't been able to practice for two weeks. He'll be better, but he won't be healed and could be susceptible to fumbling with a protective vest on. Backup Najeh Davenport also missed last week's game trying to heal for the playoffs. If the Packers don't have Green at 100 percent, it could put a damper on their plans offensively.

The ability to run and pass effectively is due in large part to an offensive line that opens holes and protects Favre. They're a big reason the Packers won five games by three points this year. From tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher to guards Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle to center Grey Ruegamer, this unit has protected Favre and brought the old-fashioned power sweep of the Packers' glory years back into vogue. If the Packers want to run, this is the unit that will be counted on to get it done — whether Green is 100 percent or not.

The bigger question heading into this weekend's game is whether the Packers will want to control the clock or come out throwing. Javon Walker and Donald Driver both overmatched the Vikings defense in their two meetings this year and there's no reason to think they can't do it again. With the speed to get open and the strength to fight off press coverage, both are capable of the big play — as Vikings fans know all too well. The team likely will be without Robert Ferguson, who was nearly decapitated two weeks ago by Jacksonville's Donovin Darius, which will put more pressure on Walker, Driver and tight end Bubba Franks to be the go-to guys downfield. If it gets into a shootout, these guys could all post lofty numbers.

The Packers defense has been exposed at times during the season, as the team is at or near the bottom of the NFC in yards allowed, passing yards allowed and interceptions. The Packers have attributed much of that to defensive tackle Grady Jackson missing time early in the season and during a stretch in November. When healthy, Jackson, Cletidus Hunt and end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila are strong, but their efforts have been sporadic. At times, they look like world beaters. At other times, their lack of consistent penetration has allowed opposing offenses to attack them. Don't look for the Vikes to be passive against them.

The young linebacker corps is led by volatile middle linebacker Nick Barnett. An overly aggressive player, he can be sucked into misdirection and disguised plays, putting a lot more pressure on solid, but unspectacular outside linebackers Na'il Diggs and Hannibal Navies. Teams that committed to the run vs. the Packers — like the Jaguars and Lions — found success. Green Bay's overpursuit has often been its downfall and the Vikes will exploit that.

The biggest problem with Green Bay's defense is in the secondary. Last in the NFL with just seven picks through 15 games, the loss of Mike McKenzie has been felt. Cornerbacks Al Harris and Ahmad Carroll have been steady performers, but not to the extent that they haven't been burned by double moves. Safety Darren Sharper remains the playmaker of the secondary, but Mark Roman is adequate at best.

As in their previous meetings this year, both teams will likely try to establish the run early, but seeing how both offenses are salivating at a chance to exploit problems in the other team's secondary, don't be surprised to see another 34-31 finish — as the Vikings and Packers square off in a new and perhaps the most important game in the long and storied rivalry. VU


When the Vikings met the Packers at Lambeau Field during the regular season, Randy Moss wasn't playing. When they met a second time, he was barely playing. This time, there's no reason to hold back, which should make the matchup of Moss vs. cornerback Al Harris the playoff pairing to watch.

Since arriving in Minnesota, Moss has redefined the wide receiver position — prompting many teams searching for "the next Randy Moss" to take a chance on a wide receiver in the first round of the college draft. When Moss is on the field, the entire complexion of how the defense attacks the offense changes. In the last meeting, while Moss wasn't a decoy per se, he was double-covered by Harris and safety Darren Sharper all day with assistant help from linebackers preventing the crossing route.

On the other side of the ball, Harris drew the assignment of playing Moss all day long — albeit with an enormous amount of assistance from his defensive mates. The record will reflect that Harris won the battle, since Moss caught just two passes for 30 yards. Some questioned Mike Sherman's decision to put Harris on Moss instead of mixing it up with rookie Ahmad Carroll in the last meeting. Seeing as it succeeded (and Carroll is playing through an injury), Harris likely will get the same assignment this time.

For Moss, this could be a defining moment. The Vikings of the Denny Green era had guys like Randall McDaniel, Cris Carter, Korey Stringer and Randall Cunningham as leaders. Moss was an explosive supporting player. Now this is his team. Moss is the franchise player. He has the ability to take over any game in which he plays. If he is to become the receiver that gets mentioned with Jerry Rice as the greatest of all time, he needs to step it up in the postseason and put the Vikings on his back.

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