The Vikings will be making the rare move of cheering for the Green Bay Packers this weekend. The only way the Vikings can win the NFC North is if the Packers upset the Chicago Bears and the Vikings win out.
With the Vikings' playoff hopes having taken a hit with Sunday's loss to Pittsburgh, coach Mike Tice and his team will find themselves in the very odd position of rooting for the Green Bay Packers
The Packers will play host to the Chicago Bears
on Sunday, hours before the Vikings take on Baltimore. If the Packers are able to upset the Bears, the Vikings could pull within a game of Chicago for the NFC North lead.
That would set up a regular-season finale between the Vikings and Bears. A Minnesota victory on Jan. 1 at the Metrodome would give both teams 10-6 records. The Vikings, however, would win the NFC North based of having a better division record (5-1 to 4-2).
Having this actually happen is a long shot that would have to start with the struggling Packers helping the Vikings. That would be a big difference from the past two seasons, when Green Bay edged out the Vikings for the NFC North title.
"I've always been a fan of Brett Favre's," Vikings coach Mike Tice said. "So this week, I'm going to send him a fruit basket and hopefully Green Bay can help us out this week. I think all the Viking fans in the building will become Packer fans before the game."
While Tice has insisted his team not look ahead in recent weeks, he did spend part of Monday addressing the playoff possibilities with his players. The overriding theme of the meeting was that the Vikings must take care of business in Baltimore, where former Vikings offensive coordinator Brian Billick is the coach.
"It's an exciting time because there are a lot of scenarios out there," Tice said. "I did indicate to the team what the scenarios were. I did not want them thinking and being wrong. So I laid out the scenarios and it all starts with us winning a game against Baltimore.
"Because all the scenarios you can paint, and all the pictures you can paint, will not be completed unless we win a game against Baltimore. So everything that is out there for us starts with beating a good friend, Brian Billick's team in Baltimore, on Christmas night, on national TV. And so another big game for us and you really wouldn't want it any other way, quite frankly."
Vikings free safety Darren Sharper said when the offense is struggling, the defense must find a way to get points. "We have to try to find a way to score points on defense," he said. "Whether it's likely or whether it's not likely, that's what we have to have. You would like the offense to help you out and we've just got to keep grinding. If they're not on, we have to find a way on defense. We need to get a pick or a fumble and set them up right in the red zone. That's the way we've got to keep trying to look at it."
Though the pursuit of a playoff spot provides motivation for the Vikings, receiver Koren Robinson said having games left should be reason enough to maintain intensity. "What motivates us is still having a possibility at the playoffs if certain things happen," he said. "But at the same time we've got to come prepared. This is a job. We've got to get up for it every Sunday, during the practice week, whatever. This is your career, so I feel like you're supposed to be pumped and motivated as it is."
The fact the Vikings had only three points in four trips to red zone Sunday left the entire offense frustrated. "We had plenty of opportunities where we had the ball inside the red zone and we only scored three points," tight end Jermaine Wiggins said. "Do the math. How frustrating that is for a team, especially on offense when we know we have the ball inside the red area and we only come away with three points for the whole game?"
RB Michael Bennett is once again the Vikings' No. 1 running back after losing that role early in the season. A free agent this off-season, Bennett feels he has answered any questions about himself. "It's really been up and down for me. I'm just happy that I'm able to stay positive and keep my head up and know that I am a starter in this league," he said. "I have a future somewhere, if not here, and I just have to make the best of it."
C Melvin Fowler suffered a high sprain of his left ankle against the Steelers and was wearing a boot on his foot Monday morning. Cory Withrow will start in Fowler's place if he can't go Sunday at Baltimore.
RT Marcus Johnson has a high sprain of his right ankle and likely will miss Sunday's game at Baltimore. Mike Rosenthal would start in his place.
TE Jermaine Wiggins received treatment Monday for a sprained left ankle he suffered in Sunday's loss to Pittsburgh.
LB Keith Newman will miss a second consecutive game because of a sprained right knee Sunday at Baltimore. The Vikings are hoping to get Newman back for the regular-season finale against Chicago.
LB Heath Farwell (knee), who plays on special teams, is expected to return against the Ravens.
P Darren Bennett was released Monday after rookie Chris Kluwe proved he was recovered from a strained right knee by punting Sunday against Pittsburgh.