With game time drawing closer to the regular-season finale between the Vikings the Giants, the biggest question is whether New York will play its full complement of starters or if some key players like RB Brandon Jacobs and DE Justin Tuck will be given a chance to rest.
Postseason hopes are riding on the game and the Vikings have their minds set on beating the Giants, despite the fact that they can still qualify as NFC North champions if the Houston Texans do their part and defeat the Chicago Bears at home Sunday. Many of the Vikings were convinced they had the same opportunity to win the division when Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby lined up for a game-winning field goal Monday night only to have it blocked and send the game into overtime – when the Bears eventually won 20-17.
The same scenario presents itself this week, but the Vikings aren't taking anything for granted. They're looking solely at the Giants and not looking at the backup plan of a Texans wins.
"It's a do-or-die game," defensive end Brian Robison said of Sunday's matchup with the Giants. "We can't rely on Chicago to lose. We have to make sure we go out there and control our own destiny."
The last time the Vikings were in a similar situation, they could have advanced to the 2003 playoffs with a win over Arizona or a Green Bay loss in their finale. The Packers did their job by winning and the Vikings lost on a heart-breaking fourth-and-25 completion for a touchdown as time expired to lose to Arizona. Players that were on that Vikings team, like QB Gus Frerotte said you can take nothing for granted – win and you're in. Period.
"This is an urgent situation," Frerotte said. "People say they're going to come in and not play all their starters. That doesn't matter. It's an NFL game. We only can control what we do and we have to be ready to go. It's an urgent game and we have to win. You can't rely on anybody else in the NFL – whether another team needs a win or all that. We learned that last time I was here. We go down to Arizona and we have to win the game and we lose on the last-second play. It was a heart-breaker. You have to take care of business. That's the only way can approach it."
The talk that the Vikings are going to be facing a Giants team not putting out its best effort is something of a misnomer. While some of the players in reserve roles aren't as well-known as the front-line starters, they are NFL players with skills and will be hungry to prove themselves, which has Vikings defenders like defensive end Ray Edwards paying no attention to the potential of Brandon Jacobs sitting out the game or Eli Manning playing just a half.
"Our game preparation isn't going to change whether they play all their starters the whole game or not," Edwards said. "They have three great backs and a great line and a great quarterback. Our defensive strategy won't change because of what they may or may not do."
At least one Viking can speak from experience to "laying down" in the scenario being thrown out by the media. While in San Diego, linebacker Ben Leber and his Chargers had already wrapped up their playoff seeding heading into the final game of the regular season. Coach Marty Schottenheimer made the decision to rest a handful of starters on both sides of the ball to give them additional healing time heading into the playoffs. Their opponent – the Kansas City Chiefs – came in with confidence going against what they perceived to be the San Diego junior varsity team. The Chiefs got thumped, a lesson Leber has reminded some of his teammates of when it comes to potentially getting the news that the Giants aren't going to keep their starters in for the entire game.
"In theory, you would like to think that if they pull out some of their starters that they would be weakened," Leber said. "I was in a situation in San Diego where we pulled a bunch of our guys when we played Kansas City in the final game of the regular season and they thought they were going to roll over us. Our second-team guys came out and not just beat them, but beat them up pretty good. You don't want to get caught up on who's pulling who, because in the league, some of the backups are just as good but just haven't had the exposure."
If you believe the oddsmakers in Las Vegas, the Vikings shouldn't need any help from the Texans – the Vikings are favored against the Giants and the Bears are underdogs against Houston. But, the players aren't looking for a handout from the Texans. After 15 games, they have put themselves in the position to determine their own playoff fate. If they need help from Houston, having the tie-breaker advantage is an ace in the hole in their favor, but the feeling in the locker room is that they have earned the position to win and get in and that is all that will really matter when the game is played Sunday.
"There's a lot of people that would love to be in this position – playing the last game of the season – a meaningful game – to get into the playoffs," safety Madieu Williams said. "We're fortunate enough to be in that situation. I don't think you want to be in any other situation. We can control our own destiny."
Vikings know the urgency of Sunday
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