GREEN BAY, Wis. — It’s not just wild-card weekend in Minnesota and Green Bay.
It’s Groundhog Day.
Six days after facing off in the regular-season finale, and five weeks after their first meeting of the season, the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers are at it again Saturday night. This is no yawner of a sequel, though, not when the stakes are win or winter vacation.
“Like I tell the team, it doesn’t matter who comes out of that tunnel, I don’t care what colour they have on,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s about fundamentals, matchups, and that’s what we’re focused on. We’re playing at home, it’s going to be a great environment. … The Vikings obviously have done a great job to get into the tournament, and we respect that, but this is a different deal.
“This is what everybody’s been fighting for, and this is what we’re excited about.”
Minnesota (10-6) and Green Bay (11-5) split their first two meetings, with the Vikings’ victory last Sunday in Minneapolis giving them the last wild-card spot. It also dropped the Packers from the No. 2 to the No. 3 seed, and forced the NFC North champs to work a weekend they were hoping to have off.
At least neither team had to scramble to dig up film or scouting reports.
As division rivals, the Packers and Vikings already know plenty about each other. After playing twice in December, they know each other so well they could probably call each other’s plays. There won’t be any big surprises, no new wrinkles to the offence or defence that the other hasn’t already seen.
“So much familiarity with the team that we are playing because of the number of times we have played them in the last month and a half,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “So not a whole lot that needs to be discussed as far as getting motivated to play this game.”
The Vikings game plan will be simple: Give the ball to Adrian Peterson and get out of the way.
That’s the plan pretty much every week, but particularly against Green Bay.
He’s rushed for 409 yards in their two games, more than some running backs manage in 16, and is averaging a whopping 7.4 yards per carry. He had the longest run of his career, 82 yards for a touchdown, in the Dec. 2 game, and a career-high 34 carries on Sunday.
Peterson has gained more yards against Green Bay (1,442 in 12 games) than any other team, and he chews up the Lambeau Field grass as easily as the Metrodome turf.
“It’s just the rivalry,” he said. “There’s more emphasis on that game because we know that’s a team that we have to beat in order to accomplish our goals we’ve set forth.”
Yeah, but the Packers had a goal last weekend, too, and that didn’t help against Peterson.
“We had the right calls, we just need to be a little smarter as far as where we fit and then a little more accountable and reliable as far as what we do,” Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. “There were a couple of times where, perhaps playing somebody else, we could fall inside somebody else’s gap. With this team, they’ll make you pay and that’s exactly what happened.
“It was a good test and obviously we’ll come back here ready.”
Now, having the Vikings come to Lambeau for the playoffs would seem an advantage for the Packers. Minnesota hasn’t won in Green Bay since 2009, the last year the Vikings made the playoffs, and the Packers have won 20 of their last 22 games at home.
But the Packers have lost their last two home playoff games, including last year to the Giants when they were the NFC’s No. 1 seed.
“It’s not something we’ve thought about or really talked about since probably April,” Aaron Rodgers said. “We want to be playing the right way obviously. We had a good stretch there. We won nine out of 11 games and played a lot of really good opponents, tough opponents, tough games on the road.
“I like the way we’re playing,” he added.
“I think we have the right mindset, a good group of leaders in this locker room and a lot of guys who’ve won a lot of regular season, a lot of post-season games. We’re excited about our team and excited about our opportunity in front of us.”
Especially since Green Bay’s high-powered offence is finally at full strength.
The Packers’ top four receivers — Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb — have played less than three full games together this season, with Jennings (torn groin muscle), Nelson (hamstring) and Cobb (ankle) missing a total of 13 games. But all are healthy now, and the Vikings got an idea of how tough it will be to contain them last week, when the Packers piled up 405 yards of offence and scored 34 points.
Expect this week to bring more of the same.
“We’ll tweak our offence, they’ll tweak their defence. Each team’s going to look at what transpired on Sunday and try to make some adjustments to make sure they’re better than they were on Sunday,” Green Bay offensive co-ordinator Tom Clements said. “Playing outside, it can be a different type of game depending on what the weather’s like. But it’s still going to be a battle. They’re a good defence, we’re a good offence. They run the ball on offence, we’ve got to play on defence.
“It’s the same type of game. Just different location.”