If the Minnesota Vikings’ Week 17 win-and-in situation seems familiar, well, it is.
For the second time in seven seasons, the Vikings must beat a division rival in the final week to make the postseason and would likely face that same team the following week in the Wild Card round.
In 2012, the Vikings were 6-6 and needed to win out the make the playoffs. They beat the Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans before a home meeting against their nemesis, the Green Bay Packers, at the Metrodome in Week 17. This season, they were 6-6-1 and also needed to run the table. After wins against the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions, the present-day Vikings have the Bears at their home stadium to potentially clinch their third playoff berth since 2015.
“Win and in,” said head coach Mike Zimmer on Sunday. “That’s how it is. We’re OK with that.”
Barring an unlikely Seattle Seahawks home loss to the Arizona Cardinals, a Vikings win would pair them with the Bears in the first playoff game, similar to how the Vikings and Packers matched up twice in a row in 2012. Minnesota won that Week 17 border battle 37-34, only to lose 24-10 at Lambeau Field the following week. Starting quarterback Christian Ponder was scratched with an injury before the playoff game, and overmatched backup Joe Webb was called into action.
Uniquely, both the 2012 Packers and 2018 Bears entered Week 17 with an outside shot at a bye week. On Sunday, the Bears will be scoreboard watching to see if the Los Angeles Rams slip up at home against the San Francisco 49ers and open up a path to the No. 2 seed.
“We’ll have a plan in terms of being smart,” Bears coach Matt Nagy told Chicago reporters, insinuating Chicago might pull starters if the Rams game gets out of hand.
The biggest challenge for the Vikings may not be winning Sunday, but gathering the gumption to beat the Bears again on the road with more at stake. In theory, Sunday’s game means far more to the Vikings than it does the Bears, and having to travel — potentially on a short week — after an emotionally-draining game would be challenging.
“For me, I try not to think of any game any differently,” said right tackle Brian O’Neill. “I still prepare the same way, still have the same attention to detail and level of focus and preparation. I try not to get caught up in who we’re playing or what it means.”
Even running back Adrian Peterson found a way to get involved in both scenarios. In 2012, Peterson was going for the single-season rushing record in Week 17 against the Packers. His 199-yard performance propelled Minnesota over Green Bay that day, and his late 26-yard run set up Blair Walsh’s game-winning field goal. Peterson can help the Vikings out again on Sunday by delivering for the Washington Redskins. A Redskins win over the Philadelphia Eagles gives Minnesota a playoff spot, regardless of their outcome against the Bears.
The Vikings hope to duplicate their win-and-in outcome from 2012 — beating the division leaders at home for a trip to the postseason. But on the same token, bringing that same intensity against the same opponent a week later would be an even greater challenge.
“It’s gonna be a heightened sense of urgency,” said Zimmer. “Really, for us, the playoffs have already started. We know that we have to win this game in order to get into them, so there has to be a heightened sense of focus, energy and study time.”
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