‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the Twin Cities, not a creature was stirring, not even one Griddy. The fans’ bets were placed by the bookie with care in hopes that a Minnesota Vikings victory soon would be there.
Minnesota’s game day came and went, leaving Vikings faithful spent. In a game that had so much meaning, it became clear that the team’s positive energy was receding. Like a year before against the New Orleans Saints, the Minnesota Vikings playoff hopes took a severe hit after losing to Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams.
In their postgame press conferences, Justin Jefferson and Anthony Barr noted a lack of energy from the fans in attendance and in the Vikings locker room at halftime. This was peculiar considering a playoff spot was on the line, and Minnesota was only down by 10 points. The vibe at US Bank Stadium wasn’t appropriate for a high-stakes gridiron grinder. Instead, it was more like an awkward extended family reunion. Truly a sad sight.
Even more depressing is that the Vikings have two weeks left in the regular season with little to play for. They would need to win out and hope more capable teams fall to lesser teams to make the playoffs. As it stands, the Philadelphia Eagles hold the final wild-card spot, with the Saints right behind them.
Philly plays the Washington Football Team and the Dallas Cowboys to close out the season, while the Saints host the Carolina Panthers and play the Atlanta Falcons on the road. After this week’s matchup at Lambeau Field, Minnesota closes out the regular season against the Chicago Bears. Safe to say, the Eagles and the Saints have an easier path to the postseason than the Vikings do.
The Vikings may no longer control their destiny, but that doesn’t mean they can’t play spoiler to their biggest division rival. The Green Bay Packers sit atop the NFC and can clinch a first-round bye if they win out. One of the changes to the playoff format is making the second seed play in the wild card round against the newly added seventh seed. The Packers have a lot riding on these next two games. If they get past the Vikings, the only team standing in their way is the Detroit Lions, and it’s unlikely the Lions will pull off an upset.
Essentially, the Vikings are the Packers’ most significant obstacle. This week’s game at Lambeau is the perfect opportunity for the Vikings to invade Green Bay and pillage everything they hold dear. Is that cruel? Yes, but that’s what Vikings do to their enemies.
I’m not just talking about the Viking Age from the eighth to 11th century, where hoards of Vikings would invade and conquer countries across the land. The lore of Minnesota playing spoiler to the Packers, in particular, runs deep throughout franchise history.
It goes back to 1989 when the Vikings and the Packers were competing for the NFC Central title. Both teams were tied at 9-6, entering the season’s final week, with Minnesota holding the tiebreaker. The Packers took care of business against the Cowboys on Christmas Eve and were hoping to receive a gift in the form of a division title. Unfortunately for Green Bay fans, the present they were hoping for wouldn’t be packed. The Vikings beat the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football and claimed the 1989 NFC Central Division title.
In 1992, the Packers looked to end their 20-year postseason drought. All they needed to do was to beat a Vikings team that was starting backup quarterback Sean Salisbury since they already secured the third seed and had nothing to play for. In a must-win game for Green Bay, Brett Favre threw zero touchdowns and three interceptions in a 27-7 loss.
Another truly devious spoiler game occurred in 2003 when Lambeau Field was re-dedicated following an expansion to the historic venue. The Vikings barreled in and ruined what was supposed to be a happy occasion for the city of Green Bay. Favre threw four interceptions as the Vikings beat the Packers, 30-25.
That’s not the end of Favre-induced psychological torture upon the state of Wisconsin. In 2009, Favre beat the Packers, 30-23, in his first game against them as a member of the Vikings. Minnesota improved to 4-0 while the Packers fell to .500. A few weeks later, Favre returned to Lambeau Field, helping Minnesota beat Green Bay 38-26.
In 2015, the Vikings and Packers were battling for the NFC North crown late in the season at Lambeau Field. The Aaron Rodgers-led Packers were three-point favorites at home against a young defense led by head coach Mike Zimmer. The game went down to the wire, but the Vikings held on to win 20-13. Among the highlights was a fumble that was recovered by Captain Munnerlyn and returned 55 yards for a score.
There are more moments in history where Minnesota got the better of the Packers, but I’ve made my point. The Vikings have always taken pride in playing the role of spoiler against their rivals. It’s engraved in the team’s identity. This team plays at their best when no one else believes in them. Playing to take away Green Bay’s first-round bye and home-field advantage would be on-brand for this team.
This quote from Munnerlyn summarizes how this Vikings squad should approach their upcoming game against the Packers.
“If we can’t go, they can’t go.”