Packers Week Is an Early Playoff Eliminator

Green Bay Packers fans Gannon Blankenship, left, 15, his brother Gage Blankenship, 13, and their father Doyle Blankenship watch players warm up before the start of the game against the Oakland Raiders Sunday, October 20, 2019, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. The three are from Oklahoma. Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.

Defeat by the Detroit Lions on Christmas Eve has left the Minnesota Vikings playoff hopes hanging by a thread.

Packers Week Is an Early Playoff Eliminator

There are no more second chances in Minnesota this season. The Vikings must win their last two games and then hope — starting with their final home game of the season against Green Bay. Packers week is an early playoff eliminator, with defeat for either team likely terminal for their season.

NFC Playoff Congestion

Such is the state of the NFC Wildcard race that even with defeat, both the Vikings and Packers might not be out of contention. It would take a lot of other results falling in their favor, but there is even a scenario where both make the playoffs with one win each over the last two games. That is an outside chance with the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks now sitting in prime position to take the final two playoff spots in the NFC — the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons are waiting in the wings should other teams slip up.

Week Is an Early
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jordan Addison (3) does a Lambeau Leap with Vikings fans Craig Lindsay, Nick Johnson, and Chris Gangl against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, October 29, 2023, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. The Vikings won the game, 24-10. © Tork Mason / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Minnesota has a 27% chance of reaching the postseason after losing to the Lions. They need to win its next two games while hoping the Rams or the Seahawks lose a single game. That’s the equation that the Vikings will be looking at rather than the convoluted and confusing scenarios of ifs and buts. If the Vikings do their part, they will be looking for a favor from one of four teams. The Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Seattle in Week 17 and then to Arizona to face the Cardinals. Meanwhile, the Rams go on the road to face the New York Giants before finishing the season also on the road against the San Francisco 49ers.

Anything can happen, but the two teams that look most likely to do the Vikings a favor are the Steelers and the 49ers. Pittsburgh will need to win out to get a wildcard spot in the AFC, and the 49ers will likely need a win if they are to keep hold of the all-important number-one seed in the NFC. Just one loss by either team will be enough for the Vikings, but can they hold up their end of the deal?

Where Do the Vikings Go Next?

The Vikings season has somewhat fallen apart since beating the Saints and turning a 1-4 start into 6-4. Minnesota has gone on another run of games with a 1-4 record. Can they flip the script again and go on another winning run? It seems unlikely, but another five wins in a row would see the Vikings playing in the Super Bowl.

Unfortunately, this Vikings team doesn’t look in any shape to do that. T.J. Hockenson and D.J. Wonnum are the latest casualties with season-ending injuries — both of which are major blows.

Crucially, the QB carousel since Kirk Cousins went down injured just hasn’t been conducive to winning football. Nick Mullens and Joshua Dobbs have combined for nine passing touchdowns and 11 interceptions — then you can throw in eight fumbles for good measure. Will the Vikings ride out the season with Mullens, or will they make another change at quarterback? Jaren Hall showcased enough promise in his brief appearance before in Atlanta to think he can’t do much worse than the reckless play of Mullens and Dobbs.

Nick Mullens Is Absolutely
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Heroics from Justin Jefferson is the Vikings’ best hope of success. He was back to his best against the Lions, hauling in six of 10 targets for 141 yards and a touchdown. The Vikings need a QB who looks after the ball and doesn’t give the game away while giving Jefferson a chance to win it — even more so with Hockenson out and Jordan Addison struggling with an ankle sprain. Is Hall — a fifth-round rookie — the man for the job? It’s a long shot, but can’t go much worse than the Mullens/Dobbs experience of the last five weeks.

Packers Week Is an Early Playoff Eliminator

It doesn’t get any bigger in the regular season for the Vikings than Packers week. Minnesota may not have defended their NFC North crown, but after a 24-10 victory at Lambeau Field back in October. The Vikings have the opportunity to complete a double over their rivals for the first time since 2017. It’s not quite win, or you’re out without knowing the outcomes of other games, but it’s not far off, and that could be the case. It feels like a playoff game two weeks early, and both teams should be treating it as such.

Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Patrick Jones II (91) during their football game on Sunday, January 1, 2023, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Wm. Glasheen USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.

Neither team is ready to win a Super Bowl, but that doesn’t mean playoff football doesn’t have its value.

Good teams reach the playoffs regularly and build for success. That is what the Vikings aim to do with back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since 2008 and 2009. For the Packers, a playoff appearance in the first season post-Aaron Rodgers would be a notable achievement and give the organization confidence in Jordan Love to take them forward. There’s plenty to play for as these two rivals lock horns on Sunday.

Minnesota and Green Bay will bring in the New Year with their 127th meeting.