Murphy: Minnesota Vikings set up showdown with Green Bay Packers

Minneapolis -- It took five months of toil and 15 games for the Vikings to clinch a playoff berth, but they have one more week to define their 2015 season.Naturally, their moment will come Jan. 3 against the confounding Green Bay Packers at Lambe...

Harrison Smith of the Minnesota Vikings runs an interception for a touchdown during the Sunday’s game against the New York Giants at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. (FNS Photo by Clint Austin)

Minneapolis - It took five months of toil and 15 games for the Vikings to clinch a playoff berth, but they have one more week to define their 2015 season.
Naturally, their moment will come Jan. 3 against the confounding Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field for the NFC North Division championship and potential wild-card rematch the following week, site to be determined.
“This is why we play the game,” said tight end Kyle Rudolph. “You want to be playing in January with an opportunity to win a Super Bowl. So many times all you’ve got to do is get in, and you’ve got a chance. It’s big for us to clinch on our own the way we did tonight but we’re not finished yet.”
With schools out for the holidays and workplaces mostly dormant this week, fishhouses and snowmobile trails throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin will be alive with the sound of belched invective, the smell of cheese curds, lutefisk and regret wafting over the low-rising sun.
There are no higher stakes in Week 17 than Packers-Vikings, no better television cash grab available among a slew of games with otherwise middling matchups.
NBC was so impressed by how the Vikings dismembered the pitiful New York Giants 49-17 Sunday night at TCF Bank Stadium they invited the country to tune in again next week for Minnesota’s reckoning in the Upper Midwest adaptation of the Hatfields and McCoys.
Nowhere near as talented or favored as previously dominant, doomed teams, this Vikings squad has strolled through the season with the warm hand of fate gently on its shoulder.
Their only victory against a winning team was Week 11 at Atlanta, and the Falcons did not win again until taking down the previously undefeated Panthers on Sunday.
And still they have a chance to raise a banner and host another game at their temporary home at the University of Minnesota.
“If you’d have told me in July that we’d have a chance the last game of the year to … play for a division title, I’d have been excited about it,” said second-year coach Mike Zimmer, who looked and sounded as impressed as a guy given free dry cleaning.
Zimmer won a Super Bowl 20 years ago as a Dallas Cowboys assistant, mentored under two-time world champion Bill Parcells and flamed out of the playoffs enough times as Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator to be circumspect about clinching a mere invitation.

With Odell Beckham Jr. banished to his playpen, Tom Coughlin dominating the “Dead Man Walking” race to Black Monday and Eli Manning tossing interceptions like bouquets, the Giants were doomed the moment they exited their locker room and saw their breath in the 13-degree night air.
The Vikings manhandled New York’s frozen-stiff offensive line. They played confidently like a team that realized losing was not an option, the battle won before it took the field.
The whack-a-mole playoff board exposed the NFL’s devolving parity on a day the Steelers blew a tire in Baltimore, the Patriots flipped their minds and handed the Jets a lifeline and Seattle was squeegeed at home by the Rams.
A half-hour before kickoff there were four postseason variables for the Vikings that required a Latin dictionary, a matrix calculator and two Tylenol.
“There was all this talk if somebody wins or if somebody loses we’d get in,” said safety Harrison Smith, who punctuated his return from a three-game injury absence with a pick-six. “But we knew it was in our hands. That’s all we were focused on.”
We know the NFC North champion will be crowned on the tundra. We also know a Packers win secures a return trip to Lambeau for the Vikings.
However, the Seahawks’ stumble opened a seam for Minnesota to sew up the No. 5 seed and a trip to Washington for a wild-card date with the suddenly streaking Redskins.
That would be a tough break for the superior Vikings to forego a home playoff game.
So it comes down to the final game of a regular season that started with a Monday night meltdown in San Francisco on Sept. 13. However, the crusade really began when Zimmer gathered the Vikings together in the Winter Park field house in April for the initial team meeting.
Best of all, they have a shot at sweet revenge.
Green Bay limped home Sunday after getting bushwhacked in Arizona. Here come two flawed, motivated rivals with thoroughly lathered fan bases anxious for 2015 bragging rights.

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