NFL players wear week-to-week blinders. They like to say they’re strictly focused on the next game.
But this late in the regular season, it’s hard not to take a least a peek at what might lie ahead for playoff contenders.
In the case of the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers, it’s quite possible they will meet in a wild-card game just a week after facing off in the season finale. For a lot more than border-state bragging rights.
The Vikings (9-5) are set to visit the Packers (10-4) on Jan. 3 to decide the NFC North, unless the Vikings lose to the Giants and the Packers win at Arizona on Sunday. Even if the Packers clinch the division this weekend, the Vikings are still in good shape for a wild-card spot.
“We’re in the playoffs now, everybody understands what we need to do to first is win the division, and then hopefully get the highest seed,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
With the NFC East winner guaranteed the No. 4 seed and a first-round home game against the best wild-card team — currently Seattle (9-5) based on a tiebreaker over Minnesota — the Vikings and Packers are on a collision course for the weekend of Jan. 9-10.
There’s a scenario that wouldn’t line up the two rivals on the opening weekend of the playoffs: The Vikings win their last two games to take the NFC North title, putting the Packers in a wild-card spot. With their tiebreaker edge over the Seahawks, who the Packers beat, they would then get the No. 5 seed by either beating the Cardinals on Sunday or having the Seahawks lose one of their last two games.
So get ready for a Vikings-Packers rematch, the game so nice they just might play it twice. Or, in the case of these division rivals, three times; Green Bay won at Minnesota 30-13 in November.
Some other notes and notable back-to-back games by teams in the last week of the season and the first round of the playoffs:
RUNNING FOR THE RECORD: The list has to start with the Packers and Vikings, of course, given their memorable two-game set in 2012-13. It was the last time teams met in consecutive weeks.
The Vikings won four straight games to finish that season, including a 37-34 thriller over the Packers on Dec. 30 to take their spot in the playoffs at 10-6. The Packers went 11-5, so they had the NFC North wrapped up entering the final weekend. But they were still playing for a first-round bye.
Then there was the matter of the NFL’s single-season rushing record, with Adrian Peterson in hot pursuit. Peterson ran for 199 yards that afternoon at the Metrodome, finishing 9 yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s record.
That forced the rematch in Green Bay.
“It was more difficult because it was a division opponent, so they know you a little bit better,” recalled Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji. “It was definitely a grind-it-out game.”
Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder hurt his elbow in that finale, so backup Joe Webb was thrust onto the stage at Lambeau Field six days later.
Peterson rushed for a relatively quiet 99 yards, Webb went a woeful 11 for 30 in the air, and the Packers cruised to a 24-10 victory.
FUMBLE IN OT: The Packers have had to hit replay twice in the last seven seasons. They wrapped up 2009 with back-to-back road games against Arizona, winning 33-7 to finish the regular season before losing 51-45 in overtime in the wild-card round — the highest-scoring postseason game.
Aaron Rodgers threw for four touchdowns, while Arizona’s Kurt Warner had five.
But the Cardinals won it on defense when Karlos Dansby returned a fumble 17 yards for a score after Rodgers lost the ball on Michael Adams’ sack.
PEYTON’S PLACES: When Peyton Manning played for the Indianapolis Colts, he picked apart the Broncos — his future team — in a 49-24 win in the first round of the 2004 playoffs. Manning had 458 yards passing and four scores, including two to Reggie Wayne.
A week earlier, Manning played just one series against the Broncos in Week 17 with the Colts having wrapped up the third seed in the playoffs. The win gave Denver the AFC’s final wild-card spot.
The Broncos were eliminated a week later by their future quarterback.
BY THE NUMBERS:
—18: Number of times teams met in the last game of the regular season and first game of postseason, according to STATS.
—1943: Year of first such a meeting. The Giants beat the Redskins 31-7 before Washington beat New York 28-0 in the playoff rematch.
—3: Number of back-to-back meetings in the 2009 season. While Arizona split with Green Bay, the Dallas Cowboys won both matchups with the Philadelphia Eagles, and the New York Jets won both games against Cincinnati.
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