For the third straight season, the Green Bay Packers will play for the NFC North title in the regular-season finale.
Now it's the Minnesota Vikings' turn to see if they can unseat the Packers. Although both teams are already in the playoffs, the winner of Sunday night's game at Lambeau Field will capture the NFC North and the home playoff game that goes with it.
ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky and ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling examine the matchup:
Demovsky: Ben, I know the Vikings have some good pass-rushers anyway, but guys like Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Brian Robison have to be salivating after watching the Cardinals sack Aaron Rodgers eight times and Scott Tolzien once last Sunday. How worried should the Packers be about the pass rush?
Goessling: Rob, no doubt you remember Marshall Newhouse from his illustrious tenure in Green Bay. Packers fans are probably still trying to forget about him. Well, Hunter treated him like a speed bump a couple of times on Sunday night when the Vikings thumped the Giants. If the Packers are starting guys on that level -- like, say, Don Barclay and Josh Walker -- on Sunday night, it's going to be a problem. Not only are the Vikings getting pressure from Griffen, Hunter and Robison, they have a slippery inside pass-rusher in Tom Johnson, who is their fourth defensive lineman with at least five sacks. And now that Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith are back in the Vikings' defense, Mike Zimmer has his full complement of weapons for his blitz packages. Zimmer sent cornerback Captain Munnerlyn after Eli Manning five times on Sunday night, so he's not afraid to bring pressure from unpredictable places. Zimmer typically hasn't tried to heat up Rodgers that much, but he'll probably have a few things dialed up for Green Bay quarterback on Sunday. And if the Vikings rush with four as well as they did on Sunday, it might not matter. That's going to be a big factor in the game.
So too is the Packers' pass rush against the Vikings' shaky offensive line. The Packers will probably blitz Teddy Bridgewater quite a bit, as most teams do. What should the Vikings be looking for there?
Demovsky: Well, they shouldn't have to worry too much about Clay Matthews. I say that with a little bit of tongue in cheek, because while he remains the centerpiece of the Packers' defense, he's just not filling up the stat sheet much anymore. Not only has he only recorded just one sack in the past nine games, but he hasn't even been around the ball that much. He has only one assisted tackle the past two games. But back to the Packers' pass rush: Julius Peppers has been better than a lot of us expected at 35 years old, and the Packers pressure seems to come in bunches. I mean, how can a team have games with six and seven sacks and then go three straight without any? It's kind of like their season: a little all over the place.
Remember in 2012, when the Vikings beat the Packers in Week 17 and then had to play them again the next weekend in the wild-card round? We could be headed for the same situation. How will the Vikings handle that possibility (other than not losing their starting quarterback in between games this time)?
Goessling: Best game I've ever seen live. That 2012 finale had it all: Rodgers throwing darts; Adrian Peterson trying to break Eric Dickerson's record; Christian Ponder playing the best game of his career; and Jordy Nelson sticking challenge flags in his pants. What's not to like? If we get a showdown anywhere near that dramatic on Sunday night, NBC will be thrilled. As for the possibility of back-to-back games, the Vikings are planning to avoid it: If they beat the Packers and win the division, they'll play Seattle, not Green Bay, in the wild-card round. The only way we're headed for a rematch is if the Packers and Seahawks win on Sunday. In that case, we'll have to see how things play out this week, but I can't imagine the Vikings being as wide eyed in the moment as they were in November. I think they are excited about this matchup, and they have been good enough at learning from losses that a close defeat on Sunday night might set them up for a win the next week.
You have had almost an entire season to figure this out, so let's hear the answer: Has Rodgers' play slipped or is the Packers' offense struggling because he doesn't have the pieces around him to do what he has done in the past?
Demovsky: That's the $22 million question. I've asked that question of numerous scouts and coaches, and here's the basic consensus: The biggest issue is the lack of speed on the perimeter. That said, there's a trickle-down effect. Because he has to hold on to the ball longer, he's getting hit and sacked more. And because the Packers have fallen behind more, they've had to abandon the run more. And because Rodgers has fewer opportunities in the passing game, the ones he misses are magnified.
We all know the Packers' recent record against the Vikings -- 10-1-1 since Brett Favre swept his old team in 2009, lest anyone forgot. Would a win on Sunday truly be a changing of the guard in the NFC North?
Goessling: Boy, it's hard to know the answer to that at the moment. There's no doubt the Vikings have closed the gap, and they should keep getting better. But they're also relatively healthy, and it's hard to count the Packers out of anything in the future if Rodgers gets the offense operating at its usual level again. The Vikings' defense is going to be good for a number of years, but they've got some questions to answer on offense -- not the least of which is how long they will be able to give more than 300 carries to a running back who will be 31 in March. That said, I do think this will be the rivalry to watch for the next few years, simply because of how good Mike Zimmer's teams have been at slowing Rodgers down. It's possible we'll see these two teams fighting for the next few division titles.
The Packers are going to be limping into the playoffs, so it's hard to project a long postseason run for them. But this is the same team that won the Super Bowl in 2010 after it sneaked into the playoffs on a tiebreaker in the final week of the season. Is this group capable of anything like that, or do you expect the Packers to be headed for an early exit?
Demovsky: I wish I could remember what I was thinking at this time during that 2010 season. I have seen so much football since then that I can't recall -- or maybe I'm just too old -- but I'm fairly certain I wasn't making my Super Bowl travel plans to Dallas. I can tell you this: I haven't booked a ticket to San Francisco yet, either. Maybe it's because I just saw the Cardinals and they're fresh in my mind, but I can't see any scenario in which the Packers can go to Arizona and win a playoff game. They might be able to get there by a winning a wild-card game, but that's probably where things ends.