MINNEAPOLIS — Give this matchup a long, hard look. Break out every metric possible to aid the analysis. Dissect the matchups. Digest the stage and the stakes.
Vikings-Packers, 3:25 p.m. Sunday at Mall of America Field.
Playoff implications for both teams.
So what is it that most catches your eye? Do you see the hottest team in football, the one from Green Bay looking to record its 10th win in the past 11 games? Or do you sense the continuation of the NFL's most underrated underdog story, these Disney-movie Vikings who continue following the lead of a star running back and an always-positive head coach who have encouraged them to dream big?
If you're playing the odds, perhaps you'll take note that the official Vegas line on the game pegs the Packers as three-point favorites.
Then again, if you're playing the odds with the 2012 Vikings, you obviously haven't been paying any attention all year long.
The odds said a team that struggled to scratch out three wins in 2011 and then overhauled its roster would need more than a year to catapult back to relevance. Yet here the Vikings are one win away from sneaking into the playoffs — like a movie's made-over misfit who somehow lands the supermodel.
The odds said that running back Adrian Peterson wouldn't be anywhere near the same explosive playmaker after undergoing reconstructive surgery on his left knee last December. Logically, a 1,000-yard campaign this season would have been quite the feat. Yet here Peterson is on the verge of history, needing 102 yards to hit 2,000 and sincerely asserting he'll go for at least 208 to break Eric Dickerson's 28-yard-old single-season rushing record.
“In order to accomplish it,” Peterson said, “you've got to believe it.”
This is the Vikings' best player casually summarizing a team's contagious mindset, one that has been present for the first 364 days of 2012 and will be needed in full on Day 365. Who needs odds, right?
The odds said that when Jacksonville's Cecil Shorts hauled in a 39-yard touchdown catch with 20 seconds left in the season opener that the Vikings were doomed and that the thousands of dejected fans who flooded the exits at Mall of America Field were right to feel such “Here we go again” doubt.
Yet then an unproven second-year quarterback completed two passes for 32 yards in 10 seconds and a rookie kicker subsequently crunched a 55-yard field goal to force overtime. Where, of course, the Vikings won 26-23.
The odds said beating San Francisco in Week 3 was an outlandish aspiration. Yet the Vikings delivered a 24-13 pounding, a win that would have gone down as the season's most impressive before last week's 23-6 mauling in Houston.
The odds said that the Vikings' unnerving 23-14 loss in Green Bay on the first Sunday in December should have been the lever that released the trap door on a heartening season. After all, that was the Vikings' fifth stumble in seven games; it came a week after a lopsided 28-10 loss in Chicago, and it exposed passing game deficiencies rarely seen on the NFL level.
Yet the Vikings quickly cleared the frustration away and saw a bigger picture, one that allowed them to keep playing meaningful games so long as they just kept winning them.
Now? Since leaving Lambeau Field, they've trailed for less than five minutes, delivering dominant wins over the Bears, Rams and Texans.
“It was all a sense of urgency, I guess,” defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. “Plus, we've seen the flashes of how well we can play if we do what we're supposed to.”
Added linebacker Jasper Brinkley: “We know what we have inside this locker room. It's about guys with heart, guys who are not scared to take on all challenges. When you have a team full of guys like that, man, sky's the limit.”
Urgency and heart. Fearlessness and belief.
Consider them all intangibles against the odds.
Now assess Sunday's game. What is it you see?
Distributed by MCT Information Services