The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers are just two years removed from playing a pair of games that essentially decided the NFC North in 2009, but the franchises couldn’t have veered in more different directions since then.
The Packers rebounded from two crippling losses to Brett Favre in ’09 to win the Super Bowl last season, and they’ve started 2011 with six straight victories. Green Bay is the last remaining undefeated team in the NFL and the odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl for the second consecutive season.
The Vikings, on the other hand, went through a circus year in 2010 which saw them stumble to a disappointing 6-10 record. Things haven’t gotten better this season under coach Leslie Frazier, as the Vikings are fresh off a 39-10 drubbing at the hands of the Chicago Bears which dropped them to 1-5.
But despite everything suggesting an easy path for Green Bay to get to 7-0 this week in Minnesota, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is standing firm that Sunday isn’t a game that his team will overlook on the schedule.
“We’re not overlooking the Minnesota Vikings, I can promise you that,” McCarthy said during his Monday press conference. “The Vikings are a different team in the Metrodome than they are on natural grass. Hard lesson this team has learned in years past.”
The Packers have won three of the past five games at the Metrodome, including a 31-3 win there last season. The two losses during that stretch came in ’09 when the Vikings beat the Packers, 30-23, on Monday Night Football, and in ’08, when Adrian Peterson’s late touchdown run gave the Vikings a 28-27 win.
The Vikings quarterback situation is as foggy this week as it was at times during the 2010 season, when Favre was hurt for most of the year. Minnesota has started 34-year-old Donovan McNabb, whom they traded for this past offseason, in each of the Vikings first six games. But he’s struggled mightily at times, and McNabb has just a 82.9 passer rating with four touchdowns so far in 2011. In the second half Sunday night, Frazier pulled McNabb in favor of rookie Christian Ponder, and the first rounder showed some poise behind the Vikings leaky offensive line. Ponder saw both his drives end with completions short of the sticks on fourth down, but he finished the night 9-of-17 for 99 yards and wasn’t sacked.
After the game, Frazier wasn’t ready to commit to either McNabb or Ponder as his starter for this week. A decision at quarterback is expected to be made by Wednesday.
McCarthy said the Packers will plan on facing both players.
“Anytime you are in this situation as a defense, you prepare for both Vikings quarterbacks,” McCarthy said. “That will be part of our preparation. We’ll be prepared either way.”
Ponder, a 6-2, 230-pounder from Florida State, was considered one of the draft’s most ready quarterbacks. The Vikings, in a somewhat surprising move, took him at No. 12 overall. But with only Joe Webb returning to the roster at quarterback, the Vikings made the move to bring in McNabb. In his one year with the Redskins in 2010, McNabb threw for 14 touchdowns and 15 interceptions but lost his job to Rex Grossman late in the year. McNabb did beat the Packers in Week 5, 16-13, as the Redskins rallied to win in overtime.
No matter who starts for the Vikings under center, the goal will be the same: Getting to 7-0. McCarthy made that week-to-week vision made known immediately after the Packers’ 24-3 win over the Rams on Sunday.
“We’re seven days away from 7-0,” McCarthy said. “That’s our message.”
As long as that patient, single-minded message rings true in the locker room each week, the Packers will be a tough customer to knock from the ranks of the undefeated.