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Minnesota Vikings: A critical game any way you look at it

MINNEAPOLIS -- It doesn't take the wisdom of a Bud Grant or the ghost of Vince Lombardi to understand what's at stake Sunday at Lambeau Field. No, we're not talking about Favreapalooza II. We're talking about the boring part. You know, the actual...

MINNEAPOLIS -- It doesn't take the wisdom of a Bud Grant or the ghost of Vince Lombardi to understand what's at stake Sunday at Lambeau Field.

No, we're not talking about Favreapalooza II. We're talking about the boring part. You know, the actual, um, game and what it means to the Minnesota Vikings (6-1), the Green Bay Packers (4-2) and the NFC North race.

A Vikings victory and the Packers presumably are buried. Finished. Kaput.

Right?

"I don't know about 'buried,'" Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. "But we'd be 7-1, (2ยฝ) games up on them and have the (head-to-head) tiebreaker. It would be hard for the Packers to come back from that. I'll say it like that."

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On the flip side, a Green Bay victory and the race essentially is a dead heat heading into the final nine weeks of the season. The Packers would have split the season series and be trailing the Vikings by a half-game with a chance to tie next week when they travel to Tampa Bay (0-7) while the Vikings have a bye.

"It's going to be electric," Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said of Sunday's game. "You're going to be able to feel that energy as soon as you step on that field. I think if you play this game, then that's what you love. You love to have a game like that where there's a lot on the line, of course for a lot of different reasons. Division game first and foremost, so it's going to be a lot of fun."

Never a dull moment

Of the past 14 games between the teams, 13 have been decided by seven points or less. Packers coach Mike McCarthy is a less-than-dominant 16-11 at home during the regular season, but against the Vikings and coach Brad Childress at Lambeau, he's 3-0, including a 34-0 victory in 2007.

The Vikings beat the Packers 30-23 at the Metrodome on Oct. 5 in an emotional Monday night game that marked Brett Favre's first game against the team with which he spent 16 seasons building a Hall of Fame career. Favre had three touchdown passes and no interceptions that night, while the Vikings defense sacked Aaron Rodgers eight times.

But despite the punishment behind a makeshift offensive line, Rodgers still made it a seven-point game by passing for 384 yards and touchdowns of 62 yards to tight end Jermichael Finley and 33 yards to receiver Jordy Nelson. The Vikings have gone on to allow a league-high 27 passes of 20 or more yards, including seven touchdowns, so they're vulnerable to Green Bay's deep ball.

Missing pieces

Nelson is out (knee) this week, while Finley, who caught six passes for 128 yards against the Vikings, is doubtful (knee). The Packers offensive line is still in flux, but McCarthy is encouraged by its performance in last week's 31-3 victory at Cleveland (no sacks) and the Packers will enjoy the home-field advantage this time.

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The Vikings also could be missing two key players from its victory four weeks ago. Cornerback Antoine Winfield, who had an interception and a game-high 11 tackles in the first meeting, is out (foot), while receiver Bernard Berrian, who caught six passes for 75 yards and a 31-yard TD, is questionable (hamstring).

"We just need to get to the bye at 7-1 and everything will be good," nose tackle Pat Williams said. "That's all we're thinking about."

If that happens, the Vikings will be tough to catch in the North. They return from their Nov. 8 bye to play consecutive home games against the Lions (1-5), Seahawks (2-4) and Bears (3-3). A 10-1 start and thoughts of a first-round bye in the playoffs would be expected, no matter what the Packers and Bears do after this week.

So, like we said, maybe a Vikings victory on Sunday buries the Pack.

"I definitely think it's on our minds," Vikings middle linebacker E.J. Henderson said. "I think coach Childress is preaching that to us every day that it pretty much can put us up (2) games with the tiebreaker. That's a little motivation.

"If he didn't want us to be motivated by it or know about it, he wouldn't have said anything about it. So I think it is motivation to go ahead and knock them out."

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