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With rise of Bears, Vikings-Packers fighting simply to stay in NFC North race

EAGAN, Minn. -- After the Vikings and Packers tied 29-29 in Week 2 at Lambeau Field, talk turned to the Week 12 rematch that many figured would decide the NFC North.

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Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) rushes with the football after catching a pass during overtime against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Sept. 16. Jeff Hanisch / USA TODAY Sports

EAGAN, Minn. - After the Vikings and Packers tied 29-29 in Week 2 at Lambeau Field, talk turned to the Week 12 rematch that many figured would decide the NFC North.

After all, the two teams have combined to win the past seven division titles and there was no reason to believe that another team would be in the race.

But a lot has changed the past couple of months. The Chicago Bears (8-3) have taken over the division lead, and Sunday night’s rematch at U.S. Bank Stadium between the Vikings (5-4-1) and Packers (4-5-1) has become almost an elimination game in the division race.

“I definitely didn’t expect to be sitting where we’re sitting, but our record is what it is,” Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “Obviously, Minnesota has a strong team. They’re probably surprised where they’re sitting as well. So I don’t think either of us is out of the division race.”

The Vikings lost a key game 25-20 at Chicago last week. The Bears, who beat the Lions 23-16 on Thursday in Detroit, have a much easier schedule to close the season than Minnesota.

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“You get what you earn,” Vikings running back Latavius Murray said. “We’ve earned our record. Green Bay has earned theirs, and the Bears have earned theirs, so you can’t be surprised (by the division standings). You’ve got to respect what every team has done, and so I just know we can be a lot better.”

The Sunday, Nov. 25, game is decisive for both teams. The winner will claim the season tiebreaker and be in second place in the NFC North.

“It’s an important game,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “I clearly understand everything that goes into this.”

Both teams struggled after that Week 2 overtime game played in 80-degree heat. The Vikings dropped two straight, and the Packers lost two of their next three.

“The length of the game … really affected our team probably the next couple weeks just because we had a number of injuries come at us the following week or two and I think that game played into it because we played a lot of football that day and it was hot,” McCarthy said.

The Packers played that day with a hobbled Rodgers. He suffered a sprained left knee in Week 1 against the Bears, although he was able to lead a dramatic comeback win.

“I feel a lot more mobile (now),” Rodgers said. “Obviously, I’m not wearing the brace anymore. I was in the shotgun or pistol the majority of that game, I think just about all that game, so it’s nice to be able to move around like I’m accustomed to.”  

Rodgers completed 30 of 42 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown in his duel with Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who completed 35 of 48 passes for season-high totals of 425 yards and four touchdowns.

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Asked about Rodgers regaining his mobility, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer cracked, “He looks like his old self, unfortunately.”

Still, the Packers are 0-5 on the road. Their schedule has been brutal. Three of the road losses were to division leaders New England, Washington and the Los Angeles Rams and one was at Seattle.

The Vikings also have lost on the road against the Rams. And following Sunday’s game, they have consecutive games at New England and Seattle.

“This is playoff season for us,” the Vikings’ Sheldon Richardson said. “That’s how you’ve got to approach it. From here on out, it’s playoff season until we can’t play any more.”   

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