Passion Will Key Face-Off With Familiar Foe


One day after the field of NFL teams vying for the Lombardi Trophy was whittled from 32 to 12 for postseason play, Green Bay Packers GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman met with the media for the first time since learning that his team's opening round playoff opponent will be quite a familiar foe.

For the third time in a span of less than two months, Sherman's team will be facing off with NFC North Division rival the Minnesota Vikings, although it will be the first time the two will have gotten together in the postseason despite 87 regular season meetings over the past four decades-plus.

After prevailing twice over the Vikings during the regular season - each time with a last-second Ryan Longwell field goal propelling the Packers to 34-31 victories, Sherman is confident Sunday afternoon's clash will feature more of the exciting brand of football the Lambeau Field fans have come to expect from these two teams.

"Not necessarily," Sherman responded when asked if he would have rather faced a team that might not be so familiar with the Packers' tactics. "I think it will be an exciting afternoon at Lambeau Field. Not only are we playing a playoff game at home, but against one of our top division rivals. Every time we play them (it's a) great ballgame, so it should be exciting."

Sherman said he doesn't expect to make many alterations to the gameplan that was successful for the Pack in their division-clinching win at the Metrodome 10 days ago. He doesn't expect many differences from Mike Tice's Vikings troops either, and he thinks that the trip to the Divisional round of the playoffs will be won by the players on the field, not by the coaches on the sideline or in the booth.

"I don't know how much you really can change," said Sherman. "That's the beauty of this ballgame. Because we've played so recently, we're not going to put in new schemes, necessarily. We always have tweaks that we add each week - different wrinkles, particularly on offense as we even did in the Bears game.

"But this game is going to be won not by scheme, but by players on the field. Everybody's going to know what to do, they're going to know where they are. It's players battling it out."

As far as which players he will have available to him to battle it out on the field, Sherman ran through the list of injuries from Sunday's regular season finale at Chicago and estimated that his team should be near full strength when they begin their playoff push next weekend.

The most glaring concerns from the game, tight end Bubba Franks and wide receiver Javon Walker - who left the Bears game in the second half with a knee contusion and a blow to the head, respectively, are both expected to be ready to go when the Packers return to the practice field Wednesday.

Also listed by the coach were Najeh Davenport (shoulder), Steve Josue (hip), Vonta Leach (shin/ankle), and Paris Lenon (elbow). Sherman hopes to have all of them able to play Sunday.

After keeping up the momentum his team has built with victories in each of the last two weeks, Sherman feels his Packers are in the right mental and emotional state to continue their hot streak, and that's what he feels could make the difference against the Vikings, who come into the playoffs limping off of back-to-back losses.

"In order to win a playoff game or a championship-type game, you have to have passion," Sherman said. "You have to have a will to win. I think at this point of the season, the passion and your will to win takes over, because most of the teams that get into the playoffs are very equal.

"We've beaten Minnesota twice, but only by three points. So we're very equal in talent. It's going to be passion that makes the difference between the teams in the playoffs."

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