GREEN BAY—If they win, they're in, and a win would likely return the Vikings to Lambeau Field for a third-time's-the-charm game against the Packers.
The season will be on the line this Sunday for the Vikings, who'll host the Packers in a game that could produce the all-time NFL single-season rushing record, and effect a turnaround from a 3-13 season nobody predicted as even remotely possible.
"He'd get my vote," Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said when asked if he believes running back Adrian Peterson should win the league MVP trophy. "When you consider that he's coming off ACL surgery, for a running back, and to be dominating your position and leading a team that very few people thought would be playing its last game to go to the playoffs, a lot of it has to do with Adrian's success. Nobody has dominated the way Adrian has at the running back position. I don't think we'd be in this position if he hadn't had a monster season."
Peterson's monster season currently leads the league in rushing with 1,898 yards. With 208 yards rushing on Sunday, Peterson would set the all-time NFL record, and the Vikings might be able to ride that kind of performance into the playoffs and back to Lambeau Field for a rematch with the Packers. That's what a Vikings win would produce, unless the 49ers and Seahawks both lose.
The Packers are playing for the No. 2 seed in the NFC, which they currently hold. A Packers win would clinch the No. 2 seed and a bye on wild-card weekend. A Vikings win could pit the two teams against each other a week later.
Minnesota lost in Green Bay, 23-14, on Dec. 2. Peterson rushed for 210 yards in the game and the Vikings led 14-10 at halftime, but Christian Ponder threw two interceptions in the second half and that allowed the Packers to escape with the win.
"That was a tough day for us. We talked after the game about what we needed to do to right the ship. We've played better as a group," Frazier said.
Since then, the Vikings have reeled off three straight wins to bring them to a win-and-in game that could make them one of the league's playoff darlings. Last week, the Vikings scored an impressive 23-6 win in Houston, a rare win in which Peterson wasn't the Vikings' dominant force.
"He had a very good game against Houston," Frazier said of Ponder, who's played better recently than his 78.8 passer rating would suggest. "He made great decisions, he was very efficient with the football, was excellent on third downs, did a terrific job of leading our offense throughout. He's making the necessary strides at a critical time in this season. We think he's improving and he needs to have a great game this Sunday."
The Vikings defense also rose to the occasion and now sits at No. 16 overall. A defense that struggled mightily last season has effected a turnaround similar to what the Packers have done on defense this season.
"We're probably playing our best football this season through this month of December. That's exactly how you want to do this thing. You don't want to peak in September and October. You want to get better as the year goes on and that's what we're doing. I do feel good about where we are defensively," Frazier said.
The spotlight, however, will remain on Peterson. He's the player who's brought the Vikings to the brink of the postseason, and the TV cameras will be trained on him this Sunday as he attempts to set a new standard for running backs.
"I feel like I played with arguably the greatest to have ever played the position, but when (Peterson) had that 82-yard run at Lambeau, I thought about Walter (Payton)," Frazier said. "I've told Adrian this several times: He's the closest thing I've seen to Walter, because he has the power, he has the speed, the agility. He's a three-down back; he doesn't have to come off the field. I'd put him up there with all the greats that have ever played the position. He's not done. There's still more to be accomplished by Adrian Peterson."
Frazier said the game plan is about winning, not getting the record.
"We'll have to call a regular game. If the record comes in the middle of getting a win, that'll be great. Adrian would be the first to tell you the most important thing for our team is to win. If he doesn't get the record and we win, he'll be a happy dude. He wants to win the game and that's the way we're approaching it. We have to find a way to win the game," Frazier said.
A third meeting between the two teams?
"That would mean we won this game on Sunday, so I'd be a happy, happy camper," Frazier said. Additional coverage - Dec. 26