The adrenaline percolating through Winter Park was obvious Wednesday. It's the final week of the season, and the Vikings face a win-and-get-in home showdown against Green Bay this weekend. It's a game holding huge significance for a young team filled with players not used to being on this stage. Said fullback Jerome Felton: "In terms of importance and what's at stake, this game is No. 1 in my career. It's not even close. This one is so far No. 1, I don't even know what No. 2 is." Wait, there's more. Here's a trio of other things you should know:
1. If Sunday's showdown becomes a placekicking battle, the Vikings seem to hold a decisive advantage.
Rookie Blair Walsh has been so reliable all season that teammates admit they're occasionally forgetting to fully appreciate his leg strength. After all, Walsh has made 32 of 35 attempts this season, including all nine from 50 yards or longer.
Said quarterback Christian Ponder: "It's crazy. It's almost like at this point we're kind of taking it for granted. You're almost like, 'Ah, he'll make it.' And you go and sit down."
Sure, Vikings fans are well aware that a full season of kicking brilliance doesn't guarantee success in the biggest game of the season. (Insert your Gary Anderson trauma here.) But certainly the Vikings would rather have Walsh's confidence at full rather than have him dealing with a mental funk similar to the one Green Bay's Mason Crosby is in.
Crosby has missed a dozen kicks this season and is just 1-for-8 from beyond 50 yards. He has missed at least one field goal in nine of the Packers' past 11 games, and his ongoing struggles could easily become a trap door for a Super Bowl-caliber team.
Still, the Packers have opted for patience over panic. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said he weighs Crosby's slump with a full view of the kicker's talent, commitment level and performance over the long term.
"At the end of the day, we feel he's our best option," McCarthy said. "We believe in him. ... It's like anything. It's a mental approach. It's him staying confident in his swing mechanics."
2. Chad Greenway is the recipient of this year's Korey Stringer Good Guy Award.
Since 2001, the Twin Cities media has presented the honor to a Vikings player who is cooperative and affable with reporters. Greenway was chosen as this year's winner thanks to his consistent availability and honesty.
Greenway was presented with a plaque Wednesday and, as always, mixed humor into his acceptance. Three and a half weeks ago, after a 23-14 loss in Green Bay, the personable linebacker attempted to frame the importance of the Vikings' Week 14 home game with Chicago by asserting that everyone -- from coaches to players to scouts to fans -- had to up their intensity.
For the fans, Greenway suggested they get "super-duper drunk." "So drink liquor, not beer," he said in a colorful quip that then drew an inordinate volume of attention and criticism.
Predictably, Greenway has playfully steered around controversy this week. On Wednesday, he carefully stated multiple times that he wanted the home crowd this weekend to be "really loud." Which of course led to a follow-up question on whether he had any new advice to help the fans be, um, noisier.
"Yeah. Show up on time," Greenway said, smirking. "Be there. Be loud. And don't sell any tickets to anyone wearing green."
3. Since Oct. 8, Green Bay has been the hottest team in football.
The Packers left Indianapolis in Week 5 feeling glum, a 30-27 loss dropping them to 2-3 and into third place in the NFC North. Now? With nine wins in their past 10 games, they've already clinched the division and have a chance at a playoff bye.
The most recent triumph in Green Bay's four-game winning streak was last Sunday's 55-7 destruction of Tennessee. The Packers rolled to a 20-0 halftime lead, thanks to two takeaways, and limited Tenneesee to 96 yards and four first downs. Then Aaron Rodgers led five consecutive touchdown drives in the second half to build a 55-point advantage.
"All three phases are working together," linebacker Clay Matthews said. "This is not just an offensive team where the offense has to carry the entire team. We feel good about that."
|Cincinnati - WP: A. Simon||4||FINAL|
|Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Samardzija||1|
|St. Louis||1||Top 8th Inning|
|Milwaukee||5||Bottom 7th Inning|
|Toronto||2||Top 7th Inning|
|LA Angels||11||Top 6th Inning|
|Atlanta||1||Top 8th Inning|
|Baltimore||6||Top 6th Inning|
|NY Yankees||4||Bottom 6th Inning|
|Seattle||3||Top 7th Inning|
|Chicago WSox||0||Top 4th Inning|
|Minnesota||0||Bottom 4th Inning|
|Philadelphia||0||Bottom 2nd Inning|
|Houston - J. Cosart||9:05 PM|
|Oakland - S. Gray|
|San Francisco - M. Cain||9:10 PM|
|San Diego - T. Ross|
|Arizona - W. Miley||9:10 PM|
|Los Angeles - Z. Greinke|
|Montreal||2||3rd Prd 8:39|
|Aug 9 - vs. Houston||7 pm||X||27-13|
|Aug 16 - at Buffalo||6 pm||X||20-16|
|Aug 25 - at San Francisco||7 pm||X||34-14|
|Aug 29 - vs. Tennessee||7 pm||X||24-23|
|2013 regular season|
|Sep 8 - at Detroit||Noon||X||34-24|
|Sep 15 - at Chicago||Noon||X||31-30|
|Sep 22 - vs. Cleveland||Noon||X||31-27|
|Sep 29 - vs. Pittsburgh (in London)||Noon||X||34-27|
|Oct 6 - Bye|
|Oct 13 - vs. Carolina||Noon||X||35-10|
|Oct 21 - at. NY Giants||7:40 pm||X||23-7|
|Oct 27 - vs. Green Bay||7:30 pm||X||44-31|
|Nov 3 - at Dallas||Noon||X||27-23|
|Nov 7 - vs. Washington||7:25 pm||X||34-27|
|Nov 17 - at Seattle||3:25 pm||X||41-20|
|Nov. 24 - at Green Bay||Noon||26-26|
|Dec 1 - vs. Chicago||Noon||X||23-20|
|Dec 8 - at Baltimore||Noon||X||29-26|
|Dec 15 - vs. Philadelphia||Noon||X||48-30|
|Dec 22 - at Cincinnati||Noon||X||42-14|
|Dec 29 - vs. Detroit||Noon||X||14-13|