Wait a minute… this is "Packers Week," isn't it?
Yep, I just double-checked: the Vikings absolutely host the Packers at Mall of America Field this Sunday afternoon at 3:15.
Normally, Packers Week in Vikings territory is filled with back-and-forth taunting and braggadocio across the state line -- or in some cases even across the office or across the living room. The Vikings/Packers border battle is the biggest rivalry in Minnesota sports and one of the biggest in the NFL, but you'd never know it this week.
Whether by some odd design or coincidence, Vikings fans find themselves distracted by shiny objects in the days leading up to Sunday's showdown, namely: a new starting quarterback and the prospect of a shiny, new stadium.
Perhaps it's a good thing the focus is elsewhere. Frankly, the Vikings/Packers rivalry isn't really much of a rivalry right now. On paper it's a sizeable mismatch.
Just two years ago, during Brett Favre's first season with the Vikings, the intra-divisional feud was at its zenith. Who will ever forget that Bizarro-World Monday night in October of 2009 when Favre played as a Viking against the Packers for the first time? The buzz was off the charts and the prime time contest drew record ratings.
The Vikings swept the Packers in 2009 en route to the NFC Championship game. The Packers reciprocated in 2010, and one-upped the Vikes by sweeping them en route to a Super Bowl championship. The second game of the series in 2010 – a 31-3 blowout by the Packers at the Metrodome – was the final straw for Brad Childress. It also signaled a hiatus in the heated rivalry.
Vikings/Packers will become a true rivalry once again, in time, provided the Vikings get a new stadium in the Twin Cities rather than relocating to Hollywood.
(Side note: by mentioning a new stadium not once, but twice, I have virtually ensured that at least 95 percent of the comments below will not be about the Vikings/Packers, but will instead be anti-stadium rants.)
For now, however, even the most ardent Vikings fan can't boast with a straight face that they have a shot of beating the snot out of the Packers on Sunday. Yeah, I know, I know, "on any given Sunday…" but let's be serious. On paper, this doesn't look like much of a game.
Starting with that four-touchdown loss to the Packers last season, the Vikings have won just four of their last 14 regular season games. Meanwhile, including last year's postseason, the Packers have won the last 12 times they have taken the field. The Packers are the only undefeated team in the NFL right now and they lead the league in points.
So what's the worst thing that could happen for Vikings fans this Sunday? It's not another four- or five-touchdown blowout. I would argue the worst thing that could happen to the Vikings is having the Packers treat them like they did the Rams last Sunday at Lambeau Field. The Packers raced to a 28-3 halftime lead over the Rams last week, and then… stopped trying. They took the foot off the gas and toyed with the Rams in the second half like a dog plays with its food.
It was almost as if they felt sorry for the Rams so they showed some mercy. It was kinda sad.
If this Sunday's game gets that out of hand – if even the Vikings' hated rivals from across the border don't consider them as a serious enough threat to put forth a full, 60-minute effort – then this season will have reached a new low.
Vikings fans can only hope it doesn't come to that.