On the second day of the new year, the Vikings and Green Bay Packers will play at Lambeau Field in single-digit temperatures. Fans will huddle in the stands in winter hunting gear. Snow may swirl.
The setting will evoke Packers lore and the rivalry's historic heft. The game itself may cause or signal change, or turn into a living scrapbook commemorating change that should have been recognized as inevitable.
Theoretically, in a world where math is disconnected from reality, these teams could meet again at Lambeau in two weeks, if the Vikings win and secure the seventh seed in the NFC playoff bracket and the Packers fall from the first to the second seed.
With Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins missing the game because he's unvaccinated and infected with COVID, the more realistic scenario is this:
The next time these teams play there will be a new head coach on one sideline, a new general manager running one of the teams, and one or two new starting quarterbacks.
A rivalry defined for decades by the Packers' quarterback stability and excellence and the Vikings' desperate attempts to find temporary equalizers at the position could, next fall, feature Jordan Love facing Kellen Mond.
Or two quarterbacks remindful of Case Keenum could fill in while both franchises try to develop successors.
If the Philadelphia Eagles (at Washington) and Packers both win on Sunday, the Vikings will be eliminated from the playoffs. While no one should pretend to know what the Wilfs are thinking, a loss would give the Vikings a record of 14-19 since their playoff victory at New Orleans following the 2019 season, with just one meaningless game remaining in this season.
The guess here, and most places, is that the Wilfs would shuffle General Manager Rick Spielman away from player personnel decisions and fire head coach Mike Zimmer.
To put it another way: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers could culminate his long and respectful duel with Zimmer by ending Zimmer's head coaching career.
Zimmer has fared so well against Rodgers, relative to most head coaches and defensive tacticians, that even as the Vikings have failed miserably over the last two seasons, they enter this game with a two-game winning streak over the Packers.
Since Nov. 1, 2020, the Vikings are 2-0 against Green Bay and 11-12 against the rest of the league.
If Zimmer can stretch that winning streak to three, he could cost Rodgers and the Packers home-field advantage in a possible NFC Championship Game appearance.
Sunday could mark Rodgers' last appearance in the Vikings-Packers rivalry. He could retire, force a trade, or become a health-care provider specializing in leeches and rabbit feet. I could quote Rodgers here, but after his disinformation campaign and lies about COVID, and his disinformation campaigns about his own future, no one should ever again listen to anything he has to say on any subject.
If the Vikings don't salvage a playoff berth and do enough in the postseason to salvage the jobs of Spielman and Zimmer, the Wilfs will be hiring someone to reassess their quarterback position.
If the Vikings lose Sunday, Spielman's decision to bet big money on Cousins will become the most costly decision he ever made.
Combined, the Vikings and Packers have appeared in four of the last five and five of the last seven NFC Championship Games, losing in each of those. Of course, this is like saying the DiMaggio brothers combined to hit a lot of home runs.
The Vikings have just one of those appearances — when they lost at Philadelphia, 38-7, following the 2017 season.
That appearance prompted Spielman to acquire Cousins and try to keep his best veteran players under contract.
All that money and hope invested in Cousins and his expensive teammates has led to this:
Sunday, Rodgers and the Packers could ensure a second straight losing season and a winter of change for their rivals from the West.