Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s philosophy on whether to rest or play players in what others would call “meaningless” late-season games was shaped in part by a very bad experience as Bengals defensive coordinator five years ago.
“One lesson I got was when we were in Cincinnati the last game of the year [in 2009],” Zimmer said. “We were already in the playoffs. [The Jets] had to win to get in the playoffs. We didn’t play anybody, and we didn’t play very good. We got beat 38-0 [actually 37-0].
“And guess who we played in the first round of the playoffs. The Jets, in Cincinnati. They beat us again [24-14]. So that’s probably not going to be my approach. We didn’t play very well [in the playoff game]. And we played terrible in the last game of the [regular] season. I don’t foresee doing that.”
The Vikings play the Giants on Sunday night. By kickoff they will know whether they have clinched a playoff spot. A Falcons loss or a Seattle win and they are in.
And if the Packers also lose at Arizona in the late afternoon game, the Sunday night game will have no bearing on the Vikings’ playoff scenario. Win or lose, they would play the Packers for the NFC North title in Green Bay the following week.
Obviously, Zimmer will be smart with players returning from injury. The Vikings have three key defensive starters — nose tackle Linval Joseph (foot), free safety Harrison Smith (knee/hamstring) and linebacker Anthony Barr (knee/groin) — who are returning from injuries and a Pro Bowl running back, Adrian Peterson, who is battling ankle and shoulder injuries.
Zimmer won’t know the Packers-Cardinals final score before having to turn in his gameday inactive list 90 minutes before kickoff.
“If a guy is iffy, healthwise, and we’re already in the playoffs, then I may sit him for another week,” Zimmer said. “But there’s a fine line because I don’t want guys to be rusty going into Green Bay. And I don’t want to have bad momentum if we do get into the playoffs.”
Either way, Zimmer said he wouldn’t treat Sunday’s game like a fourth preseason game and sit all his starters.
“I think there’s a risk-reward,” Zimmer said. “You try to look at the big picture and make the decision based on that. But it’s not going to be wholesale [resting of players]. I will not do that.”
The Vikings put together two game plans early in the week in case Giants leading receiver Odell Beckham Jr. won his appeal of a one-game suspension. Beckham lost the appeal Wednesday, but the Vikings’ concerns about facing New York’s potent passing attack didn’t disappear.
Like the basis of all game plans, the Vikings identified the Giants’ core strengths. Without Beckham, what are those core strengths?
“That’s a good question,” Zimmer said. “He was a big factor in a lot of the things they did. He was kind of the go-to guy in a lot of crucial situations. Now, is it going to be [Shane] Vereen? Is it going to be [Rueben] Randle? That’s something we’re going to have to figure out as the game goes on.”
Barr is listed as having a knee injury on the official injury report. He missed the past two games because of a groin injury, but Zimmer said this isn’t a new injury.
“It’s a knee-groin kind of thing,” Zimmer said. “He’s fine. He’ll be all right.”
Barr was limited again in practice Thursday.
In other injury news:
• Peterson (ankle/shoulder) and tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle) did not practice.
• Tailback Jerick McKinnon (hamstring) was new on the injury list and was limited.
• Josh Robinson (concussion) returned to practice and was limited. Also limited were Smith, Joseph and defensive end Everson Griffen (shoulder).
• Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who was limited Wednesday for a noninjury reason, was taken off the injury report.