Whether you love him, hate him or are saddened that he has so much trouble finding endorsements, you need Aaron Rodgers in your life.
The simplistic notion of angels and devils sitting on either shoulder, offering conflicting advice, should be replaced by tiny Favres and Rodgerses, the former telling you to go with your gut instincts and the latter acting as your personal deep-throwing Deepak Chopra, your big-armed Stuart Smalley, telling you everything will be just fine if you only believe.
In 2014, Rodgers responded to the Packers’ 1-2 start by spelling the word “relax.’’ His team finished 12-4 and should have made it to the Super Bowl, if not for a bizarre NFC title game finish at Seattle.
This season, he responded to another midseason mini crisis by saying the Packers were good enough to “run the table.’’ The table is being run.
On Saturday, the Vikings will try to avoid being the 8-ball as Lambeau Field plays the role of corner pocket.
Order or at least normalcy has been restored to the NFC North, and that is not good news for the team in purple that thought it was establishing a new hierarchy.
The Packers have won eight of the 14 NFC North titles since the old NFC Central passed, with the Vikings and Bears splitting the other six.
No team other than the Packers has won consecutive division titles since Favre helped the Vikings to their second in a row in 2009, and the Packers had won four straight before the Vikings clinched the title with a victory in Lambeau last winter.
The Vikings began this season with five straight victories, making them 17-5 in their last 22 regular season games at that point. The Vikings had also won their last two against Green Bay while Mike Zimmer’s reputation for shackling Rodgers grew.
As the Packers meandered toward 4-6, coach Mike McCarthy felt obliged to defend his résumé, and Rodgers looked uncertain at best. At that point, he was being outplayed this season by Matthew Stafford and Sam Bradford, just as the Packers had been passed by the Lions and Vikings in the standings.
Today the tenor of the Vikings-Packers rivalry is far different from the last time they met.
Adrian Peterson, the Vikings’ best player over the past decade, may never wear purple again. The Vikings roster, which looked like the best in the division as recently as October, has been strafed by injuries, exposing a lack of depth and too few contributions from too many first-round picks.
Zimmer had his offensive coordinator walk away, had his most visceral motivational ploy backfire when the strategic placement of stuffed animals preceded a losing streak, and is coming off a game in which his defense played like unheeded cats.
Meanwhile Rodgers has reasserted himself as the best and most important player in the division, if not in all of football, even while managing a calf injury and incorporating a wide receiver as lead running back. And suddenly McCarthy is not spending news conferences reminding everyone that he has won a few games.
With their playoff hopes reduced to lottery-ticket hope, the Vikings will play today not for something so clichéd as “pride’’ but in an attempt to remind the Packers that they present a clear and present risk.
A Packers victory might not mean much; they would still need to win in their last game against Detroit to be assured of making the playoffs, and the Vikings can accurately attribute their collapse mostly to poor health.
A Vikings victory, though, would carry some weight in the rivalry that has defined the division since 2007. A Vikings victory would add to Rodgers’ frustrations against Zimmer, and would give the Vikings three victories in a row against Green Bay, including two at Lambeau.
A Vikings victory would place them prominently in the Packers’ medial temporal lobe, might make McCarthy defensive again, and would make Rodgers look a little less of a shaman.
The Vikings have to wish the stakes were higher, but there is never not a good time for them to torment the most dominant franchise in the brief history of the NFC North.