EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — By the end of Monday night, the Green Bay Packers‘ season could be lost for good.
The Packers (7-7) would be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention with two games remaining if the Atlanta Falcons (8-5 entering Monday) beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football. If that scenario plays out, there’s a chance Green Bay will decide to sit Aaron Rodgers when the Minnesota Vikings come to town on Saturday.
Rodgers returned in Week 15 for the first time since fracturing his collarbone. The Packers were defeated 31-24 at Carolina after an up-and-down day from Rodgers, who threw three touchdowns and three interceptions.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy was noncommittal about Rodgers playing in Weeks 16 or 17, but the Vikings anticipate seeing No. 12 when they travel to Lambeau Field.
“I feel like he’s going to play,” Linval Joseph said. “I feel like he’s got something to prove and I kind of want him to play because it’d be more of a challenge.”
Rodgers was injured in the Vikings last meeting with the Packers in Week 6. On Green Bay’s second series of the game, Anthony Barr tackled the quarterback to the ground where Rodgers broke the clavicle in his throwing shoulder. Exchanges of words from both sides, including McCarthy calling it an “illegal hit,” have fanned the flames of this already heated rivalry. Two months later, Barr is still receiving hate messages on social media.
Following the Vikings 34-7 win over the Bengals on Sunday, Barr said he expects the Packers to come out “guns blazing” in an effort to win this season’s rematch. The linebacker said he wasn’t sure whether he’d say anything to Rodgers when they meet again.
“I don’t know,” Barr said. “I haven’t really thought about it. I’ll see him on the field and whatever happens, happens.”
Joseph didn’t chalk up his reasoning for expecting Rodgers to play based on the Barr hit, but believes he’ll be under center if he’s healthy. Rodgers said just as much to reporters on Sunday that he’s expecting to play unless told otherwise.
“I just know that he’s a competitor and he loves this game,” Joseph said. “If he can play, he’s going to play.”
A year ago, the Vikings were in the spot the Packers are in now. At 7-7, Minnesota was on the verge of being eliminated from the playoffs before facing Green Bay in Week 16. The Packers had won four straight games and were in the hunt for the NFC North. The division title came down to the final week of the season against Detroit, a win that put the Packers in the playoffs at 10-6 with the No. 4 seed.
The biggest thing Minnesota had to play for was disrupting its rival’s chances at the postseason.
The Vikings have already punched their ticket to the playoffs by locking up the NFC North in Week 15, but they’re expecting the Packers best shot, especially if they have nothing to lose.
“I feel like any team that’s not in it, that should be their mentality,” Joseph said. “Be the spoiler. Be the team who has the opportunity to expose that team. Right now, we’re playing this game not to be exposed. We’re playing this game to win and just be dominant.”
The Packers offense was a different beast over the last 10 weeks with Brett Hundley at the helm. Mike Zimmer said the Vikings will prepare for both quarterbacks but assume Rodgers will play unless they hear otherwise. This is the first time all season Minnesota has had to prepare for multiple quarterbacks.
“I mean they’re still doing a lot of the same things,” Zimmer said. “I’ve only watched three games on them before I came down here. Some of the stuff is still the same and then there is some other things. I not going to get into the differences into those things. I mean Aaron Rodgers is an unbelievable great player, right? If somebody goes in he’s hard to replace, but they have a lot of similarities — rather than how great Rodgers is.”