EAGAN - It’s only Week 2, but it’s already rivalry week for the Minnesota Vikings.
A pair of 1-0 teams meet at Lambeau Field in Green Bay Sunday afternoon with a pivotal NFC North Division game on the line. It’s a game that always features fodder among neighbors, wagers among co-workers and bragging rights until the two teams meet again in Week 16 on Monday Night Football at U.S. Bank Stadium.
For now, the Vikings are looking to build off a 28-12 win over the Atlanta Falcons. The importance of Sunday’s game, the first this season against a division rival, isn’t lost on head coach Mike Zimmer.
“You know when I first got here this was a team you had to beat every time in order to get to the top of the division so I don’t think that’s changed any. I think I’ve had to learn throughout the six years or whatever how big the fans treat this,” Zimmer said. “We always pretty much approach it the same way. They’re a really good football team. In order for us to do what we have to do, we need to beat them.”
He’s only been with the Vikings for two games in the rivalry, but quarterback Kirk Cousins compared it Wednesday to college rivalries. Specifically, his days as a Michigan State quarterback against Michigan. After all, it's a border battle.
For at least one week, friends become enemies and neighbors may not speak to each other until after the game is over.
“You may have neighbors down the street who are Packers fans, and vice versa. That makes it special. It reminds me of the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry, where it was family against family, brother against brother a little bit,” Cousins said. “That certainly is the feel here too.”
Dalvin Cook, fresh off scoring two touchdowns last Sunday, described the rivalry as “intense,” and a game you want to win. It’s pivotal for the division standings, and the route to the NFC North title typically goes through Green Bay.
That’s especially true as long as Aaron Rodgers is leading the Packers’ offense.
“It’s intense, it’s a game that’s in our division and it’s another game that we want to win. We know the tradition of the game, the coaches of the game, it’s an intense week,” Cook said. “It’s another football game that we want to win.”
If there’s one player who is ready to face a divisional opponent, it’s wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Since 2015, no player has more receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns against NFC North opponents.
He had a big year against the Packers last season. In the two meetings, he had a combined 205 yards and three touchdowns on 17 catches. That includes nine catches for 128 yards and two scores on 13 targets in the 29-29 tie at Lambeau Field.
He’ll be ready for Sunday, and he says beating a division rival early can help the Vikings build their identity.
“You want to win and win at a high level. You try to say it’s like any other week, but you know how it is,” Diggs said.
One of the big questions leading into Sunday is how will the Vikings’ offense look at Lambeau Field? The simple answer is we don’t know yet, and we won’t until kickoff.
The Packers’ added defensive talent in the NFL Draft and in free agency, and allowed just three points in a Week 1 win over the Chicago Bears. The Vikings know they want to run the football and control the line of scrimmage, but they even exceeded their own standards with 38 carries for 174 yards and three rushing touchdowns in the win over the Falcons.
Cousins only had to throw 10 passes, and complete eight, for 98 yards and one touchdown. In last season’s overtime tie at Lambeau Field, Cousins threw 48 times, completing 35 of them, for 425 yards and four touchdowns. In the 24-17 win at U.S. Bank Stadium, he was 29-of-38 passing for 342 yards and three touchdowns.
So which offense will it be?
“I have no idea. I don’t really know what we’re going to look like, what we’re going to be. Every game calls for something different usually, and you have to put together a larger sample size than one game to really know what we’re going to look like or how we’re going to try to challenge defenses,” Cousins said.
Zimmer said as much Wednesday, but noted having a multiple score lead in the second half against Atlanta dictated running the ball.
“Each game is different. We didn’t go into last week’s game saying we were going to throw it 10 times. Maybe we’ll throw it 48 again. I don’t know, we’ll see. We’re going to do whatever we need to do to win,” Zimmer said.
Cousins doesn’t have any issue with a limited pitch count, if it means they’re running the ball well and playing top-notch defense to win games.
He knows if he’s throwing 48 times like he did at Lambeau Field last season, it’s likely because they’re playing catch-up.
“I have no interest in dropping back 50 times if we don’t need to. I’d like to win the way we did last week if that’s the way it can happen. I’ll play whatever game is called, whatever game we need and all that really matters is that we find a way at the end to win,” Cousins said. “I’m not going to nit-pick or look at any of the steps along the way to get there, let’s just win.”
It’s rivalry week, and winning is all that matters.