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Can't get any bigger for Pack versus Vikings

It happens twice a season and no matter the records, it's a big game.

So Sunday's NFC North Division tilt between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers will have more than just a rivalry tag on it when they kickoff at 3:25 p.m. at the Mall of America Field inside the Metrodome.

This is a long going emotional rivalry which has endured some huge games.

But this one ranges in the magnitude of the 2005 Wildcard game in Lambeau Field, where the Vikings pulled the 31-17 upset of the then Brett Favre-led Packers, but was overshadowed by then Vikes' wide receiver Randy Moss' mooning of the crowd after a 31-yard touchdown reception.

Vikes' fans can only hope for a repeated success Sunday, since its their team's unexpected playoffs hopes which are riding on it.

It's simple, if the Vikings win, they are in the playoffs as the No. 6 seed.

It's a notion which was thought impossible in late August when the Vikings were breaking training camp.

Coming off a historical worst 3-13 season, which tied the ugly Les Steckel season in the mid-1980's, the Vikings were looked to be in full rebuilding mode.

They were going to go with their second-year quarterback Christian Ponder as an evaluation season, while their best player running back Adrian Peterson was coming off a devastating ACL and LCL tear in the second to last game of the 2011 season.

The defense looked to be in evaluation mode, as well, with the unit looking to a few rookies needing to contribute and not to mention, depending on rookie Blair Walsh holding down the kicking duties.

What has happened over the course of the last 16 weeks has been short of a miracle in football terms.

Peterson not only showed he recovered in super-human time from his knee injury, he looked more motivated and even dare say it -- better -- then his previous five seasons.

He is on the cusp of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record of 2,106, as Peterson leads the NFL with 1,898 yards, a full 408 yards ahead of second-place Marshawn Lynch of Seattle.

Here are just a few very unexpected outcomes, besides Peterson's fabulous season, which will have come out of a remarkable Vikings' season:

• If the Vikings win Sunday, they will break the biggest one-season turnaround of seven wins, going from three to 10 wins. The previous mark, in which they already have tied, was from the 1997 nine-win team to the 1998 15-win one.

• The 2012 rookie class for the Vikings has probably contributed the most than any other team in the NFL. Consider left tackle Matt Kalil already being dubbed a top 10 player at his position and Walsh breaking the NFL record of nine consecutive makes from 50-plus yards, while missing only three field goal attempts all season.

Safety Harrison Smith has also shown the ability to be a dominant tackler/hitter, while being solid in pass defense, becoming one of the main cogs in the secondary.

Add in the solid contributions from cornerback Josh Robinson, H-back/tight end Rhett Ellison for his blocking skills and the late emergence of Jarius Wright to a ho-hum wide receiving corp. and this rookie class has the chance to be the best-ever in team history.

• Just the talk of playoffs is mind boggling in itself. Heading into the season, head coach Leslie Frazier was looked upon to be on the hotseat after a miserable 3-13 season.

Now, he's in the mix for NFL Coach of the Year, and deservedly so.

His hopes of a winning season looked as if they depended on the progress of Ponder, but with some stingy defense and the rushing of Peterson, that ended up not being so.

Lucky for Frazier, too.

Ponder has shown some of the promise of becoming the QB of the future, but there have been too many stretches of bad play, which have directly led to crucial losses.

But Ponder has salvaged his chances of holding onto that "future" tag with three consecutive good weeks of play, which in the end, have put the Vikings thick in the playoff hunt.

Now back to Sunday's affair in the Metrodome.

With the Vikings' playoff hopes riding on a win and Peterson's run for NFL history, don't think the Packers are playing for nothing.

If they win, they have the right to the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs, thus gaining a bye through the first round.

It's a nice carrot to chase, but in reality, not the end all for Green Bay.

They have already proven playing through the Wildcard round isn't so bad after winning it all two years ago.

On the other hand, their 15-1 season went for naught last year. That was when the New York Giants blew the Packers off the frozen tundra, thus making it the first 15-1 team to lose in the Divisional round.

So the Vikings have plenty working for them. First, it's at home, where they are 6-1.

Second, if Minnesota can control play and build a multiple possession lead, the Packers may mail it in and play it safe for the playoffs.

Which ironically, might be the Vikings at Lambeau Field for the first round of the playoffs, since Minnesota will be No. 6 and the Packers No. 3. It would be only the second time the two teams have met in the playoffs.

The first being, of course, the Moon Over Lambeau.

But first things first for the Vikings -- win the next big one against the Packers Sunday.

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.