GREEN BAY – The schedule maker is either a genius or he’s clairvoyant.

For the third consecutive year, the NFC North title will be decided by a head-to-head showdown on the final day of the season. Against the Vikings on Sunday at Lambeau Field, the Packers will try to go 3-0 in those showdown games.

This is the way it’s supposed to be. If you can stop from complaining about the Packers’ passing game long enough to enjoy three hours of football, what you might find this Sunday is the essence of more than five months of work. This is why you lift all those weights.

The Vikings are the new kid on the block. They’re the division’s team on the rise. The Packers are the division’s standard-bearers.

Minnesota and Green Bay have long been rivals, but this rivalry is likely to go to a higher level with this game. Each team appears poised for long-term success. They’ll be back at each other next season, and possibly even before then.

Expectations are the difference between the two teams. The Vikings weren’t expected to win a division title in just Mike Zimmer’s second season as coach. Making it this far has Vikings fans feeling very good. In contrast, Packers fans’ expectations for this season were Super Bowl or bust, and the team’s struggles in the second half of the season have heightened stress levels in Wisconsin.

One game will decide the mood of two states divided by a river. A Packers win will claim a fifth consecutive NFC North title, and earn a home playoff game against either the Seahawks or the Vikings. Yeah, these two teams could do it again a week from now.

Here are 10 things the Packers have to do to beat the Vikings.

1. Do what you did – The game plan that worked in Week 11 should be the game plan this Sunday.

2. Run the ball – Eddie Lacy hit the 100-yard mark in that Week-11 game for the first time this season. It was one half of the formula for beating the Vikings.

3. Stop the run – The Packers held Adrian Peterson to 45 yards rushing. It was the other half of the Packers’ winning formula.

4. Make little plays – The Packers are struggling to make big plays in the passing game, so make the little plays, the ones that convert third down, sustain drives and help the running game dominate time of possession.

5. Sack the quarterback – The Packers sacked Teddy Bridgewater six times.

6. Protect the quarterback – Aaron Rodgers took a fearful beating last week in Arizona. That must not happen again.

7. Make them cheer – The sound of joy must return to this team.

8. Beat man coverage – Mike McCarthy says that’s the key.

9. Defend your turf – It’s Lambeau Field. It’s your house, and nobody comes into your house and pushes you around.

10. Play above the X’s and O’s – We’ve become too plan oriented. Let it rip!

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