Vikings linebacker Ben Leber, left, and Darren Sharper force Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan to fumble after Ryan dove for the end zone last week. Sharper says he’s hoping Giants coach Tom Coughlin gives his starters some rest this week.AP PHOTO
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Technically speaking, the Minnesota Vikings do not have to beat the New York Giants on Sunday to get into the playoffs.
A loss by Chicago in Houston would also give the Vikings (9-6) their first NFC North title.
But Darren Sharper knows the Vikings can’t afford to rely on anyone else to do their work for them.
“It is up to us,” Minnesota’s free safety said. “We have control of our destiny. We have had that the last couple of weeks, but it all comes down to now. We can pretty much say that our playoffs start with this game on Sunday because it really does.”
The Vikings could have sewn up their first division title since 2000 last week with a victory over Atlanta. But they let that chance slip through their hands, losing four of seven fumbles in the 24-17 loss that has considerably ratcheted up the sense of urgency in Minnesota.
With the Giants already assured of the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, Sharper is hoping New York coach Tom Coughlin is in the giving mood when he walks into the Metrodome today.
“I want to line up with the practice squad players and maybe the third-teamers, if they have any third-teamers, and come out here,” Sharper quipped. “But it is easier to ask for than to have it be done.”
History is not on Sharper’s side.
The Giants were in a similar position heading into the final weekend of the regular season last year. They were already locked into a first-round playoff matchup against Tampa Bay, a status that couldn’t change no matter what they did against the undefeated New England Patriots.
With a far more important game against the physical Bucs looming, Coughlin could have rested many key players and yielded history to Tom Brady, Randy Moss and the Patriots.
But Coughlin isn’t one to yield anything.
With all their stars on the field, the Giants gave New England all it could handle in a 38-35 loss that ultimately served as the confidence-building springboard that catapulted them to a Super Bowl title.
“I think history will tell you that they’ll come in here and play their tails off,” Vikings coach Brad Childress said. “They want momentum as they go into the postseason. We don’t expect anything but their best shot, and all we want to make sure is we give them our best shot.”
Coughlin has played it coy this week with his intentions, mostly saying that he will “do what is in the best interests of our team.”
“No years are the same,” he said. “No situations are the same. This will be dealt with as it should be under the context of where we are.”
The Giants (12-3) do have some healing to do before they begin defense of their championship in the second round of the playoffs. Leading rusher Brandon Jacobs has been hampered by a knee injury in recent weeks and tight end Kevin Boss (ankle, concussion), defensive end Justin Tuck (leg), defensive tackle Fred Robbins (shoulder) and cornerback Aaron Ross (concussion) also are dinged up.
Quarterback Eli Manning, who has thrown eight interceptions in his last two games against Minnesota, would also be a candidate to have his playing time reduced considering the Vikings have one of the league’s top pass rushes.
“I think our focus is we are trying to go win a game,” Manning said. “We are going to get ourselves prepared just like we have every other week to go out there and play well and that is what my focus is. You are never worried about injuries. You are worried about going out there and trying to play well and win games and that is our same focus.”