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With division won, Vikings shoot for first-round bye

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum (7) passes in the third quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman Ryan Glasgow (98) Sunday, Dec. 17 at U.S. Bank Stadium. (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

The Sports Xchange

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings clinched their second NFC North title in three seasons, but their target point is much higher as they take their 11-3 record to Lambeau Field to face the 7-7 Packers on Saturday night.

Sunday’s 34-7 rout of the Bengals kept alive the Vikings’ hopes of a first-round bye followed by playing every postseason game — including Super Bowl LII — at U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

What say you, head coach Mike Zimmer?

“Honestly, we’re not focused on any of that,” he said Monday, a day after his defense held the Bengals to 161 yards and one third-down conversion. “We’re focused on Green Bay and trying to figure out how we can win another game. It’s a great rivalry and they’re an excellent football team and a great organization. We’ll have to play really good to win. If we don’t win this game and the next game, it really doesn’t matter about all that (bye and No. 1 seed) stuff.”

To clinch the NFC’s top seed, the Vikings need to win their final two games against the Packersand Bears, while Philadelphia loses its final two against the Raiders and Cowboys. Meanwhile, to secure the No. 2 seed and a bye week, the Vikings need one win and one Panthers loss.

Asked if he was concerned about his players letting down after winning the division, Zimmer pointed to the Dec. 10 loss at Carolina as the proverbial wakeup call that ended an eight-game winning streak.

“I think our players understand from two weeks ago that this thing (turns) really fast if something goes haywire,” Zimmer said. “That’s No. 1. No. 2, our guys are pretty smart, focused guys and I think they understand what’s at stake. No. 3, we’re still playing for seeding. We would like to play, if possible, every game at U.S. Bank Stadium. I know we’re going to get one, but we’re kind of greedy.”

Quarterback Case Keenum is 9-2 and will start against the Packers. But there’s a chance Teddy Bridgewater, who mopped up Sunday in his first action since his devastating knee injury in August of 2016, could start against the Bears if the Vikings have nothing to play for in Week 17.

The only way the Vikings wouldn’t have anything to play for in Week 17 is if they beat Green Bay, the Eagles beat the Raiders and the Panthers lose to the Buccaneers. They would be locked into the No. 2 seed in that scenario.

“Winning the division is a step in the right direction,” receiver Adam Thielen said. “But we have to win some more games.”