Take a look at the NFC North standings early in the 2012 season, and you'll see something surprising. Instead of stalwart teams like the Green Bay Packers or upstart new young squads like the Detroit Lions - both teams who made the playoffs last season - you'll notice instead the Minnesota Vikings tied with the Chicago Bears at a record of 2-1. It's a shocking sight to see, as the Packers haven't had a record under .500 in years, and the Lions were showing such steady growth year after year. The Vikings, predicted by many to finish last in the division for the second consecutive year, now have better than a 50% chance to make the playoffs based on historical numbers.
And if you ask the Packers and Lions, that's just how they've set it up.
Mike McCarthy did all he could to make sure the Green Bay Packers lost their game Monday night to the terrible Seattle Seahawks. In the end, he had to pay off the refs to make sure they would award the game ending "interception" to the Seahawks player in the endzone. But it all had a purpose. "We're trying to get the Vikings into the playoffs this season" he said in a Tuesday afternoon press conference. "It's been so long since they've made it to the postseason, legitimately, on their own merit and without an 'assist' so to speak from former Packer players, that we just want to chip in and do what we can to make them feel a little better."
In Michigan, similar sentiments have been heard. The Detroit Lions did what they could in their Sunday game against the Tennessee Titans to come back and provide an entertaining product on the field for their own fans, but quarterback Matthew Stafford recognized that the game was getting too close. Near the end of the 4th quarter, he went to head coach Jim Schwartz and asked to be removed from the game under the guise of a mysterious shoulder injury. "I thought that would be enough to secure our loss and help the Vikings out in the divisional records," said Stafford after the game, "but then we tried this stupid hail mary play that worked, so we had to fake some 'draw them offsides' ploy for overtime. Luckily, that locked up the loss for us and helped get Minnesota some attention. Those poor bastards needed it, because they were really down for a while."
The gesture has not gone unnoticed. Minnesota Vikings athletic trainer Eric Sugarman says that the team moral has been way up compared to a year ago, even if the players are well aware of the generosity shown by the Packers and Lions. "Oh, we know what they're doing," Sugarman said as he sat rewatching the replay of the Packers and Seahawks final pass, "but what are we supposed to do? We can only take care of ourselves. Just handle your own business, have some others throw some games for you, and hopefully we'll make it back to the playoffs. I mean, should the team tell them to stop? No way.
"Besides, we have all this good will coming after putting up with Favre for two years, you know?"
*PS: Satire! None of these people actually said these things!