Randall Cobb

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Vikings shut out Packers 16-0, keep eye on 1st-round bye

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Case Keenum stopped one last time before heading up the tunnel at Lambeau Field, clapping his hands above his head while Minnesota Vikings fans chanted “Skol! Skol!”

The Vikings’ defense felt right at home Saturday night in Titletown.

A 16-0 victory over the injury-depleted Green Bay Packers gave Minnesota its first shutout in nearly a quarter-century and kept the NFC North champions in the hunt for a first-round playoff bye.

Stefon Diggs caught a 4-yard pass from Case Keenum just inside the back line of the end zone in the first quarter for the only touchdown. The Vikings (12-3) have already clinched the NFC North and can secure a bye if Carolina loses or ties on Sunday against Tampa Bay.

“Defense played absolutely incredible today, and we did enough. It doesn’t matter how, it matters how many,” Keenum said.

The Vikings forced an incompletion into the end zone on fourth-and-4 from the 14 early in the fourth quarter to turn away the Packers’ last best effort to cross the goal line. Safety Harrison Smith ended another Green Bay drive with an interception at the Minnesota 5 late in the second quarter.

Minnesota left frigid Lambeau Field with its first shutout since a 13-0 win over Detroit on Dec. 5, 1993. It was the first shutout over the Packers (7-8) since Nov. 14, 1971.

The defense has “played pretty good all year long … Proof will be in the pudding here in a couple weeks,” said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, referring to the playoffs.

The Packers managed to hold a 239-236 edge in total yards. They were still shut out twice in a season for the first time since 2006.

“I never felt more defeated, more embarrassed by a performance. Yeah, we had opportunities, and we didn’t connect when we did,” receiver Randall Cobb said.

In its defense, the team fielded a lineup that often looked like one that coach Mike McCarthy would send out for a game late in the preseason. The Packers have already been eliminated from playoff contention.

Starting outside linebackers Clay Matthews (hamstring) and Nick Perry (ankle/shoulder) missed the game, along with cornerback Damarious Randall (hamstring).

Brett Hundley was 17 of 40 for 130 yards with two interceptions in taking over at quarterback again for Aaron Rodgers, who returned to injured reserve this week after missing seven games earlier in the year with a collarbone injury.

The Packers didn’t have leading receiver Davante Adams, who is in the concussion protocol, then lost wideout Jordy Nelson and tight end Richard Rodgers to shoulder injuries in the first half.

“Injuries are unfortunate. We had a lot of opportunities tonight. We didn’t make the plays,” coach Mike McCarthy said.

The hard turf at chilly Lambeau didn’t help either, with some players having trouble with footing early in the game. Unable to connect on medium-to-long range passes, the Packers’ best plays came when Hundley broke free for big gains on the run .

Not enough against the Vikings’ stingy defense.

FROZEN TUNDRA

Fans bundled up in parkas, huddled under blankets and sipped on free hot chocolate to stay warm. Purple-clad Minnesota backers celebrated in the stands on a night in which temperatures hovered in the single digits.

Diggs finished with five catches for 60 yards. Keenum was 14 of 25 for 139 yards.

“I’m not sure we played our best game tonight … We left some things out there offensively,” Zimmer said.

THE LAST TIME

The Packers were also shut out this season 23-0 by the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 19.

HOME DOESN’T HELP

Hundley finished the season having thrown no touchdowns and seven interceptions in six games at Lambeau, with the Packers going 2-4 in that span.

INJURY REPORT

Vikings: The team said that LG Nick Easton will have surgery after breaking his right ankle in the first quarter. … LS Kevin McDermott (shoulder) left late in the second quarter, with backup TE David Morgan taking over snapping duties.

Packers: RT Jason Spriggs was carted off the field with what appeared to be a left injury on the first play from scrimmage. Justin McCray, who was starting at right guard for Jahri Evans (knee), slid over to tackle with Lucas Patrick taking over at guard. … Besides Rodgers and Nelson, RB Aaron Jones (knee) also didn’t return after getting hurt in the first half.

“We battled … I hope everybody walks out of here with their heads held high,” Hundley said.

UP NEXT

Vikings: Finish regular season at home against the Chicago Bears on New Year’s Eve.

Packers: Wrap up year with a visit to the Detroit Lions, also on New Year’s Eve.

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Sunday wild-card matchups: Giants, Dolphins seek underdog payouts

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The anticipated Arctic chill could be more foe than friend of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, if their postseason track record at Lambeau Field is any indication. The Packers are listed as 4.5-point favorites against the Giants in the NFC wild-card matchup slated for Sunday at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

While Green Bay is 7-2 straight-up in their last nine home outings against teams with winning records, they are also only 2-6 against the spread in their last eight playoff games as home favorites.

The Giants, who are 11-5 SU and 8-6-2 ATS, have had protracted offensive struggles over the last month, although QB Eli Manning typically gets it together for the playoffs. Wide receiver Odell Beckham should also be good for a big play, or three, against a Packers defense that allows an NFL-worst 8.1 yards per pass.

The cold weather might mandate more use of the running game, which might bode poorly for the Giants since their offensive line struggles to control the line of scrimmage.

The Packers, who are 10-6 SU and 8-7-1 ATS, have a big X-factor with Rodgers’ ability to keep plays alive with his scrambling. While the Giants’ pass coverage is the most improved area of their team this season, it’s going to be tough to completely stymie Rodgers and the quartet of Jordy Nelson, Geromino Allison, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams.

For all their explosiveness, the Packers do have issues with dropped passes and failed red-zone visits. Cleaning that up would go a long way to preventing an upset.

Led by DE Olivier Vernon, the Giants are stout against the run. Green Bay also has an unimpressive running game.

With the weather and two pass-dependent offenses, it could be a low-scoring game. In fact, the total has gone under in five of the Giants’ last six games in the playoffs. The total has gone under in 10 of the Packers’ last 14 games at home.

In the day’s AFC wild-card matchup, the Pittsburgh Steelers are listed as 10-point favorites against the Miami Dolphins.

The Dolphins, 10-6 SU and 9-6-1 ATS, are counting on backup QB and first-time playoff starter Matt Moore, whose efficiency declines markedly when he faces pressure. While RB Jay Ajayi went off for 204 yards when the teams played in south Florida in October, the Dolphins stand to encounter frigid weather and a firmer Steelers run defense.

While WR Kenny Stills and slot WR Jarvis Landry are a tough combo, Miami might be hard-pressed to extend their trend of being 13-4 ATS in their last 17 games as a double-digit underdog.

The Steelers, who are 11-5 SU and  9-6-1 ATS and have far better odds to win Super Bowl 51, have the triplets – QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le'Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown – together in the playoffs for the first time.

Roethlisberger was injured in that October defeat in Miami, but this time it is the Dolphins defense that is nicked up, with top CB Byron Maxwell (ankle) struggling to get healthy by game time. Strong safety Bacarri Rambo (undisclosed) is also doubtful.

The total has gone over in three of the Dolphins’ last four games against the Steelers.  The total has gone over in 22 of the Steelers’ last 28 games in January. The favored team is 3-7-2 ATS in the last three years in wild card games. Wild card games are 3-12-1 over/under in the last four years.

After Rodgers’ Hail Mary forces OT, Fitzgerald gives Arizona win

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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) After being forced into overtime by another Hail Mary from Aaron Rodgers, the Arizona Cardinals wasted no time calling for the “Hail Larry” to get to the NFC title game.

On the first play of overtime, Carson Palmer spun away from a defender and throw across his body to an uncovered Larry Fitzgerald. The 32-year-old darted through tacklers for 75 yards as the screaming Cardinals fans finally drowned out the visiting Cheeseheads. He was tackled at the 5.

WATCH: Fitzgerald catches wide-open pass in OT, rumbles for 75 yards

On the next play, Palmer shoveled the ball to Fitzgerald who ran it in to give the Cardinals a 26-20 victory over the Packers Saturday night.

The stadium rocked with chants of “Larry! Larry!”

“As simple a word as `special’ is, it describes him probably the best,” Palmer said.

Fitzgerald, who still holds single-season playoff records set during Arizona’s Super Bowl run seven years ago, gave the Cardinals the signature plays that prevented what would have been a devastating loss for a team that has its sights on another trip to the NFL’s biggest stage. He finished with eight receptions for 176 yards.

“As an elder statesman on this team I just try to elevate my game and make plays for my teammates,” he said.

The Cardinals (14-3) play the winner of Sunday’s Seattle-Carolina game for the NFC title.

It can’t be any crazier than this one, which unfolded on the same field where the Cardinals beat the Packers in overtime 51-45 in a 2009 wild-card game and where Arizona routed Green Bay 38-8 three weeks ago.

“Losing in that fashion, especially with the offense pulling that out, another Hail Mary, is unbelievable,” Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews said.

Rodgers, in a play reminiscent of his final-play heave against Detroit this season, took the snap with 5 seconds to go in regulation, scrambled around and heaved it 41 yards to the end zone.

WATCH: Rodgers’ incredible Hail Mary to Janis that forces OT

Jeff Janis, a 6-foot-3 receiver pressed into extended duty because Green Bay’s top two receivers were hurt, outjumped defenders Patrick Peterson and Rashad Johnsonand clutched the ball to his chest as he fell to the turf in the silence of University of Phoenix Stadium, except for the Packers fans, who went nuts.

“I didn’t know where anybody was really,” Rodgers said. “I saw Jeff briefly and I just tried to put some air on it to give him a chance.”

Arizona won the overtime coin toss – after the referee declared the first toss hadn’t flipped – took the ball and scored a touchdown, denying the Packers a chance to touch the ball in the extra period.

“It comes down to a coin flip sometimes after a long hard-fought game,” Rodgers said, “back and forth, bizarre plays made by both teams and unfortunately it comes down to that..”

The Packers, already without wide receiver Davonte Adams, lost Randall Cobb in the first quarter to a chest injury. James Jones was neutralized most of the game with All-Pro Peterson on him, forcing Rodgers to go to Janis, who had seven catches, five more than he had all year.

A strange play had given Arizona a 20-13 lead with 3:44 to play.

Damarious Randall, who moments earlier had made a key interception in the end zone, deflected a pass intended for Fitzgerald and the ball sailed into the end zone into the hands of Michael Floyd for a 9-yard touchdown. Floyd also had an 8-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter, dragging his foot to stay in bounds and gather in Palmer’s high throw.

The Packers (11-7) took the kickoff but went nowhere and turned the ball over on downs, setting up Chandler Catanzaro‘s 38-yard field goal that put Arizona up 20-13 with 1:55 to play.

With 55 seconds left, Green Bay was pushed back into a fourth-and-20 at its 4. Rodgers scrambled and threw 60 yards to Janis at the 36. A penalty pushed it back to the 41 and Rodgers threw incomplete before getting off his last completion for the touchdown.

“That’s Aaron Rodgers,” Arizona linebacker Kevin Minter said. “I think it was No. 83 (Janis). Man, he made a play, didn’t he? It looked like they batted it down and he just made a great play. My (darn) jaw was on the ground.”

Rodgers completed 24 of 44 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Palmer, in his first playoff victory (in three tries) was 25 of 41 yards for 349 yards and three scores with two interceptions.

“It was a roller coaster on the sidelines,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. “You’ve just got to keep all your emotions in check and go to the next play. No matter what happened on the last play, you’ve got to go good, bad or ugly on the next play, and that’s basically what our football team did.”

Green Bay dominated statistically for much of the game, taking a 13-7 lead on Rodgers’ pass to Janis with 10:17 left in the third quarter.

“I can’t say we played our best game,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. “We didn’t play well. We didn’t do enough to win. We had a lot of things we needed to overcome and they just kept battling.”