Defense fuels sweep of Packers; Vikings one step closer to first-round bye

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With 2:51 remaining in the game, the Skol chant took over Titletown USA. Minnesota Vikings fans who traveled five hours to watch their team silence the crowd in Lambeau Field got an early Christmas present on Saturday night.

Minnesota recorded its first defensive shutout since 1993 when it beat NFC North rival Green Bay 16-0 in prime time.

Another dominant performance bolstered the Vikings case as the NFL's best defense from top to bottom. Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Hundley finished with a passer rating of 30.2 after throwing two interceptions and not being able to connect with his receivers in the end zone.

What it means: Well, it's a rivalry again. Mike Zimmer said this week that the Vikings were still trying to make the series with the Packers a rivalry because of how many times Green Bay had been on the winning end this decade. For the first time since 2009, Minnesota swept Green Bay in the regular season.

What I liked: Harrison Smith made Pro Bowl voters look silly for his snub to this year's game. The Packers got into the red zone for the first time just after the two-minute warning in the first half. On third down from the 15-yard line, Hundley dropped back and looked to throw a short pass over the middle. Smith, who was up near the line of scrimmage pre-snap, dropped back to cover tight end Lance Kendricks, who ran a skinny post about 10 yards before cutting up the middle of the field. Smith got in front of Kendricks at the last second and intercepted the pass for a 17-yard return. Smith picked off Hundley again late in the fourth quarter. In total, three of Smith's five interceptions this season have been against Hundley. It's no secret why he's ranked as the No. 1 safety by Pro Football Focus for the success he's having in arguably his best season to date.

The Vikings entered Week 16 as the No. 1 defense on third down, allowing teams to convert just 26.3 percent of the time. Minnesota held Green Bay to 4-of-15 on third down but, more impressively, stunted the Packers on fourth down, as they were 0-for-4.

What I didn't like: Maybe it had something to do with the cold temperatures, but the passing game wasn't as sharp as it has been in recent wins. Case Keenum was 14-of-25 for 139 yards with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs, but three drives stalled and resulted in field goals.

Fantasy fallout: Diggs now has seven touchdown catches, the most by a Vikings receiver since Sidney Rice in 2009. Latavius Murray totaled 69 yards rushing on 21 carries, and Jerick McKinnon picked up 42 yards rushing. Kai Forbath booted field goals from distances of 49, 20 and 27 yards.

Injuries galore: Minnesota's starting offensive line was intact for the first time since beating the Bears on Oct. 9. It was short-lived, however, when left guard Nick Easton went down because of a right-ankle injury at the end of the first quarter. Including Easton, three Vikings players were not able to return to the game after sustaining injuries Saturday night. Defensive tackle Shamar Stephen had to be carted off to the locker room after he injured his ankle late in the second quarter. Stephen was injured at some point on a play in which Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson caught a 25-yard pass, which was subsequently overturned when Minnesota challenged the catch. A late substitution caused the Vikings to be penalized for having 12 men on the field as the injured Stephen couldn't get off the field in time. Long snapper Kevin McDermott injured his shoulder with 27 seconds left in the first half and was ruled out shortly after the start of the third quarter.

What's next: The Vikings took care of business on their end. Now they'll wait for the outcome of the Carolina Panthers-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game on Christmas Eve to see whether they've clinched a first-round bye. Minnesota needed to beat Green Bay and have Carolina lose or tie against Tampa Bay to secure another portion of its postseason fate in Week 16. The Panthers are 6-1 since Oct. 29 and are a 73.6 percent favorite to win Sunday, according to ESPN's FPI. In its past seven games, Carolina is averaging 174.1 yards rushing per game, as opposed to 97.3 yards on the ground in the first seven games.