Jim Souhan
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The Vikings will play at Lambeau Field against Brett Hundley on Saturday. If that makes you happy, you might want to check your face paint for toxicity.

There are two prominent reasons for wishing Aaron Rodgers was healthy enough to play in this game: the Vikings’ playoff readiness, and the nature of this rivalry and sport in general.

Either is enough to make an intelligent fan wish that someone good and cocky enough to wear an imaginary championship belt was going to test the Vikings defense and taunt their players Saturday.

Start with the Vikings’ preparedness. They’ve spent most of the season overcoming daunting obstacles, whether injuries to Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook or a midseason schedule that threatened to exploit their perceived flaws.

After driving through an avalanche in November, the Vikings are following an industrial-sized snowplow through December.

Last week, they enjoyed a Bengal Bye. This week, they will face a one-man franchise without its one leading man. Next week, they will receive a Bear Bye.

The question is whether playing lesser competition will benefit them when it matters most.

Assuming the Vikings earn the first or second seed in the NFC, they will play in their first playoff Jan. 13 or 14. They will not have beaten a good team since Dec. 3. They will have lost their last matchup with a good team, Dec. 10 at Carolina.

Maybe the Vikings would benefit from the physical rest provided by the first-round bye. Maybe they will suffer from a lack of competition.

What is certain is that the Vikings may be on their way to a 13-victory season yet will not be able to say they beat Rodgers, and beating the Packers sans Rodgers is like beating the Cavaliers without LeBron James. You can’t really brag. You may not even be able to feign interest.

In terms of sheer entertainment, fans are being robbed of watching one of the greatest players in NFL history. This is like paying for a movie and finding out that David Spade is playing Batman.

The Vikings-Packers rivalry is one of the best in sports, unless you’re a television executive who believes that only the Eastern Seaboard and the Dallas Cowboys count.

And it’s not one of the best in sports because of Matt Flynn or Seneca Wallace.

Games between these franchises are special because of similarities and differences. The fan bases pretend to be diametrically opposed even while living next to each other, and in some cases with each other. The teams’ relative successes have been achieved with two different models.

The Packers have thrived because of two quarterbacks anyone else could have acquired, in Brett Favre and Rodgers. When the Vikings have thrived, they have done so with temporary solutions at the same position, the most successful among them being Favre, for one season, in which he took delight in beating his old team twice.

Rodgers’ absence makes the Vikings’ success this season a tad less impressive. It’s not that the Vikings wouldn’t have beaten Rodgers twice; it’s that we’ll never know, and we were robbed of two potentially epic games.

With Rodgers, Saturday night’s game would have felt like pro wrestling as directed by Martin Scorsese. Without him, this is Aug. 27: Try to win, keep your starters sharp, get them off the field as soon as possible.

Rodgers is 34. We have no idea how many more seasons he’ll play, or how healthy he’ll remain. He has proved himself to be even more efficient and multitalented than Favre, but there is no guarantee he’ll approach Favre’s longevity.

Whatever your view of Anthony Barr’s season-altering hit on Rodgers — mine is that it was both within the rules and ill-intentioned — that hit made a great rivalry irrelevant for a season, and erased two chances to watch a master at play.

That play made Saturday night’s task easier for the Vikings, but in sports ease is not always the goal.

Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib E-mail: jsouhan@startribune.com