For the second straight year, the Vikings have been saddled with playing a Thanksgiving game in Detroit. Obviously, they cannot be too upset by it, given the Lions play a holiday game every year but the fact that it, once again, comes in the midst of a playoff race has to ruffle some feathers.
Last year, the Vikings were 6-4 on Thanksgiving, in good position for the postseason despite a rough patch, losing four of the previous five. But a fourth quarter lead fell by the wayside after a late Sam Bradford interception led to a game-winning Matt Prater field goal and a Lions victory.
That loss and the loss to Detroit in week four of this season should give Thursday’s game a little extra stank for Minnesota. They are in better position than they were in either of those games; at 8-2, they are the second seed due to six NFC wins and a win over the other 8-2 team, the Saints. The only team in all of football that can match their level of completeness right now is the Philadelphia Eagles.
But the Lions are playing fairly well themselves. They have won three in a row, granted, against weaker opponents, but their offense is firing right now. Matthew Stafford has found a groove, putting up at least 27 points in each of the last three games, two of which were against good defensive teams. He is currently top-10 in touchdowns, yards, yards per attempt, yards per completion and completion percentage.
Stafford is a comparable quarterback to Kirk Cousins, who was able to hang 30 points on the vaunted Vikings defense. That being said, the Vikes just held the highest-scoring team in football to seven points, by far their most impressive win of the year. So both sides are coming in hot.
So what is at stake? Well frankly, this is a classic inflection point game. The Vikings are in the driver’s seat in the NFC North, two games up on the Lions. Detroit is in decent position for a Wild Card win or lose, so two teams from the division could very well end up in the postseason regardless of the outcome. However, a Viking win would all but bury the Lions division hopes; Minnesota would be three games up with three intra-division wins. But if Detroit pulls out the win then the season could take a dramatic turn. As we have discussed multiple times, the Vikings have some tough road games to look forward to and entering that stretch with just a one game hold on the North? That is tenuous at best.
The Lions have somewhat had the Vikes number as of late: Minnesota is 3-6 against them since 2012. But the Vikings defense has had everyone’s number all season.
This is not a must-win for Minnesota per se, more of a game of convenience. Their path to the playoffs is much clearer if they do their business in Detroit on Thursday. But they should be a playoff team regardless.
A full preview and predictions for this game will be up tomorrow so stay tuned.