For the second year in a row the Vikings travel to Detroit for a holiday matchup with the Lions and once again, the game figures big in terms of playoff implications.
The Lions defeated the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium in week four but the tides have shifted somewhat. Minnesota has figured out how to produce without running back Dalvin Cook and the Lions are a team that plays both ways as well as anyone.
So how do the Vikings’ and Lions’ rosters compare in this NFC duel?
Case Keenum has been money all season but there remains a ceiling to his production. Whether he has reached that is to be seen but he just cannot compare to the raw ability and overall production of Matthew Stafford.
Neither team’s backs are overly productive; in fact, they both use their two-back system in similar ways. Latavius Murray and Ameer Abdullah get more carries but have been somewhat disappointing and Jerick McKinnon and Theo Riddick are the spells who provide a lot of catches out of the backfield. Slight edge goes to Minnesota as Murray is on a relative hot streak, coming off a two-touchdown performance.
We say it every week: there is not better one-two punch at receiver than Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
We are up to six straight games of at least five catches now for Kyle Rudolph. Eric Ebron has been a bit of a disappointment this year after a good 2016 and Darren Fells has just 13 catches, four of which came against the Vikings eight weeks ago.
Matthew Stafford has been sacked 33 times this season. Case Keenum has been sacked five. Case closed (no pun intended).
Detroit’s starting ends Ezekiel Ansah and Anthony Zettel combine for 10 sacks in 2017, the same number Everson Griffen has by himself. Simply put, the Vikings boast the most fearsome defensive line in the NFC and one of the two best in football.
Tahir Whitehead and Jarrad Davis are two solid linebackers but they do not bring the brand of athleticism and versatility that Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks provide. Very few linebacking corps do.
This is a very close battle. The Vikings are used to having the best secondary by a landslide but Darius Slay and Glover Quin are so good that they give Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes and company a run for their money. Assuming Rhodes and Andrew Sendejo are healthy, the slightest advantage goes to Minnesota but Detroit boasts a dangerous group here.
Kai Forbath just had his worst game as a Viking, missing a pair of makeable field goals. But overall, the Vikings kick return and coverage are among the league’s best.
That being said, Matt Prater’s elite leg is an ultimate trump card in a game that figures to be fairly competitive throughout. Because of that, we will call this a wash.
Just like in week four, the Vikings are overall the better team. They are coming off their most impressive win of the season, they are clicking on both sides of the ball and are staring a first round bye in the face. The problem is that the Lions are hot themselves and, frankly, the Vikings have not fared well against Detroit of late.
This game will likely be sloppy given the nature of Thursday games in general and the fact that both teams have strong defenses. This will be decided in the fourth quarter, just as it was a year ago but this time, the Vikings come out on top in this key NFC North matchup.
Prediction: Vikings 20, Lions 17