We have another extremely competitive matchup in the NFC North this week with the Detroit Lions set to host the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Minnesota (4-2) is looking to keep pace with division-leading Green Bay, while Detroit (2-2-1) is still smarting after a tough loss to the Packers on Monday night. The Vikings have won two in a row in impressive fashion. The Lions have lost their last two by a combined five points.
Detroit has been competitive all year and is arguably a couple of plays away from being undefeated. Minnesota already has two losses in the division so this is a critical game for the Vikings in that respect. These two teams will meet again in Week 14.
Minnesota at Detroit
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 20 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Minnesota -1
Three Things to Watch
1. Offensive talent on both sides
The Vikings have been riding the Dalvin Cook express all season long. In the last three games alone, Cook has rushed for 208 yards and two touchdowns on 51 carries, and he's averaging 5.4 yards per attempt this season. The Florida State product has been paying dividends now that he's healthy again.
Kirk Cousins has also continued his efficiency under center. He's completing 69 percent of his pass attempts for 1,374 yards and nine scores. Minnesota has scored 25 or more points in each of their four wins. The Lions, of course, are led by Matthew Stafford.
Stafford is having another strong season with close to nine yards per completion, but he's struggled somewhat during the Lions' two-game skid. He's completed 39-of-66 passes (59.1 percent) for 556 yards and three touchdowns during that stretch, while taking seven sacks, and they've been on the losing end each time. Still, he's the main reason why the Lions have been so competitive in 2019.
2. The defenses come to play
This side of the ball may very well decide the game. The Vikings are fifth in the league in total defense (310.3 ypg), sixth in scoring defense (15.5 ppg), tied for sixth in sacks (17), and tied for fifth in takeaways (10). Detroit gives up an average of 23.6 points per game, but every game has been decided by four points or fewer. The Lions are one better than the Vikings in the takeaways department (11) but haven't been as productive in getting to the quarterback (10 sacks). We'll have to see which defense blinks first.
Historically, Minnesota has dominated this rivalry, to the tune of a 74-39-2 advantage. The Vikings have won three in a row over the Lions, beating them by a combined score of 51-18 in last season's two meetings. Cousins didn't exactly light Detroit's defense up (4 TDs, INT in the two games) but he fared better than Stafford, who was sacked a total of 12 times by Minnesota. With both teams showing an ability to get pressure on the quarterback, pass protection could be a critical factor on Sunday.
Detroit's record is 2-2-1 but the Lions have played much better than that with the two losses coming by a total of five points. The Lions are still smarting from what happened on Monday night at Green Bay and will probably use that as fuel against the Vikings. Minnesota struggled some out of the gates but has seemingly turned things around the last couple of weeks. This should be another close contest, but the Vikings keep their streak alive thanks to their defense and edge in the running game with Dalvin Cook leading the way.
Prediction: Vikings 26, Lions 23
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of vikings.com)