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Minnesota Vikings vs. Detroit Lions Prediction: NFC North Rivals Clash in the Motor City

Vikings can clinch the division with a season sweep of the Lions.

A few weeks ago, a game between the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings would have seemed like a foregone conclusion. But things change quickly in the NFL, and now the Lions find themselves favorites for the first time since Week 4 when these NFC North rivals meet on Sunday.

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The Vikings (10-2) are coming into this game after winning yet another one-score game — their ninth in as many opportunities — as they held off a late fourth-quarter rally by the New York Jets. Meanwhile, the Lions (5-7) had their way with the still-rebuilding Jacksonville Jaguars for their fourth win in their last five games.

As a result of their perfect record in one-score games, the Vikings have a chance to sew up the NFC North crown with a win, but the Lions are still fighting for their playoff chances too. Detroit is two games behind Seattle for the final wild-card spot, although it will also have to leapfrog Washington.

Initially, this game seemed like a surefire win for Minnesota on paper. But now Detroit has a new lease on life, and you can expect this game to be quite competitive as both teams look to solidify their playoff aspirations.

Minnesota (10-2) at Detroit (5-7)

Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 11 at 1 p.m. ET
TV: FOX
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Lions -2
Tickets: As low as $135 on SITickets.com

Three Things to Watch

1. Quarterbacks in the spotlight
Get ready for Round 2 of Jared Goff vs. Kirk Cousins. When these teams met earlier this season, these signal-callers combined to throw for 537 yards and three touchdowns (two from Cousins) in a 28-24 Vikings win. Since then, both players have continued to lead the way for their respective offenses. 

Cousins is 10th in the NFL in passing yards (2,933), fifth in completions (290), and 11th in touchdown passes (18). But he's also thrown nine interceptions (tied for fourth most) and has taken the sixth-most sacks (30).

Goff is also in the top 10 in passing yards (3,022, 7th) and touchdown passes (19, 10th), but he's 11th in both completions (263) and yards per attempt (7.5) and ranks 18th in completion percentage (64.9). He's also thrown seven interceptions (tied for sixth-most) and has taken 19 sacks. 

Cousins arguably has the best wide receiver in the NFC, if not all of football, in Justin Jefferson. He only trails Miami's Tyreek Hill in receiving yards (1,277) and only sits behind Hill and Buffalo's Stefon Diggs in receptions (88). He's caught six of Cousins' 18 TD passes. Also lending a hand are fellow receivers Adam Thielen (56 rec., 580 yds., 3 TDs) and K.J. Osborn (30, 262, 2), along with tight end and former Lion T.J. Hockenson (30, 225, TD). 

The Vikings also get contributions out of their backfield thanks to the two-man running back team of Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison. Cook is fifth among league backs in both rushing yards (927) and rushing attempts (198), and he's run for seven scores. Mattison has pitched in 252 total yards along with four total touchdowns. The Vikings rank 19th in total offense (335.8 ypg), 10th in passing offense (234.1 ypg), and 10th as well in scoring offense (24.1 ppg), although they're 24th in rushing (101.8 ypg).

As for the Lions, they rank higher than Minnesota in each category: seventh in total offense (369.1 ypg), eighth in passing offense (242.1 ypg), 10th in rushing offense (127.0 ypg), and fifth in scoring offense (26.3 ppg). Goff's favorite downfield targets are Amon-Ra St. Brown (team-leading 76 rec., 830 yds., 6 TDs), Josh Reynolds (29, 376, 2), and Kalif Raymond (32, 382), who's missed practice this week due to illness.

Out of the backfield, the running back trio of D'Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, and Justin Jackson have collectively posted 1,257 rushing yards, 355 receiving yards, and nine touchdowns. Jackson has seen extended playing time ever since Craig Reynolds went on injured reserve earlier this season.

2. This game will come down to defense
When these teams met in Week 3, their defenses were evenly (over)matched. The Lions averaged 5.5 yards per play, while Minnesota sat at 5.6. Minnesota forced two turnovers while only Detroit only recorded one, although the Lions got the only sack of the contest. The 789 combined yards in the game are the second-highest total for any Vikings game this year. Needless to say, that game was all about the offense.

The Lions' defense is led by linebacker Alex Anzalone (91 tackles, 4 TFLs, 1.5 sacks), rookie defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (6 sacks, 4 TFLs), and safety Kerby Joseph (3 interceptions, 5 pass breakups). Detroit is dead last in both total defense (402.2 ypg) and scoring defense (27.0 ppg), although it's 27th against the pass (252.5 ypg) and 28th against the run (149.7 ypg).

The Vikings have also struggled on this side of the ball, as they sit just one spot ahead of Detroit in total defense (398.7 ypg), own the league's worst pass defense (283.6 ypg), and rank 19th in scoring defense (23.3 ppg), although other teams don't do a ton of damage running the ball against them (115.1 ypg, 16th). The main defensive performers for this team are linebacker Eric Kendricks (13th in the NFL with 98 total tackles), defensive end Danielle Hunter (ranks in the top 20 with 7.0 sacks), and safety Harrison Smith (second in the league with 5 INT's, ranks in the top 10 with 10 pass deflections). 

This game will come down to which defense can make the most stops. And if either of these teams wants the chance to win, they need to consistently pressure the opposing quarterback.

3. The bigger picture
The Vikings own the second-best record in the league (10-2) and are just one game behind the Philadelphia Eagles for the top spot in the NFC playoff picture. But because Philly beat Minnesota back in Week 2, they own the tiebreaker. So the Vikings will need to make up two games on the Eagles to pass them in the standings for the NFC's lone No. 1 seed. However, Minnesota's main focus should be locking up the division.

As for the Lions, they need to keep winning, but they'll also need some help if they want to find a way to sneak into the playoffs. For this week, they can only control how they perform against the Vikings. A win for the Lions not only helps keep their slim playoff hopes alive but also keeps them ahead of the Green Bay Packers in the standings.

Final Analysis 

Minnesota leads this all-time series 80-40-2 and has won nine of the last 10 games in this rivalry. Although the Lions won the last meeting on their home field in 2021. The Vikings are 3-0 against division opponents this year, while the Lions are 2-1, with their lone loss coming in Week 3 against this Vikings team in Minneapolis. The Vikings have won each of their last three road games, while the Lions have been victorious in two of their last three home games. This will be a close game, but the Vikings have the better talent, and they'll win out in the end.

Prediction: Vikings 24, Lions 21

— Written by Gabe Salgado, who 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 can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.

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