Lions look to close gap in the NFC North standings on the Vikings on Thanksgiving Day
So much has changed since the Vikings and Lions met on Oct. 1 in Minnesota. After a 14–7 Detroit win dropped Minnesota to 2–2, it looked like the NFC North might turn into a two-team race between the 3–1 Lions and 3–1 Packers. After all, those teams had Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers, respectively. The Vikings had lost Sam Bradford and didn’t look like a threat with Case Keenum running the show.
But Stafford and the Lions then lost three straight. The Packers lost Rodgers, maybe for the season. And the Vikings haven’t lost since, building a two-game lead over the Lions for the division lead heading into a Thanksgiving Day visit to Detroit. They may need every bit of that cushion to hang on down the stretch.
The Vikings won’t play at home again until Dec. 17, and all three games between now and then are against teams with winning records (Detroit, Atlanta and Carolina). They also have a trip to Green Bay remaining on the schedule. On the other hand, Detroit’s schedule doesn’t feature any other opponents who currently have a winning record.
Minnesota at Detroit
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 12 at 12:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Vikings -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Case Keenum has saved the Vikings' season
Keenum (above, right) has gone 5–2 as the starter and played well in another win after taking over for the injured Sam Bradford. Granted, much of the credit needs to go to the Vikings defense, which is ranked No. 5 in the NFL in total defense and fourth in scoring defense. But Keenum and the offense have been surprisingly effective, especially given that running back Dalvin Cook was lost for the season after Week 4. Keenum and the Vikings have increased their total yards each week and have put up more than 400 yards in wins over Washington and the L.A. Rams since their bye week. Minnesota ranks fifth in total offense and 10th in scoring offense. Keenum isn’t carrying the Vikings — he’s thrown five interceptions over the last four weeks, including at least one in each game — but at least the defense hasn’t had to be perfect.
2. As Stafford goes, so go the Lions
While the Vikings generally just hope Keenum doesn’t lose them games, the Lions tend to hang around and let quarterback Matthew Stafford carry them as far as he can. Despite a running game that ranks 28th in the NFL and a defense that ranks 23rd, Stafford has the Lions in the thick of the NFC playoff race at 6–4, and they could be even better than that. Three of Detroit’s four losses have come by five points or less, and it seems they are never out of a game. Stafford led the NFL with eight fourth-quarter comeback wins last season, and he nearly erased a 35-point deficit against the Saints this season. Stafford ranks in the top five in the NFL in passing yards, touchdowns, and interception percentage.
3. Detroit must contain Griffin and Hunter
Minnesota defensive ends Everson Griffen (10.0) and Danielle Hunter (5.0) have combined for 15 sacks this season, including three of the six the Vikings had the last time these teams met. The Lions have struggled to protect Stafford all season, as only Jacoby Brissett of the Colts has been sacked more. In his career, Stafford has been sacked 48 times by the Vikings, by far the most of any opponent. The good news for Detroit is that left tackle Taylor Decker returned from an offseason shoulder injury two weeks ago, so the Lions should be better prepared for the Vikings pass rush. If they are not, it could be a long day.
The Vikings are the better team overall, but the Matthew Stafford vs. Case Keenum matchup may tilt this one in Detroit’s favor. While the Lions’ defense doesn’t have the solid numbers across the board that the Vikings’ does, it does rank fourth in takeaways, while Minnesota ranks 20th. Stafford doesn’t turn the ball over like he used to and in fact has thrown only six interceptions in his career against Minnesota. We’ll bet Keenum makes one too many mistakes and the Lions pull this one out.