This game could be for all the marbles. The Vikings enter Thursday’s Thanksgiving matchup as one of the hottest teams in the entire NFL. They just notched their sixth straight victory this season and have their eyes set on their seventh in a row coming on Thanksgiving Day.
The Lions have been a bit more up and down, although they are coming into Thursday’s game on the heels of their own three-game win streak.
The winner of the game takes the reigns of the NFC North. The Lions still have complete control of their destiny and a win on Thursday will go a long way toward sealing their playoff chances.
Here are 10 things I think I know heading into Week 12 against the Vikings:
1. I think the Lions run defense could make or break the game. Coming out of the bye week, the Lions looked like they had one of the best run defenses in the league. They held the Steelers and Packers to under 80 yards rushing in back-to-back weeks.
But in the last two weeks the Lions defense has turned into a sieve, giving up 201 yards on the ground to the Browns and 222 yards against the Bears last week. Minnesota comes to town this week with a top 10 rushing offense. Stopping the run will be job No. 1 for the Lions. They need to force the game into Case Keenum’s hands and hope he makes a enough mistakes to slow down the Minnesota offense.
Getting Ezekiel Ansah and Jalen Reeves-Maybin back in the rotation would be big additions for the Lions.
2. I think Adam Thielen is one of the NFL’s best route-running receivers. If a defensive back makes a misstep, Thielen will make him pay. The Lions did a decent job of containing Thielen early in the year—just five catches for 59 yards—but he’s coming off back-to-back weeks with over five catches and 100 yards.
The Lions will have their hands full with Thielen on Thursday. The fourth year receiver has the second-most third down receptions in the league. And 82 percent of those third down catches have gone for first downs.
What Thielen does best is manipulate defensive backs at the top of the route. Here is perfect shot from the Week 11 game against the Rams.
3. I think Thursday’s game will shape the NFC playoff picture. It’s no secret this game could swing the playoff hopes for either of these teams.
At a minimum, the division winner will probably be decided on Thanksgiving.
If the Lions win, they’ll hold the tiebreaker over the Vikings. So even if they tie with the same records at the end of the season, the Lions will win the division. If the Lions lose it’s going to be almost impossible to win the division. They’ll be three games back behind the Vikings and will most likely be scrapping for a wild card spot along with Seattle, Carolina, and Atlanta.
4. I think the Lions will need Stafford to lead them to a victory. The Lions had one of their best rushing performances of the year against the Vikings earlier this season, but this game will come down to Stafford’s right arm.
I like that the game is at home because the fast track at Ford Field bodes will for Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr., and Kenny Golladay.
Stafford has been on fire coming out of the bye week. In the four games since then, he’s had seven touchdowns to one interception and a 113.6 passer rating.
This game will probably be close, and the offense will need to step up against a tough Vikings defense. Thankfully for the Lions, their offense has been playing much better over the last four games.
5. I think the matchup of the game will be the Lions offensive line vs. the Vikings defensive line. The last time the Lions played the Vikings the offensive line was completely overwhelmed. The Lions gave up six sacks and were consistently overwhelmed by the Vikings’ pass rush.
Taylor Decker will be starting his third game of the season since coming off injury. That should help the Lions, who have done a much better job of protecting Stafford in the second half of the season.
Whoever wins this battle probably wins the game. The Lions must limit the Vikings defensive aggressiveness to have a shot.
6. I think the Lions need to consistently put themselves in good field position. This starts with turnovers. The Lions won the turnover battle in Week 4, and will need to do it again this week.
Keenum has done a good job protecting the ball (just five interceptions all season), but he’s also shown a willingness to throw the ball into unfavorable coverage. The Lions will need to pressure Keenum and make him rush some throws to give them opportunity to make a play.
7. I think Jim Caldwell vs. Mike Zimmer is an fascinating coaching matchup. The two coaches couldn’t be more different when it comes to personality. Zimmer is a fiery leader who isn’t afraid to wear his emotions on his sleeve. Caldwell, on the other hand, is often questioned whether he has an emotions at all.
What isn’t too different is the coaching records for Caldwell and Zimmer. Since taking over for the Vikings, Zimmer holds a 34-24 (.586).
And Caldwell’s record during that same time period with the Lions? 33-25 (.569).
A win on Thursday for the Lions would give Caldwell and Zimmer the exact same records over the last four years.
8. I think Ford Field needs to make a difference. The Lions haven’t fared too well at home in prime time spots in recent years, but they have played well on Thanksgiving. I know the fans at Ford Field will be ready to make it a tough place for the Vikings to play.
Now the Lions just need to give them something to cheer for.
9. I think this game comes down to a kicker. Maybe it’s short-term memory from last Thanksgiving. Shoot, maybe it’s short-term memory from last week! Whatever it is, I think these division games are almost always decided by a field goal or two.
The Vikings have been known to have a shaky kicker, and Kai Forbath missed two field goals last week, one from 48-yards out and one from 39-yards. Forbath has been solid for the Vikings for most of the season, making 16 straight field goals before his two misses last week.
But, in Prater we trust (including Golden Tate).
10. I think the Lions win.
I have to admit, this is going to be a tough one for the Lions to win. Maybe the tryptophan is already setting in, but I like the Lions at home. I think this is one where the offense will need to win it for the Lions. The defense has been reeling a bit as of late, and Vikings have been very productive on offense. The Vikings are playing as good as any team in the NFL, but that doesn’t mean they’re unbeatable.
Hopefully you all have a great Thanksgiving with friends and family, and get to enjoy the Lions’ fourth straight victory.