The last time the Detroit Lions faced the Minnesota Vikings, they took the lead with 37 seconds left. It seemed almost a sure thing they’d walk away from U.S. Bank Stadium with their first win under Dan Campbell.
Obviously, it didn’t play out that way. Greg Joseph nailed a 53-yarder as time expired to give the Vikings the win. But looking back, the Lions were pretty lucky to be in that spot anyway. Just a few minutes prior, Joseph oddly came up short on a 49-yard field goal that would’ve pushed the Vikings’ lead to two scores and clinched the game. Then, with the opportunity to run the clock below 1:20 with a seven-point lead, Alexander Mattison, instead, fumbled the ball and gave Detroit the ball just 20 yards away from taking the lead.
Since then, the Vikings have gone 3-3 through a pretty difficult schedule and find themselves just outside a playoff spot. Are they starting to find themselves and ready to feast upon a bad Lions team? Let’s take a closer look.
2021 season thus far (5-6)
Week 1: Lost to Bengals, 24-27 (OT)
Week 2: Lost to Cardinals, 33-34
Week 3: Beat Seahawks, 30-17
Week 4: Lost to Browns, 7-14
Week 5: Beat Lions, 19-17
Week 6: Beat Panthers, 34-28 (OT)
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Lost to Cowboys, 16-20
Week 9: Lost to Ravens, 31-24 (OT)
Week 10: Beat Chargers, 27-20
Week 11: Beat Packers, 34-31
Week 12: Lost to 49ers, 26-34
- 9th in points scored (25.5 PPG), 24th in points against (25.1 PPG)
- 10th overall in DVOA (8th on offense, 17th on defense, 5th on special teams)
- Offensive DVOA: 2nd in pass offense, 29th in run offense
- Defensive DVOA: 10th in pass defense, 29th in run defense
This Vikings team isn’t the kind of Vikings team we’re used to seeing. Instead of being led by a strong defense and a running game, it’s the exact opposite. They aren’t running the ball particularly well (4.2 YPC, 17th) and they can’t stop the run (4.8 YPC, 31st). But their pass offense and pass defense are carrying them.
The Vikings rank in the top 10 in yards per pass attempt (8.2, 6th), passer rating (105.3, 2nd), completion percentage (67.7, 7th), passing touchdowns (23, t-9th), and interceptions (3, first). Turns out having a really good set of wide receivers can help. Take note, Lions.
Obviously, the Lions beat-up secondary vs. this passing attack presents a really tough matchup, but the rest of the team arguably matches up nicely with Detroit. The Lions love to run the ball, and the Vikings can’t stop them. Detroit has occasionally struggled to stop the run, but the Vikings are one of the least efficient at doing rushing, especially if we’re talking about Alexander Mattison (3.6 YPC) over Dalvin Cook (4.5 YPC). Although, it’s worth pointing out Mattison has had over 100 yards twice this season, including over Detroit in their first matchup (25 carries, 113 yards, 4.5 YPC).
Overall, though, Minnesota finds themselves just a tiebreaker out of a playoff spot. And with recent wins over the Chargers and Packers, they’re a team playing with confidence. All of their losses have been by a single possession, so they’ve essentially been in every single game this year. However, that loss to the 49ers may end up hurting when it comes to the Wild Card race.
Key injuries: DE Danielle Hunter (IR), TE Irv Smith JR. (IR), DT Michael Pierce (IR), DE Everson Griffen (NFI-illness), RB Dalvin Cook (shoulder), LB Anthony Barr (knee/hamstring), LT Christian Darrisaw (ankle), S Camryn Bynum (ankle)
The Vikings came out of Sunday’s game against the 49ers a little beat up. The biggest injuries were to running back Dalvin Cook, left tackle Christian Darrisaw and linebacker Anthony Barr. Cook is almost certainly out, while head coach Mike Zimmer said “we’ll see” on Darrisaw and he is “hopeful” for Barr.
Additionally, run-stuffer Michael Pierce returned to practice from IR this week, and Zimmer believes he will play against the Lions. That will be a big boost to the Vikings' defense.
The Vikings’ pass rush won’t be quite like it normally is with Danielle Hunter out and Everson Griffen out indefinitely following a scary home incident.
Reserve/COVID-19 list: CB Patrick Peterson, DT Dalvin Tomlinson
Adding to the Vikings’ defensive troubles are two key players currently dealing with COVID. Tomlinson was placed on the reserve list last week, so there’s a chance he clears by game day, assuming he’s not dealing with serious symptoms. No. 1 corner Patrick Peterson was placed on the list on Monday. Peterson is fully vaccinated, so if he can get back-to-back negative tests, he could still play this week.
Biggest strength: Wide receivers
As mentioned above, the Vikings are a top-five passing attack in the league right now, and their stellar receiving corps is a big reason why. Justin Jefferson has already cleared 1,000 receiving yards, while Adam Thielen already has 10 touchdown catches. Don’t sleep on tight end Tyler Conklin either, as the fourth-year player ranks 12th among tight ends in receiving yards (413) and already has three scores, as well.
Biggest weakness: Secondary
The Vikings are the only defense without a single cornerback graded among PFF's top-80 corners in coverage among 143 qualifiers with at least 100 snaps this season.— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) December 1, 2021
Opposing teams are having minimal problems throwing against this Vikings defense, averaging 7.8 yards per attempt (28th). Minnesota ranks just t-22nd in passes defended (41). The Vikings do have nine interceptions on the year, but four of those have come from their linebacking corps.
With Peterson potentially out this week, the Vikings will be vulnerable on the outside. Bashaud Breeland is their clear weak link but the Lions aren’t exactly built to exploit that. Breeland, of course, had one of his best games of the season against the Lions back in Week 5.
Vegas odds for Sunday: Vikings by 7