Who’s ready for round two? The Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings will meet up again this Sunday in what could very well be the biggest game of the week in the NFL. The Lions are surging and are winners of four of their last five and the Vikings are currently the number two seed in the NFC.
We know what’s different about the Lions since the last matchup, but what’s different about the Vikings this time around? We went back to our pal Christopher Gates from The Daily Norseman to find out. Here’s what he had to say:
1. How do the Vikings escaping with wins like this?
“The Vikings manage to keep winning these close games because, as Kevin O’Connell said in one of his postgame speeches, the team is their best when their best is what’s required. They have one of the best fourth-quarter point differentials in the NFL, meaning that when things get tight late in games they’re upping their level of performance. They’re also one of the least-penalized teams in the NFL and among the best in turnover differential. The team has lapses on offense at times and there are also times when the defense has its issues, but they manage to put it together when they need to.
“Is it sustainable? I don’t know, but they’ve sustained it through the first 12 games of this year. I think that, more than anything, it speaks to the new culture that Kevin O’Connell has brought to this team and the fact that he has them believing in themselves in a way that they just didn’t over the last couple of years of the Mike Zimmer era.”
2. How can the Lions beat the Vikings?
“On offense, the Lions need to attack the Vikings’ secondary. The team has had struggles in pass coverage all season, at least in part because of a rotating door at the cornerback position across from Patrick Peterson (though the Vikings do expect Cameron Dantzler to come off of IR in time for this one, which should help). Despite having Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter roaming the field, this team also has times where they fail to generate any pressure on the quarterback, so if the Lions can keep Jared Goff upright he should be able to attack the Vikings’ secondary.
“On defense, the key for them is to get pressure on Kirk Cousins. Christian Darrisaw is, most likely, going to miss another game because of the concussion protocol. While Blake Brandel has held up well in his place, not having Darrisaw out there is definitely a negative for the Minnesota offense. They’ve also been susceptible to pressure up the middle. The Lions’ best chance is to get pressure on Cousins, try to get him off his game, and hope that they can take advantage of him being out of rhythm.”
3. What’s different about the Vikings from the last time these two teams faced?
“I think that the Vikings are probably a much more confident team than they were the first time these two teams faced off. The win over the Lions kicked off their seven-game winning streak and was the first time this season they came back after being down late. I think that gave them the mindset that they currently have, being that they don’t need to have everything go perfectly each week in order to win football games. As I mentioned in the answer to the first question, this team believes in itself and they believe in what Kevin O’Connell and his coaching staff are telling them. The Lions game was, in my opinion, O’Connell’s first real test as a head coach, given that the Vikings came into after getting a pretty solid beatdown from Philadelphia the week before. They got down by 10 points on two separate occasions and came back to win, and I believe that spiked their confidence and helped them to be the team that they currently are in high-leverage situations. In my opinion, that’s the biggest difference in this team from the first meeting to this week.”
4. The Lions are currently favored by 1. [Editor’s note: The Lions are now 2.5-point favorites] Are you taking that bet?
“The line for this game keeps shifting more in favor of the Lions, and while I guess I can understand that, I still think that the Vikings are a better football team. I’m hoping that, unlike the last time they were an underdog against Dallas a couple of weeks ago, the Vikings can come out and prove that they’re not some sort of a fluke (which I guess is the popular thing to say about them right now). If the people in Vegas want to tell everyone that the Lions are going to win on Sunday, that’s fine, but that’s not where I’d put my money. Of course, I’m biased, so take that with as much salt as you feel necessary.”
5. Who wins this thing?
“I think that, with an opportunity to put themselves into the postseason party on the line, the Vikings are going to come out focused in this one and attempt to open things up against a suspect Detroit defense. I know that the Lions are coming off of a big win, but the Vikings are also a slightly better caliber of team than the Jaguars. I’m not expecting a blowout or anything, because this Vikings team doesn’t blow anybody out (except Green Bay), but I do think that the NFC North division race comes to an end at Ford Field on Sunday. We’ll call it 30-24, Vikings.”