The regular season is at its conclusion and the Detroit Lions are your NFC North division champions. This game isn’t a must-win to make the playoffs or win the divisional title for Detroit. The Lions have their playoff appearance locked in, so the stress of years past isn’t around this time. The only thing the Lions can play for is the two seed in the NFC as the one seed is locked in by the San Francisco 49ers. Another thing Detroit can play for, eliminating the Minnesota Vikings from making the playoffs.
Minnesota needs a hail mary to make the playoffs this season, needing to beat the Lions is the main objective, but they need help elsewhere. They need the Chicago Bears to beat the Green Bay Packers, the Arizona Cardinals to beat the Seattle Seahawks and either the Atlanta Falcons to beat the New Orleans Saints, or the Carolina Panthers to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That is a tall order to ask for, but the Vikings will play hungry and will play with something on the line.
While the Lions need the Dallas Cowboys to lose to the Washington Commanders and the Philadelphia Eagles to lose to the New York Giants to get the two seed, they have something else to play for. To eliminate the Vikings from the playoffs. Last season, the Lions had nothing to play for in Week 18, but wanted to eliminate the Packers from the playoffs and they did it. While I didn’t see a point in playing the starters in Week 18 if things were mostly locked in, I think now it makes sense because of what this team wants to do. They just don’t want to take the divisional title from the Vikings, they want to send them to the golf course as well.
Let’s look at the Week 18 scouting report for the Detroit Lions against the Minnesota Vikings.
2023 Minnesota Vikings
2023 season thus far (7-9)
Week 1: Loss against Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-17
Week 2: Loss against Philadelphia Eagles 34-28
Week 3: Loss against Los Angeles Chargers 28-24
Week 4: Win against Carolina Panthers 21-13
Week 5: Loss against Kansas City Chiefs 27-20
Week 6: Win against Chicago Bears 19-13
Week 7: Win against San Francisco 49ers 22-17
Week 8: Win against Green Bay Packers 24-10
Week 9: Win against Atlanta Falcons 31-28
Week 10: Win against New Orleans Saints 27-19
Week 11: Loss against Denver Broncos 21-20
Week 12: Loss against Chicago Bears 12-10
Week 13: BYE
Week 14: Win against Las Vegas Raiders 3-0
Week 15: Loss against Cincinnati Bengals 27-24
Week 16: Loss against Detroit Lions 30-24
Week 17: Loss against Green Bay Packers 33-10
- 22nd in points scored, 12th in points allowed
- 21st in DVOA
- 23rd in offensive DVOA (21st in pass DVOA, 27th in run DVOA)
- 8th in defensive DVOA (10th pass DVOA, 12th in run DVOA)
- 28th in special teams
Things are a bit different for the Vikings since these two teams met on Christmas Eve. The loss to the Lions meant the NFC North divisional title was out of their grasp, and the only way to play in the Super Bowl was to make it in as a Wild Card team. The Vikings also made a change at quarterback as they started Jaren Hall over Nick Mullens in their Week 17 game against the Packers.
In that game, Minnesota looked horrible and unable to stop the Packers offense, allowing 33 points at home, and the offense was inconsistent. Hall didn’t last long in his start, going 5-for-10 for 67 yards and an interception, and he would be benched for Mullens. Mullens was an improvement, going 13-for-22 for 113 yards and a touchdown, but it wasn’t enough to turn the game around.
Heading into this week, will Mullens be the starter once again? Will the Vikings give Hall another shot? Could Joshua Dobbs have another shot to redeem himself? I think the Vikings stick with Mullens as he threw for over 400 yards against the Lions in their first game.
This week, Minnesota will need to play its best football on the road against an angry football team that came off a controversial loss the week before. It will not be an easy job for the Vikings, and the Lions are getting some possible reinforcements in safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, EDGE James Houston IV, and defensive tackle Alim McNeill. If all three of those players play, even at least one of them, it will be a different game for both teams.
Key players ruled out: QB Kirk Cousins (IR), RB Cam Akers (IR), DE Marcus Davenport (IR), DL Dean Lowry (IR), TE T.J. Hockenson (IR), LB D.J. Wonnum (IR)
Key players to monitor: CB Byron Murphy (ankle), WR Jalen Nailor (concussion)
The injuries to the Vikings roster have changed since the two teams met two weeks ago. In the game against the Lions, Hockenson tore his MCL and ACL, ending his season. Wonnum also was injured in the game against the Lions, tearing his quad and ending his season also.
The good news on the injury front is the last time these two teams played, right tackle Brian O’Neill and running back Alexander Mattison missed the game due to injuries and now they are back, giving the offense a little boost. Vikings starting cornerback Byron Murphy is still bothered by an ankle injury and wide receiver Jalen Nailor is still in concussion protocol. While the team did lose two starters against the Lions, they got two back against the Packers, so overall the injury situation is similar to what it was in the first game.
Biggest strength: Wide Receivers
The last time these teams battled, the passing attack was the greatest strength and it still is. The difference this time though, is the tight end position took a hit in Hockenson missing the rest of the season. With Hockenson eliminated from the offense, the passing attack goes through the wide receivers now.
Justin Jefferson had a great game against the Lions in Week 16, getting six catches for 141 yards and a touchdown. He went up against Lions cornerback Cameron Sutton for most of the game and dominated him.
Justin Jefferson with a ridiculous catch pic.twitter.com/WUMFh2N7IV— Pardon My Take (@PardonMyTake) December 24, 2023
He isn’t the only threat, as Jordan Addison is a great number-two option for the Vikings offense, but against the Lions, Addison had just one catch for 2 yards as he was injured and knocked out of the game early. Against the Packers, Addison had three catches for 28 yards. Another threat that the Lions seem to struggle with on the Vikings is wide receiver K.J. Osborn who had five catches for 95 yards and a touchdown against the Lions two weeks ago. Osborn seems to have his best games against Detroit so the Lions will need to make sure he is contained as well.
Biggest weakness: Quarterback
Having four different starting quarterbacks on your team in one season isn’t easy, and even though it’s working for the Cleveland Browns, it isn’t working for the Vikings and the reason is clear. Joe Flacco is a veteran quarterback with playoff and Super Bowl experience. The Vikings have veterans in Dobbs and Mullens, but neither are as seasoned and experienced as Flacco. You then have a rookie in Hall getting his chances and he hasn’t been living up to it.
Mullens started against the Lions and he finished the game going 22-for-36 for 411 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions. The biggest difference in that game was the four interceptions. Mullens was reckless with the ball, and it’s why he was benched in Week 17. With Hall playing poorly though, the Vikings went back to Mullens who did better than Hall against Green Bay.
It doesn’t matter who starts for the Vikings, neither of the three they have on their roster has been consistent enough to be a viable backup quarterback for the team when they need it most. If you don’t have a quarterback who can get the ball to the great weapons you have in the passing game, you’re going to have a bad time. If the Vikings had a healthy Cousins under center, it would be a different season for the Vikings.
Key matchup: Lions coverage vs. Vikings passing attack
Once again the Detroit secondary is going to be tested heavily this week against the Vikings. The Lions allowed over 400 yards against the Vikings two weeks ago, but they had those four key interceptions to help win the game. The secondary was attacked heavily again against the Cowboys the following week, where Dallas threw for 345 yards and two touchdowns. Detroit did get an interception again though, as safety Ifeatu Melifonwu continues to create turnovers for the defense.
The good news for Detroit is reinforcements are coming as Gardner-Johnson was limited in practice for two straight weeks and he has a chance to make his return this week. If Gardner-Johnson is on the field, the secondary will get a big boost in his presence. His playmaking abilities added to the secondary that has had five interceptions in the past two games can give them an added boost they would love to have.
The Lions also now have an injury in one of their starting cornerbacks in Sutton, who was questionable but ended up playing against Dallas as he suffered a toe injury late in the week. He didn’t play well against the Cowboys as he has had two straight poor showings in what has been a good season for him. Sutton might play better this week with the extra day of rest, but it will be a test for him, healthy or not.
Vegas line for Sunday: Lions by 5