Preview: Vikings can’t afford to overlook Lions
DETROIT — A season of ups and downs for the Minnesota Vikings comes down to this: beat Detroit and Chicago and they’re in the playoffs.
First up are the banged-up Lions, who have already been eliminated from postseason contention, but with so much at stake, the Vikings can’t afford to look too far ahead.
“We know what we’ve got to do at this point. We know how we’ve got to play,” running back Dalvin Cook said. “There’s little time for error right now. We just have to go out there and play clean football and win football games.”
Minnesota won just one of its first four games this season, and the Vikings haven’t come close to matching last year’s 13-3 record. There will be no division title — Chicago already clinched that — but if the season ended now, the Vikings would be in the playoffs, so they still have all sorts of opportunities ahead of them.
First, they’ll try to take care of business in Detroit.
While Minnesota (7-6-1) has been underwhelming this season, the Lions (5-9) never really looked like contenders. They dropped their first two games, traded receiver Golden Tate and have now lost a handful of key players to injuries. Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson, defensive end Ziggy Ansah and wide receiver Marvin Jones are all on injured reserve.
Detroit hasn’t scored more than 22 points in any of its last eight games.
“Obviously the playoffs are, that’s the goal and that’s what you’re shooting for every single week,” said Matt Patricia, the Lions’ first-year coach. “The thing that’s different, I think, is that every week you don’t walk into the room and talk about playoffs. You just kind of walk in and talk about the game that week. … The fact is, we still have to go play a really good Minnesota team this weekend that’s coming off a huge win.”
The Vikings beat Miami 41-17 last weekend.
A few more things to watch when the Lions host the Vikings:
STACKS OF SACKS
The Vikings set a franchise record with 10 sacks in a win over the Lions earlier this season , and they’re coming off a nine-sack performance against Miami. They lead the league with 47 sacks.
“You know that they’re going to come out there, they’re game-planning against what we’ve done the first time,” said defensive end Danielle Hunter, who’s tied for second in the NFL with a career-high 14½ sacks. “We’d expect to see more max protection, them running the ball and all that. Stuff like that.”
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has been sacked five times or more in 16 games of his 10-year career, and seven of those were against the Vikings.
Stafford missed 19 games in his first two seasons while plagued by injuries. He’s started every game since, a streak of 126, not including the playoffs.
“It means a lot. Well documented, first two years, (I) missed a bunch and I wanted to prove to my teammates, this organization, myself, everybody, that I could be out there for extended periods of time,” Stafford said.
Stafford has been limited in practice recently because of back issues, but he pushed back against the idea he should sit now, with the playoffs out of reach.
“I spend all offseason and all season working hard to play in games with these teammates and for this organization,” he said. “(I) take no games for granted and go out there and play whenever I feel like I can.”
READY TO RETURN
The first of five career punt returns for touchdowns for the Vikings by Marcus Sherels came on Sept. 30, 2012, at Detroit. Last week against the Dolphins, Sherels had a 70-yard return and totaled 116 yards on five returns.
“We kind of challenged him a little bit this last week at being more aggressive,” coach Mike Zimmer said.
Detroit has activated returner Jamal Agnew off IR. He was an All-Pro last season.
With opponents frequently sending double teams at Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, the Vikings have needed other pass catchers to step up for quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Aldrick Robinson, who was signed as a free agent two weeks into the season, has shown some potential. His 40-yard touchdown reception against the Dolphins gave him five scores in 10 games. He’s reached the end zone on nearly 30 percent of his 17 receptions.
MARK OF FAILURE
From 2001-12, the Lions had double-digit losses 10 times in 12 seasons. It hasn’t happened since that 2012 season, but Detroit needs to win its final two games to avoid it this year.
MINNESOTA (7-6-1) at DETROIT (5-9)
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Fox
OPENING LINE — Vikings by 3 ½
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Minnesota 7-6-1, Detroit 8-6
SERIES RECORD — Vikings lead 73-39-2
LAST MEETING — Vikings beat Lions 24-9, Nov. 4
LAST WEEK — Vikings beat Dolphins 41-17; Lions lost to Bills 14-13
AP PRO32 RANKING —Vikings No. 13, Lions No. 25 (tie)
VIKINGS OFFENSE — OVERALL (15), RUSH (29), PASS (10)
VIKINGS DEFENSE — OVERALL (4), RUSH (13), PASS (4)
LIONS OFFENSE — OVERALL (24), RUSH (24), PASS (21)
LIONS DEFENSE — OVERALL (13),RUSH (16), PASS (11)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Vikings can clinch spot in playoffs with win and losses by both Washington (at Tennessee) and Philadelphia (vs. Houston). Lions already eliminated from playoff hunt. … Minnesota sacked Detroit’s Matthew Stafford 10 times in previous meeting. … Vikings have lost six of last nine games at Ford Field, including game vs. Giants in 2010 that was relocated when Metrodome collapsed during snowstorm. … Minnesota’s 10 sacks vs. Lions set franchise record. Vikings also had nine sacks vs. Dolphins last weekend, making them second team in NFL since 1990 to have two games of nine-plus sacks in same season. Jaguars did it in 2017. .. Vikings lead NFL with 47 sacks and are first in league in third-down defense (28.8 percent conversion rate) and second in red-zone defense (42.2 percent touchdown rate). … Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins needs 87 yards passing to reach 4,000 for fourth straight season and post fifth such season in Vikings history (Warren Moon in 1994 and 1995, Daunte Culpepper in 2004, Brett Favre in 2009). … Detroit’s Kenny Golladay led team with seven receptions for career-high 146 yards last weekend. He has 1,005 yards receiving on season. … Lions trying to avoid first season with double-digit losses since 2012. Detroit lost at least 10 games 10 times in 12 seasons from 2001-12, but has not done so since. … Lions put rookie RB Kerryon Johnson on injured reserve this week. DE Ziggy Ansah, WR Marvin Jones and G T.J. Lang are also on IR. … Detroit RB Zach Zenner trying for third straight game with rushing touchdown. … Fantasy tip: Could be good week to have Minnesota defense, given sack total from last meeting and Detroit’s offensive problems. Lions have not scored more than 22 points since Oct. 21.