The Lions are 3-4, and considering the form of the rest of the division, go to US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis with their season on the line against a Vikings (2-5) who are better than their record suggests and are coming off the back of an impressive win against the Packers away from home.
The Lions themselves are coming off a disappointing loss at home against the Colts in what was viewed as a litmus test for this team. Realistically, they showed that against an elite defense, they are going to struggle to have consistent success and that the defense could well struggle against a mediocre offense, especially in the secondary.
The Lions start of 3.5 point underdogs which feels slightly unkind given the records of the respective teams and their performances over the season so far. On the moneyline, Detroit are 7/4 (both per Betfair Exchange as of the time of writing).
This is a game in which both teams will feel that match up well against the other in various areas.
The Vikings' strength is clearly RB Dalvin Cook. He scored 4 total TDs against Green Bay and has 11 total TDs on the season so far. The most he has ever had is 13, last season, and he's missed a game through injury this year so it makes it all the more impressive. Off the back of Cook, the play-action pass game is lethal and the rookie WR Justin Jefferson and veteran WR Adam Thielen were recently both in PFFs top 5 WRs in the league (although this was partially through necessity with Minnesota often chasing the game and needing to pass a lot).
In order to win the game, Detroit must sell out to stop the run, something they've done very well in the past few games, and force the Vikings to rely solely on Cousin's arm which has been misfiring and inconsistent all the way through the season so far.
The Vikings' weakness is clearly their defense. Ordinarily I might pick an individual element to focus on but the whole team has been poor. This hasn't been aided by the large turnover of players compared with last season. The Vikings will also be suffering from at least 3 CBs injured and out of the game. In order to win, the Lions must not be scared to take shots deep and put those corners under immense pressure.
For the Lions, their weakness has been their secondary defense. They didn't have a pass defended against the Colts, mainly because of the "bend, don't break" mentality which provided to big of a cushion to the Colts receivers. I expect the Vikings to pound the ball through Cook, but the VIkings should be looking often to target their star WRs against this poor secondary.
In contrast, the Lions strength has been their run defense recently, as previously mentioned. This matches up well with the Vikings' strength. The Lions offense has been hot and cold so far this year, with Stafford coming up short in clutch moments throughout, and he will be key to victory.
Stafford and the COVID list
Stafford was placed on the Covid reserve earlier in the week and appeared certain to miss the game. However, he had not caught the virus but only came into close contact with a confirmed case, and that contact was last on Monday. Given the mandated 5-day time frame, this has meant that he has had to isolate through Saturday, but could travel to the game on his own, without training with the team, and meet up to play on Sunday, so long as he provides consistent negative test and doesn't show any symptoms.
As it stands, Stafford only has to pass one final Covid test and he will be cleared to play, he was made active from the reserve list mid-way through Saturday.
Looking at this matchup, I can't help but feel that there's a reason why the Vikings are 2-5. I think the Lions run defense will continue to play well, restricting Cook to merely being a good RB for the day.
If they can do that, I can see Stafford and this offense having a field day against this defense (even without the injured Kenny Golladay). Looking for Marvin Hall to catch a few long balls over the top for another big game after his 100+ yard day against the Colts.
Lions 36 - 31 Vikings
Let's go Lions!
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