The NFC North is on the line on Thanksgiving Day at 12:30 PM ET on FOX. The Lions (6-4) host the Minnesota Vikings (8-2) for North supremacy at Ford Field. Detroit must win this game to stay alive in the North race. The Vikings can take a three game in the North by winning this game or the Lions can cut the lead to one game and own the sweep tie breaker. Let’s take a look at the matchup.
Lions Passing Game
Matt Stafford (98.4 rating) has been on fire since the bye with good health (ankle in Week 6). Stafford is throwing the deep ball well and making great decision underneath. Detroit has won three (3) in a row with great play from Stafford. Another big Stafford day will be needed against the Minnesota Vikings defense. The Vikings allow only an 80.8 QB rating and 17.2 PPG (4th in league). The Lions only scored 14 against Minnesota in Week 4 on the road but won the game 14-7 with good defense.
Stafford has plenty of weapons in Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, a revitalized Eric Ebron and healthy Kenny Golladay. Riddick is a good receiving RB threat underneath and TJ Jones is having a solid year as the 3rd WR. The Vikings will have their hands full on Thursday.
Xavier Rhodes against Jones will be a great matchup. TJ Jones, Golden Tate and Golladay must beat Waynes, Alexander and Newman early and often in coverage. Rhodes and Alexander are both battling injuries to monitor as well but should play in this game.
Lions Rushing Attack
Detroit ran well in Week 4 and Abdullah notched 94 yards before an injury knocked him out of the game. The Vikings are stout in run defense allowing only 3.3 YPC. The Lions must be efficient running the ball and get good runs from Abdullah and Riddick on the day. A few 20 yard runs would be helpful for the Lions offense in this game.
Detroit has their starting offensive line and they had a chance to gel in Week 11. They ran poorly against the Bears and must block better to open things up against the Vikings.
The key to the game will be protecting Stafford. Taylor Decker is back but will have his hands full with Everson Griffen (10 sacks). Griffen is dealing with a toe injury that has slowed him. Danielle Hunter is a beast (5 sacks) and will face Rick Wagner. Wagner is strong in pass pro and can protection Stafford. Glasgow, Swanson and TJ Lang will face Linval Joseph and Tom Johnson. Detroit needs interior protection to keep Stafford’s pocket strong. The Vikings will blitz with Kendricks and Barr so the blitz pick up must be on point for Detroit. If Stafford gets decent protection, he can have a good day.
Vikings Rushing Attack
Minnesota lost Dalvin Cook in Week 4 but have been solid since his injury. Murray had a big day against the Rams and is a capable back. McKinnon is shifty and strong in the screen game. Detroit must shut down the run. They have struggled the last two weeks giving up over 200 yards in each game. Detroit can’t let Minnesota run wild like the Browns and Bears did.
The Lions need Ziggy Ansah back to set the edge. A’Shawn Robinson has been good but struggled recently. Robinson and rookie Jarrad Davis need to get back to form and be stout in run defense. Whitehead is a solid weak side LB but needs protection on the second level. If Detroit can make the Vikings one dimensional, Minnesota can be held to 7 points again. Reiff against Zettel or Ansah will be a huge matchup. Mike Remmers may not play at right tackle for the Vikings due to a concussion but returned to practice on Tuesday. Cornelius Washington will face backup Rashod Hill if Remmers can’t play.
Vikings Passing Attack
Case Keenum has had a good year with a 93.5 rating notching 12 TDs and 5 interceptions in 8.5 games. Keenum does just enough for this offense and is capable of a big game every few games. Adam Thielen is having a monster year with 916 yards and 3 TDs. Stefon Diggs is dangerous with 532 yards and 5 TDs and Rudolph is a solid tight end with 366 yards and 3 TDs. Darius Slay must negate Diggs as he has done to most WRs this season. Lawson and Hayden have a tough task with Thielen but will get help from Quin and Wilson.
Detroit must tackle well and not allow much YAC. The key will be pressure. Ziggy Ansah needs to play for Detroit to spark the pass rush. Anthony Zettel has 6 sacks but has regressed recently. Zettel must return to form especially if Ansah can’t play. Cornelius Washington has progressed lately with 2.5 sacks the last two games. Consistent pressure from Washington is needed. Robinson, rookie Jeremiah Ledbetter and Akeem Spence must provide some interior pressure to force Keenum into some bad throws.
The Lions return game took a hit with a knee injury to dangerous return man Jamaal Agnew. However, Ameer Abdullah and Golden Tate are dangerous returners. Sam Martin is winning the field position battles as the Lions punter. Matt Prater is the ultimate clutch kicker as seen at Chicago. Detroit has the advantage in the return game but the Vikings are good at coverage. Forbath has been strong at kicker until two misses last week. Quigley is a solid punter for Minnesota. This defensive game could come down to field position which will be very important.
The Lions have forced 19 and turned it over 12 times. The Vikings have forced only 12 but only turned the ball over 10 times. This was crucial in Week 4 as Minnesota lost 3 fumbles in a big Lions win. Detroit must win the turnover battle on Thursday and force multiple turnovers from the Vikings for some short fields. Detroit can score plenty if they win the turnover battle.
The Lions have won 4 straight on Thanksgiving and three straight against Minnesota. The Lions need this game badly and have the offense to score points against the Vikings. Detroit wins the turnover battle and runs the ball just well enough. Detroit 24 Vikings 17 as the Lions move closer in the North standings and 4-0 in the division. The sweep over the Vikings will loom large for tie breakers. If the Vikings win, the Lions only hope would be the wild card. Go Lions! Have a Happy Thanksgiving!!