The Chicago Bears were the only team that did not have a legitimate shot to win the NFC North before the start of the 2016 NFL regular season. The NFC North has proven to be as competitive as expected a few months ago, but there are now two teams pulling away from the rest of the division. After the recent collapse of the Green Bay Packers, the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings look like the only two teams capable of making the playoffs. The Lions and Vikings are currently tied at the top of the division standings, and they are set to play one of the most important games of the NFL season on Thanksgiving.
The game on Thanksgiving is going to play a major role in determining the winner of the NFC North Division at the end of the season. A one-game lead with only five games left in the season will be very hard to overcome for the team that loses on Thursday afternoon. It will be even harder for the Vikings to overcome a loss this week because they already lost to the Lions earlier in the season. Another win by the Lions will guarantee that they win the division if both teams end up with the same record at the end of the season.
The first game between the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings was extremely close, and there is no reason to expect anything different in the second matchup. While both teams are evenly matched, the Minnesota Vikings are going to enter the game as the underdogs. The Lions are playing better football right now, and they get the benefit of playing in front of their home fans.
Neither team has an effective running game, so this game will be decided by through the air. Stefon Diggs and Golden Tate both had huge games in the first matchup, so stopping the top receiving threat on each team will be key for the defenses. While the Vikings have one of the best pass defenses in the league, Golden Tate is always going to pose a big threat against them. His quickness and ability to break tackles after the catch make it nearly impossible to contain Tate for an entire game. The Lions also do not have to worry about him getting open against the great cornerbacks of the Vikings because the Lions can always get Tate the ball on short screen passes.
The best way to stop the short passing game of the Lions is by putting pressure on Matt Stafford, which is something the Vikings were unable to do throughout the first game. Stafford is prone to make a few mistakes when he is not able to comfortably sit in the pocket, so the Vikings need to find a way to get more than one sack on Thanksgiving.
This will be the first time in many years that this game will hold much significance for both teams. If the Lions beat the Vikings, they will have swept the series and they will win the head to head tie breaker at the end of the season if both teams are tied. Both teams have always been the running joke of the NFC North but they have both managed to vastly turn things around.
Last year the Vikings won the division title in a last-minute thriller against Green Bay and the Lions have managed to crawl out the ashes of what they once were and are now looking to be on top. And if silencing your critics isn’t enough for Detroit, this could be their first time in first place on Thanksgiving since 1993.
Detroit will be coming for Minnesota in a big way Thursday, but if the Vikings can keep the momentum going from last Sunday they shouldn’t have many issues beating the Lions. The defense that the Vikings showed last week was pre-the bye, dominant and showed why they’re ranked third in the NFL. Minnesota had two interceptions against the Cardinals both by Xavier Rhodes who is emerging as one of the top cornerbacks in the league. While controversial, Rhodes 100-yard pick 6 is still being talked about but it was also his interception in third quarter that helped seal the win for the Vikings. The Vikings flexed more of their defense muscle on Sunday keeping Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer to quarterback rating of 63.3, his lowest of the season.
It was also special teams that showed out for the Vikings. Cordarrelle Patterson reminded everyone why he is one of the best kick returners in the league with his 104-yard return. Between Rhodes 100-yard pick six and Patterson’s 104-yard kickoff return, the Vikings are now the first team since the 1962 Dallas Cowboys to get a 100-yard interception return for touchdown and a 100-plus yard kickoff return touchdown in the same game.
While the defense and special teams had great games, the offense is still stuck between a rock and a hard place. Quarterback Sam Bradford still manages to put up great numbers despite the anemic offensive line, he went 20 for 28 for 169 yards and zero interceptions. Adam Thielen’s first quarter touchdown was the Vikings first since October and they got another touchdown thanks to Matt Asiata in the second. The run game is still a major issue for the Vikings as they only had 72 yards on 24 carries. I know this isn’t going to be fixed overnight but something needs to give and fast to make this team run the ball again.
The biggest hurdle the Vikings face coming into this all-important game against Detroit isn’t the weak offense, it’s their constant injuries. Marcus Sherels and Sharrif Floyd are out. Harrison Smith, Stefon Diggs, Eric Kendricks, and Captain Munnerlyn are questionable and Terence Newman is doubtful. With many of their solid players listed as questionable this is going to be a tougher mountain to climb if all of them are out Thanksgiving.
The Vikings this season has been more of a soap opera than a football team. Stars of the show leave in the most dramatic way and others that you wouldn’t expect are forced to step in and shine. But just when it seems this team is down and out, they somehow stop themselves from absolutely coming unglued. Despite what this team has been through and what they will undoubtedly go through, I believe they have it in the to remain on top… for now. And like any good soap opera, you must stay tuned.
Watching the game? Here’s what you need to know:
TIME: 11:30 CST, CHANNEL: CBS (LOCAL CHANNEL 4), RADIO: KFAN 100.3 FM/ KTLK 1130 AM