Vikings Must Navigate Hot Lions to Clinch North

The scenario is simple. The Minnesota Vikings must avoid defeat in their 13th game of the season, and they will be crowned division champions for the 21st time.

Standing in their way is Detroit, the only team in the NFC North who can still catch them. Victory or a tie will do it for Minnesota, But the Vikings must navigate the in-form Lions to clinch the division.

For Minnesota not to win the division, they would have to lose all five of their remaining games, while Detroit would have to win all five of theirs — an unlikely scenario. Barring something incredible, the Vikings will win the division, and their focus will be set on the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

For the Lions, a win on Sunday keeps the division unresolved for another week. More importantly, it would keep them with an outside chance of chasing down the final wildcard place.

Preseason Optimism

Did the Lions Give the Vikings a Gameplan?
Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell. © Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Before the season, I was cautiously optimistic about Detroit. I like what they are doing in Michigan and believe there could be a bright future ahead for the Lions. I predicted them to cause a lot of teams problems this season, but ultimately, finish short of making the playoffs. 

That looks about right unless they have an extremely strong finish to the season. That isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. After all, following a 1-6 start to the season, Detroit has won four of their last five games. The one defeat came by just three points to the Buffalo Bills. They appear to be a team on the rise.

The Lions started the season with a high-powered offense, that was slowed due to injuries to star players Amon-Ra St Brown and D’Andre Swift. The Lions problem was defense. No matter what their offense did, they couldn’t keep up with the points the defense was allowing. Following the defeat to Miami in Week 7, Detroit fired the defensive backs coach and pass game coordinator Aubrey Pleasant — thus starting the five-game run that has brought the Lions four victories.

What to Expect on Sunday

Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams. © Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK.

After their recent run of results, you can expect this Lions team to be full of confidence. Their most impressive win came over the New York Giants, while the other wins came against not-particularly-good opposition — Chicago, Jacksonville, and Green Bay. A win here would give the Lions some legitimacy as playoff pretenders.

I am confident the Vikings will be able to move the ball on offense, both on the ground and through the air. The big question is can the defense stand up to this Lions offense? Minnesota’s bend-but-don’t-break defense and ability to shut teams down and make a game-winning play at the death has propelled the Vikings to 10 victories this season.

However, the Lions aren’t a team you want to allow in the redzone. They score on 73.91% of red zone trips. That’s the highest percentage in the league. They have two running backs capable of running the ball in the endzone, which certainly helps. As well as Swift, there is Jamaal Williams. The former Packer helped himself to two touchdowns in the reverse fixture at U.S. Bank Stadium earlier in the season.

A Possible Shootout

Per PFF, the Vikings Top 2022 Players from Best to Worst: After Week 2
Jan 3, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports.

Signs are pointing to a possible high-scoring shootout. That is the way most are expecting this game to go. There’s going to be a lot of talent on display on the offensive side of the ball. However, there are plenty of talented defensive players on both teams who can make big-time plays.

It could come down to one or two big defensive plays at significant moments — a game-defining turnover, or defensive stop. Luckily for the Vikings, that has been the story of this season in Minnesota. Can they do it again? I think so, but you can be assured it will be another close nailbiting affair.