Vikings Must Finish the Thanksgiving Alley-Oop

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The ultimate goal for every team is the Super Bowl, but first, they must reach the playoffs to get there. That can be done by winning the division or securing a wild card spot. The main difference is that a clinched division ensures a home playoff game against a franchise that couldn’t win theirs. For the Vikings, that means finishing over the Lions, Bears, and Packers.

Vikings Must Finish the Thanksgiving Alley-Oop

Detroit was viewed as the overwhelming favorite to win the NFC North, although Kevin O’Connell’s operation came off a 13-4 season, including the division crown. Green Bay parted ways with Aaron Rodgers and seems to be in a transitional phase, something the Bears have been in for a while.

Vikings Must Finish the Thanksgiving Alley-Oop
Detroit Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is tackled by Green Bay Packers safety Jonathan Owens during the second half at Ford Field in Detroit on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023.

But Dan Campbell’s Lions finished the previous season strong and heavily invested in the horrendous defense in the offseason while continuing to find ways to improve the potent offense. Indeed, the season started well for the organization that has somehow never won the NFC North.

In Week 1, they faced the Super Bowl champions Chiefs on the road. The absences of All-Pros Travis Kelce and Chris Jones and some critical mistakes from Patrick Mahomes’ team helped them. However, it is not easy to win games in the NFL, and the Lions performed better and, therefore, came away with the victory.

Detroit then lost a shootout at home against the Seahawks before going on a four-game win streak. A blowout loss versus the Ravens in Week 7 reminded Vikings fans of their 2022 debacle when they faced the Dallas Cowboys. But the Lions bounced back, winning three straight games. With Minnesota’s loss in Denver, the Lions were the clear favorites to win the North with a two-and-a-half-game lead.

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Entering Thanksgiving at 8-2, Dan Campbell saw the Green Bay Packers on his schedule, a team that has lost and won some close games and can be dangerous in any given week. Green Bay immediately blitzed the Lions and racked up a 20-6 lead in the first quarter, eventually winning 29-22.

Suddenly, the Vikings are only a couple of wins out of first place in their division. That still sounds like a comfortable lead, but one look at the schedule changes that. Minnesota faces Detroit in Weeks 16 and 18. They control their own destiny. By winning as many games as the Lions from now on and beating them twice, the Vikings would win the division.

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Minnesota’s schedule doesn’t have any juggernauts left, especially with Bengals’ QB Joe Burrow suffering a season-ending injury. Bears, Raiders, Burrow-less Bengals, Lions, Packers and Lions. Three of those contests — Bears, Lions, Packers — will be at home.

Of course, none of the opponents should be overlooked, especially for a Vikings’ team that has shown the ability to lose games they should’ve won by committing turnovers and that will be relying on a backup QB for the remainder of the season, but they control their fate.

Some tougher matchups, at least on paper, can be found on Detroit’s schedule. They will play road games in New Orleans, Chicago, Minnesota, and Dallas while hosting Denver and Minnesota at home.

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Detroit has a powerful offensive line, a great offensive coordinator, and fantastic weapons. All of that results in one of the business’s best offenses. On the flip side, their defense isn’t that of a contender, allowing 23.5 points per game. Since Week 7, the Lions have had a bottom-five defensive unit in many metrics. The only current playoff team they have beaten was the Chiefs in Week 1, and they haven’t been looking as sharp as they did two months ago.

If the Vikings beat the Bears on Monday, they can put pressure on the Lions. The division finish will be exciting if the Vikings can be within reach when Christmas Eve arrives.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt