Three Keys: Vikings at Lions
The Week 17 NFC North match up between the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions means very little for the season as a whole. Both teams will miss the playoffs regardless of the outcome. In Minnesota, missing the playoffs is disappointing. In Detroit, it’s pretty much a yearly ritual. Put simply, Detroit isn’t a good football team, and they haven’t been for a long time. They do have a handful of good payers, though, so the Minnesota Vikings’ depleted roster will need to be sharp in Week 17.
Key #1: Hockenson vs. MN’s LBs
I’m not an NFL coach, and there’s a good reason for that. Be that as it may, this one just seems so obvious: T.J. Hockenson ought to be the focal point of Detroit’s offensive game plan. He is tough to match up with on the best of days, let alone when a team is down five linebackers. When Minnesota first played Detroit, we identified the Kendricks vs. Hockenson match up as one of the keys. Kendricks won that round, but he won’t be available for this game. If they’re smart (the jury is still out on that one), Detroit will ensure Hockenson is schemed onto Minnesota’s backup LBs early and often. One other thing: Matthew Stafford is questionable, but that dude is one of the toughest in the NFL. Expect him to be in there slinging passes, so the linebackers will need to be sharp.
Key #2: Detroit’s DL vs. MN’s OTs
It looks like Riley Reiff will miss the game because of Covid-19. It’s an unfortunate end to what has been a really solid year for Reiff. The hope around TVG is that the Vikings can work out a solution to keep him in purple for the next few seasons. Gary Kubiak confirmed this week that Rashod Hill and Brian O’Neill would be the two starters, though it’ll be interesting to see if O’Neill gets shifted toward the left. Can Everson Griffen, Romeo Okwara, and the rest of Detroit’s defensive line generate pressure on Kirk Cousins? Keep in mind that they won’t have Dalvin Cook to worry about, who is with family due to the death of his father. Backups on the o-line, a less formidable run game, and some sneaky talent on Detroit’s d-line may create issues for the Vikes.
Key #3: The Leadership Trinity vs. a Rebuild
This one is perhaps the most important of all. We’ve written a fair amount about how the Vikings have solidified their Leadership Trinity for the next few years, meaning Minnesota has a clear window to compete for a Super Bowl. If Minnesota plays horribly in Week 17, how much will the Wilfs reconsider their initial plan?
Mike Zimmer said that Week 17’s game is important because it’s the last thing he’ll remember going into the offseason: “Like I told the team, this is the last game that we play this year, so my evaluation for the next season will start this week.” Zimmer is trying to find a way to motivate his players in a meaningless game. It makes sense. That being said, the players aren’t the only ones who are being evaluated. Zimmer needs to ensure he has his guys ready to play; last game was so ugly that the Wilfs are surely wondering about how patient they’ll be with this leadership group. Week 17 is tremendously important for many people within the Minnesota Vikings organization.
The Crystal Ball
It all comes down to Week 17, folks. TVG’s drive toward respectability continues into the season’s final week. It’s certainly not where we wanted to be, but who can really predict the Vikings? They’re an enigma. If we get this one right, we’ll finish the season with a .500 prediction record. 2020 has been tough on all of us, so we’ll take that modest record and be thankful.
I can assure you that this isn’t just the Purple Goggles talking. The Lions are an absolute mess of a team. Minnesota should (emphasis on should) be able to handle them. There are a lot of people on Minnesota’s sideline who are competing for their future employment, coaches and players alike. Minnesota wins a game that is closer than it should be.
Offseason Prediction: Vikings 34 – Lions 14
Updated Prediction: Vikings 27 – Lions 21