With the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers both getting eliminated from NFC North contention on Sunday, the race for the division is now between two teams: The Detroit Lions and the Minnesota Vikings.
Though the competition is ongoing, it could potentially only last for another week.
Minnesota can clinch the NFC North with a win or tie this Sunday in Detroit against the 5-7 Lions. The Vikings defeated Detroit at home earlier in the season, but it is expected to be a tougher game. The opening spread favored the Lions by a point, something many fans were surprised by.
With the chance to clinch their first playoff appearance since 2019, the Vikings are looking to avoid their current trend of close games.
Minnesota managed to squander a 17-point lead last week against the New York Jets but pulled out its ninth one-score win of the season, 27-22.
Detroit, coming off a 40-14 win in Jacksonville, has won four out of its last five games.
For a Vikings victory, they will need to be consistent, something they have not been all season.
Former Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson will play his first game against Detroit since being traded earlier in the season and will need to be used as a checkdown option throughout the game.
In the teams’ matchup in Week 3, Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson had just three catches for 14 yards. Last week he had just seven for 45 but provided a 10-yard receiving touchdown in the fourth quarter. While it is undeniable Jefferson is an amazing talent, he is not a guy that makes game-changing plays consistently.
Much of this inefficiency, however, is due to Minnesota’s subpar offensive line that allows quarterback Kirk Cousins to be pressured at an extremely high rate.
Star left tackle Christian Darrisaw has missed a few games due to concussion protocol, but could possibly return against Detroit which could be a huge help.
Cousins has earned a reputation as one of the toughest QBs in the league due to taking so many hits and staying in the game most of the time, as seen against New York. He has been having a down year in many eyes, but has been consistent in the clutch when needed.
The Lions have an inexperienced secondary that will need to be taken advantage of by Cousins, who cannot be afraid to take deep shots.
The defense has been a disappointment for Minnesota all season. Cornerback Cameron Dantzler, of one the secondary’s few bright spots, has been out for weeks due to an ankle injury but may return for the game.
Akayleb Evans, the rookie corner out of Missouri, has been a pleasant surprise since stepping up after Dantzler’s injury.
Safety Camryn Bynum has shown signs of potential being taught by fellow safety Harrison Smith, but still has a long way to go to be considered a standout on the team.
All of these pieces will be necessary to stop a receiving core led by wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, who is coming up on 1,000 yards this season along with six touchdown catches. They also will need to keep an eye on Kalif Raymond, who has a quiet three touchdowns on the year.
This game will likely come down to the passing attacks. Both Detroit and Minnesota have secondaries that have been less than stellar this season, and the key for Minnesota is to keep up with quarterback Jared Goff and the Lions through the air.
Big plays are likely to happen on such a weak defense in the Vikings, but with the likes of receivers Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and former Eagle Jalen Reagor, who has been getting more meaningful snaps, it should be easy to replicate.