The NFC North race is getting extremely tight now with all four teams at .500 or above and this week the two teams fighting to stay out of the cellar in that division will do battle when the Detroit Lions (4-4) travel to Mall of America Field to take on the Minnesota Vikings (5-4). The Lions have been playing some inspired football of late winning their last two games while in that same time span the Vikings have lost two straight which means this game could be huge to see which one of the two teams can make a playoff push during the second half of the season.
This season the Lions offense is ranked second in the NFL in total offensive yards gained per game (410.9 yards), first in passing yards gained per game (307.3 yards), 22nd in rushing yards gained per game (103.6 yards) and 12th in points scored per game (24 points) while their defense is ranked seventh in total offensive yards allowed per game (320.5 yards), eighth in passing yards allowed per game (214.3 yards), 14th in rushing yards yards allowed per game (106.3 yards) and 23rd in points allowed per game (23.5 points).
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is having a fine season in certain aspects such as passing for 2,393 yards and completing 63.6% of his attempts however he has thrown just one more touchdown (8) than he has interceptions (7) this year and that needs to change starting this week. One thing that will help Stafford and the passing game is the new found running attack which Detroit has found in Mikel Leshoure who has rushed for 375 yards and four touchdowns on 92 carries. Once opposing defenses realize they have to stop Leshoure then they will load the box up more and Stafford will be able to hook up with his receivers in the passing game easier. Another aspect that could help as well is passing more to Brandon Pettigrew (39 receptions for 385 yards and a TD) and Titus Young (28 receptions for 324 yards and 3 TD) so that teams will stop double and triple teaming his number one option Calvin Johnson (48 receptions for 767 yards and a TD). The Lions defensive strong suit is their line and the three major playmakers; Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch must get into the Vikings backfield early and often in order to disrupt what Minnesota is attempting to do on offense.
The Vikings offense is currently ranked 22nd in total offensive yards gained per game (334 yards), 30th in passing yards gained per game (188.6 yards), fifth in rushing yards gained per game (145.4 yards) and 17th in points scored per game (22.7 points) while their defense is ranked 11th in total offensive yards allowed per game (337.1 yards), ninth in passing yards allowed per game (220.3 yards), 18th in rushing yards allowed per game (117.3 yards) and 14th in points allowed per game (21.9 points).
If the Vikings are to truly be competitive in this contest they are going to need a much improved performance out of their second-year signal caller, Christian Ponder (1,806 yards, 10 TD, 8 INT and completing 64.1% of his attempts this season) who has been horrific to say the least as of late. If Ponder can find a way to produce how he was earlier in the season then the Vikes have a chance. One way to do so for Ponder is to find his two favorite targets in the passing game Percy Harvin (62 receptions for 677 yards and 3 TD) and Kyle Rudolph (27 receptions for 242 yards and 5 TD). If Ponder can do that then Adrian Peterson (leads NFL with 957 rushing yards this season and has six touchdowns as well) can do most of the offensive heavy lifting due to the fact that the Lions defense won’t be focused solely on the exceptional running back. The Vikings defense is led by their all-world defensive end Jared Allen (7 sacks) and linebacker Chad Greenway who’s 94 tackles currently tops the NFL. If these two can make some plays on the defensive side of the ball then the Vikes have an excellent shot in this one.
One team seems to be trending upward (Detroit) while the other seems to be heading on a downward spiral (Minnesota); with that being said I’ll take Detroit to keep their hot streak as of late going. Detroit 27 – Minnesota 17.