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NFL Preview - Detroit (1-7) at Minnesota (7-1)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - After a terrific Week 9, in which they extended their lead in the NFC North without ever setting foot on the field, the Minnesota Vikings will try to get back to the business of winning football games when the struggling Detroit Lions invade the Metrodome on Sunday.
With losses by the Bears, Lions, and Packers last week, the 7-1 Vikings picked up a half-game on each, drawing closer to a second consecutive NFC North title that would seem to be wrapped up for them with a pretty bow at this stage.
Minnesota confirmed its division front-runner status prior to the bye, when the NFL-viewing public tuned in in large numbers to watch Brett Favre engineer a 38-26 win against his former team, the Green Bay Packers, at Lambeau Field.
After receiving boos from a majority of the Lambeau faithful upon his entry to the field, Favre completed 17-of-28 passes for 244 yards, four touchdowns, and no turnovers committed or sacks absorbed in the 38-26 win over the team that employed him from 1992 through 2007. The win was the 98th of Favre's career at Lambeau, but the first in a uniform other than that of the Packers.
Favre, who threw four touchdowns without an interception for the first time since Nov. 14, 2004, when he (coincidentally enough) did so against the Vikings at Lambeau Field, has now posted a passer rating of 100 or better in four of his last five games. The grizzled 40-year-old ranks among league leaders in touchdown passes (16), passer rating (106.0), and completion percentage (68.0) as the season's second-half commences.
The Vikings will this week start a three-game homestand against Detroit, which has lost 11 straight games at the Metrodome since last winning there in 1997. Should they beat the Lions and Seahawks in their next two, it is conceivable that Minnesota could wrap up the division officially on Nov. 29, when Chicago comes calling.
In addition to their negative recent history in Minnesota, the Lions enter Sunday's contest trying to get past a poor stretch of football that has included five consecutive losses since the team's lone win, over the Redskins in Week 3.
Detroit looked close to snapping that skid last week in Seattle, taking a 17-0 lead into the second quarter before the Seahawks got busy.
Matt Hasselbeck (39-of-51, 329 yards, 1 TD) began carving up the Detroit secondary with ease in what would become a 32-20 Seattle win, as the Seahawks scored 25 unanswered points and officially ended the Lions' upset bid on a Josh Wilson 61-yard interception return for a touchdown in the final minute.
The Lions' eight meaningful possessions for the rest of the day ended thus: one field goal, two punts, and five interceptions from rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 Draft, is just 36-of-75 (48.0 percent) for 371 yards with two touchdowns and six interceptions since returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for two games. Additionally, Stafford's frustration seemed to spill over last Sunday when he was spotted in a heated sideline discussion with top wideout Calvin Johnson.
This week, Stafford will be trying to snap the team's 16-game road losing streak, with the Lions' last such win coming on Oct. 28, 2007 against the Bears, and will also be trying to end a 16-game road losing streak in November, with Detroit's most recent away win during the month coming against the New York Giants all the way back in 2000.
The Vikings hold a 64-30-2 lead in the all-time series with the Lions, and extended their winning streak in the series to four with a 27-13 win at Ford Field in Week 2. The Vikings swept last year's home-and-home, picking up a narrow 12-10 victory at the Metrodome in Week 6 and a 20-16 triumph in the Motor City in Week 14. Detroit is 1-14 against the Vikings since 2002, with the only win over that stretch a 20-17 overtime triumph at Ford Field during the 2007 campaign. As mentioned, the Lions are 0-11 in Minnesota since last winning there in 1997.
Vikings head coach Brad Childress is 6-1 against the Lions as a head coach, while Detroit's Jim Schwartz is 0-1 against both Childress and Minnesota as a head man.
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
If it occurs, the Lions' offensive resurgence will begin with Stafford (1265 passing yards, 5 TD, 12 INT), who seemed to be coming into his own at the time of his injury against the Bears but has not looked like same player that came up just short of 300 yards that day. Getting his top wideout Johnson (24 receptions, 1 TD) involved more often will be key, and Bryant Johnson (20 receptions) and Brandon Pettigrew (21 receptions) are credible targets who should continue to contribute as well. The latter Johnson posted his team- leading second touchdown catch last week, while the rookie Pettigrew posted team-highs with seven grabs, 70 yards, and his first career touchdown. Stafford was 18-of-30 for 152 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in the first meeting with the Vikings this year. Running the football figures to be difficult given the weakness of the Detroit o-line coupled with the strength of Minnesota's trench unit, but Kevin Smith (460 rushing yards, 3 TD, 26 receptions) will give it a go nonetheless. Smith had 83 yards on 24 carries against the Vikings in Week 2, and his 31-yard run last week was Detroit's longest of the season to date. The Lions have allowed 26 sacks on the year, a figure which ranks near the bottom of the league.
Looking to tee off on Stafford and the porous Detroit offensive line will be defensive end Jared Allen (34 tackles), who is tied for the NFL lead in sacks (10.5) and heads up a unit that is No. 1 in that category overall with 31 quarterback takedowns. Allen had half of the Vikes' six sacks of Aaron Rodgers in the team's last game, and opposite end Ray Edwards (26 tackles, 3.5 sacks) contributed two sacks to the cause. That effort has helped mitigate the absence of top cornerback Antoine Winfield (30 tackles, 1 INT), who is questionable for Sunday after missing the team's last two games with a foot injury. If he can't go, Benny Sapp (19 tackles) and Cedric Griffin (48 tackles, 2 INT) will again line up at corner, with the hit-or-miss Madieu Williams (34 tackles) and Tyrell Johnson (34 tackles, 1 INT) at safety. Though the Vikings have not been as dominant against the run this season as in years past, ranking sixth in yards allowed (94.8 yards per game) and outside the Top 10 in yards per carry allowed (4.1), Minnesota is tied for first in the league with just two rushing touchdowns allowed. Pat Williams (27 tackles, 1 sack) and Kevin Williams (19 tackles, 5 sacks) continue to lead the run-stopping charge from their tackle positions, with linebackers E.J. Henderson (57 tackles, 1 sack) and Chad Greenway (51 tackles, 2 INT) ranking 1-2 on the team in stops while working behind them.
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
With Favre (1925 passing yards, 16 TD, 3 INT) and the passing game taking off of late and Adrian Peterson (784 rushing yards, 9 TD, 19 receptions) still representing one of the league's scariest weapons in the running game, the Minnesota attack is a case of "pick your poison" at the moment. The poison the Packers picked in Week 8 was Favre throwing the football, and the future Hall of Famer's four touchdowns went to four different players - wideouts Bernard Berrian (27 receptions, 3 TD), Percy Harvin (28 receptions, 3 TD), tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (22 receptions, 6 TD) and fullback Jeff Dugan. Favorite Favre target Sidney Rice (2 TD) did not get into the end zone, but continues to pace the team in catches (37) and receiving yards (585). The ascendance of the passing game has done little to diminish Peterson's profile. The Pro Bowler has gone over 100 yards just twice this season but has added value as a pass- catcher and has scored at least one touchdown six times in eight games. Chester Taylor (123 rushing yards, 1 TD, 24 receptions) remains a change-of-pace and third-down option for the Vikes, who have thrown the fewest interceptions in the league (3) as Week 10 commences. The o-line has allowed 18 sacks on the year, but Favre was not dropped against the Packers last time out.
Favre, Peterson and company will be going up against a Lions defense that ranks 17th against the run (109.9 yards per game) and 31st versus the pass (261.1 yards per game) entering Week 10, and received some bad news on the injury front this week. Linebacker Ernie Sims will miss at least a month with a hamstring tear, forcing DeAndre Levy (35 tackles, 1 INT) back into the lineup alongside Larry Foote (56 tackles, 1 sack) and Julian Peterson (34 tackles, 3.5 sacks). Foote has been nursing a knee injury but is expected to play on Sunday. Massive veteran Grady Jackson (13 tackles) will be among those looking to slow Peterson at the point of attack. Despite Sims' injury, the biggest concern for Detroit defensively remains an awful pass defense that is allowing opponents to complete a league-high 71.7 percent of their passes, and couldn't handle Seattle's arsenal of receivers last week. Cornerbacks William James (31 tackles, 1 INT) and Kevin Hobbs (19 tackles) are among those who have been struggling in coverage, and safeties Louis Delmas (47 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) and Marquand Manuel (34 tackles) have not been of great assistance. Complicating matters is the presence of a weak pass rush that has only 16 sacks on the season to date, and brought down Hasselbeck only once last Sunday.
The Lions are not totally without fantasy options, but those options are risky at best. Calvin Johnson was an early-round draft pick in most leagues, but he has just three catches for 29 yards since his lone 100-yard game, against the Bears on Oct. 4th, and it is unclear whether he is fully over the knee injury that sidelined him for the better part of three games. Pettigrew had a breakout game against Seattle last week, and the Vikings have had some trouble covering tight ends, but it seems unlikely that he'll be in position to score very often on Sunday. Kicker Jason Hanson still has one of the best legs in the business but doesn't get enough opportunities to merit a start.
On the Minnesota side, it's all systems go. Favre has become a viable fantasy starter since being more of a game-manager early on, and his emergence makes Rice, Berrian, Harvin, and Shiancoe worthwhile fantasy starters, especially against a Detroit team that struggles in coverage. Peterson should also have a big day, but you already knew that, and the Vikings defense and kicker Ryan Longwell should also be big point-producers in this one.
The Lions were reasonably competitive against the Vikings in Week 2, but given Favre's emergence as Minnesota's leader since that time, the September matchup seems like eons ago. The combination of Favre's growing chemistry with his receiving corps and Detroit's beyond-poor pass defense should make this a runaway. On the other side of the ball, Detroit is going to have terrible trouble keeping Stafford away from Allen and the Vikings pass rush, which figures to have a field day in a game that could very well be over by halftime.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 34, Lions 13
11/12 15:31:59 ET