MINNESOTA VIKINGS (8-2) AT DETROIT LIONS (6-4)
KICKOFF: Thursday, 12:30 p.m. ET, Ford Field.
SERIES HISTORY: 113th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 71-39-2. Vikings are 32-23-1 at Detroit, but lost 16-13 at Ford Field on Thanksgiving last season. The Vikings are 2-5 against the Lions during the Mike Zimmer era. They have lost three straight, including a 14-7 setback at U.S. Bank Stadium on Oct. 1. This is the Lions’ 78th Thanksgiving game, dating to 1934. They are 37-38-2. The Vikings are 5-2 on Thanksgiving.
KEYS TO THE GAME: It’s pretty simple how the Vikings lost the first meeting. They lost three fumbles and the turnover battle, 3-0. The Lions turned two of those fumbles into 10 points. The last fumble, by Adam Thielen with 1:51 left, clinched the 14-7 victory. The offense needs to secure the football.
The defense needs to establish its second-ranked run defense (77.7) and go after Matthew Stafford, whom they sacked six times in the first meeting.
It also will help if Kai Forbath gets his kicking straightened out. He missed a 39-yarder in the fourth quarter of the first meeting. And he’s coming off a game in which he missed back-to-back field-goal attempts.
The Lions won the first meeting by controlling the clock with 31 rushing attempts. That was done partly out of necessity in an effort to keep the Vikings’ menacing pass rush off Stafford.
The Lions still want a balanced offense, but their line has improved in the last two months thanks to the return of Taylor Decker, and they won’t have the disadvantage of playing on the road.
The Vikings do play a lot of single-high safety on early downs, so perhaps Stafford can take more shots downfield.
On defense, the objective is to stop the run first and foremost and put the game in Case Keenum’s hands. The Vikings don’t take many sacks, but the Lions won’t hesitate to come after Keenum in long down-and-distance situations.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Lions LT Taylor Decker vs. Vikings DEs Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter. What a difference seven weeks make. When the Vikings last faced the Lions, former first-round draft bust Greg Robinson was a desperate fill-in for the injured Decker. Griffen was so unimpressed with Robinson’s work that he called him “lazy” in the days leading up to the game. The Vikings had six sacks. Not all of them came against Robinson. But the opening snap of the game was indicative of the problems the Lions would have. With the Lions giving extra attention to the blind side to help Robinson, Hunter took advantage of single blocking on the other side and beat Rick Wagner for a sack. Hunter had two sacks in the game. Griffen had one. Decker is a much better player than Robinson. Plus, Griffen admits he’s not 100 percent since injuring his foot Oct. 29 vs. Cleveland. He missed a game and then had his streak of eight games with a sack snapped last week against the Rams.
–Vikings WR Adam Thielen vs. Lions CBs Darius Slay and Nevin Lawson. Thielen is the only receiver in the league with at least five catches in every game this season. He had a relatively quiet game — five catches for 59 yards — in the first meeting. He also had the team’s third fumble of the game, which allowed the Lions to run out the final 1:51 of a 14-7 win. Slay has a team-high four interceptions. Teams haven’t shadowed Thielen yet this season because Stefon Diggs can be equally dangerous on the other side when healthy. He caught five balls for 98 yards in the first meeting. The rest of the Lions’ secondary can’t sleep on Thielen’s speed. Active safety Glover Quin will need to take the proper angle or risk a similar fate as the Rams did Sunday when Thielen turned a short catch into a 65-yard touchdown.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Vikings RB Latavius Murray. Coming off his best performance in 10 games as a Viking, Murray needs to not play the way he did the last time these two teams met. In that game on Oct. 1, star rookie Dalvin Cook suffered a torn ACL while running untouched through an open hole. Murray stepped in and finished with 21 yards on seven carries, looking slow and punchless. Last week, Murray displayed the power that was advertised when the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder was signed. He ran through arm tackles and bulled his way into the end zone on two touchdown runs.
FAST FACTS: Vikings QB Case Keenum has thrown for 584 yards and five TDs, with two interceptions, in the past two games. … RB Latavius Murray rushed for 95 yards & 2 TDs last week. Has 4 rush TDs in past 4. In 3 career Thursday games, has 332 scrimmage yards (110.7 per game) & 4 rush TDs. … WR Adam Thielen ranks second in the NFL with 916 receiving yards. He is the second player in franchise history with 60 catches (62) and 900 yards (916) in the first 10 games (Randy Moss, 2003). In his past six road games, he has 39 receptions for 645 yards and four TDs. … WR Stefon Diggs has 24 receptions for 286 yards and a score in three career games vs. Detroit. He has two TDs in his past three division road games. … DE Everson Griffen is tied for fourth in the NFL with 10 sacks. He has a sack in eight games this season. He has 9.5 sacks in his past 11 vs. Detroit. … DE Danielle Hunter aims for a third straight game with a sack. He had two sacks in the last meeting and has four sacks in the past five division games. … In his past six home games, Detroit QB Matthew Stafford has averaged 300.7 passing yards per game, with 12 TD passes and three interceptions. In his past six Thursday games, he has averaged 325 yards, with 15 TDs and two interceptions. His 2,219 yards and 15 TD passes are second-most on Thanksgiving in NFL history. … WR Golden Tate has 30 receptions for 424 yards (84.8 per game) & 2 TDs in past 5. Has 13 catches for 183 yards (91.5 per game) & TD in past 2 at home. … WR Marvin Jones led Detroit with 85 yards and a TD last week. He has four TDs in his past five games. … DE Ezekiel Ansah has 6.5 sacks in four Thanksgiving games. … CB Darius Slay leads the NFC with four INTs and ranks first in NFL with 15 passes defensed. He has two INTs in his past three home games vs. Minnesota. … LB Tahir Whitehead led Detroit with nine tackles in Week 11. He has 29 tackles in the past three meetings.
PREDICTION: The Vikings haven’t lost since the last time these teams met, with six straight wins. The Lions have lost to all three good teams they have played since then.
OUR PICK: Vikings, 27-24.
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(photo courtesy of Vikings.com)