Week 7 is a potential season definer for both teams involved, not only due to the fact that they both sit winless (albeit the Lions more so due to questionable calls on Monday Night Football) in the division, but also because the Packers have a fairly favourable matchup against the Raiders, so neither can afford to lose further ground on the current NFC Division Leader (though that won’t be the case come Week 17).
- Vikings sit 0-2 currently on the road against divisional opponents
- Lions sit 0-1 against divisional opponents
- Winner will sit second in the NFC North (due to the Packers superior record in the division and overall)
The Lions (2-2-1) appear to be a team rejuvenated from the season prior, they are 13th in the league for points per game and ninth for passing yards per game. Their first losses of the season came against post-season potential teams in Kansas City and Green Bay and even those defeats were by the narrowest of margins (losing 30-34 to the Chiefs and 22-23 to the Packers). This team isn’t the joke of the NFC North, or the entire NFC Conference anymore under second-year Head Coach Matt Patricia.
In the two defeats, Detroit did give up three-plus sacks in each game, conceding three to Green Bay and four to Kansas City, while the other non-win (game ended in a tie) against the Cardinals also was a three-sack game from the opposing defense. This compares to the one sack combined against the Chargers and Eagles (one vs the Chargers and zero vs the Eagles) so the key focus has to be on getting pressure on Matthew Stafford from the Vikings perspective.
The pass rush was somewhat limited against the mobile Carson Wentz in Week 6, registering a season-low two sacks from a combined Eric Kendricks/Mackenise Alexander sack and a solo effort from Danielle Hunter. That sack by Hunter means he now has more sacks before the age of 25 than anyone in NFL history, registering 46 in his five seasons as an NFL Player, and he still has two more games including this one to add to that tally.
For the Vikings to have the greatest chance of success, the front men of Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph, added to Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, must all make the most of the less than agile Matthew Stafford and disrupt the pass game at a similar level to which they have stopped the run in recent weeks.
Similarly, the Vikings must continue to be disruptive in the pass game as they have been recently, giving up just 4.8 yards per play. In recent weeks, the defense has looked increasingly assured due to the reintroduction of Mike Hughes at cornerback, adding to the quality of Xavier Rhodes and Mackensie Alexander. Statistically Hughes has been quietly performing, coming up with big plays in Weeks 5 and 6 holding two of the league’s best red-zone targets – Evan Engram and Zach Ertz – scoreless. He has been crucial to the recent uptick in performance of this defensive unit, and should look to continue his good form against impressive rookie TE TJ Hockenson, who provides a similar test to the previous mentioned TEs.
Kirk Cousins needs to stay consistent. After an impressive showing in Week 5 at the New York Giants, throwing for 306 yards and two touchdowns, he followed up that display with a 333-yard showing to go with three touchdowns and one interception against the Eagles. This represents the most productive two-game stretch in the Mike Zimmer era and earned him FedEx Air Player of the Week.
However, good QBs can have these good games; it’s the great QBs that do it week in, week out. Despite facing a Lions defense that’ll be more suspect against the run than the Eagles were (giving up an average of 132 yards per game on the ground compared to the 67 by the Eagles entering Week 6) Cousins will still need to air the ball out as well as he did last week, where he threw two long TDs to Stefon Diggs (who it is safe to say is happy in Minnesota). This isn’t to say we should necessarily abandon the run game, far from it, but a stat line of a QB going for 300+ and RB going for 100+ on the ground will always look impressive.
In summary, the defense needs to produce again, Cousins needs to keep it up and Cook will, well Cook. Do all this and it should be an easy W against the Lions.
Prediction: Vikings 31 Lions 17
BOLD PREDICTION: Alexander Mattison will have 100+ yards overall and 1 TD.
Featured Picture – Credit: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images