ALLEN PARK — Focus is key in this late-season NFC North contest between the LIons and the Minnesota Vikings.
The Lions (3-8-1) are out of the playoffs heading to Minnesota where the Vikings (8-4) are still trying to scrap together meaningful wins.
“I think for all of us we know how important the division is, that’s the first and foremost, but within each week that game is the most important. It’s a critical game because it’s our next game,’’ Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “That’s certainly how we approach it and things for next year always change. You can’t predict what’s going to happen as far as next year is concerned, from your team to other teams and across the League. What’s most important for us is this week.”
The Vikings won the first matchup, 42-30, on Oct. 20. After a tie at half-time, Detroit was outscored 21-9 in the second half.
Minnesota owns just a 1-2 record in the NFC North which is better than Detroit’s 0-4 mark.
Minnesota is coming off a loss at Seattle on Monday night. Coach Mike Zimmer is not afraid of losing focus because they’re facing a team that has lost five straight.
“I don’t think so. It’s a division game, it’s important to us. We lost last week. We have to win games, and we have to go out and execute and do the things we have to do to win games,’’ Zimmer said on a conference call. “Trust me, we have all the respect in the world for the Lions and what they’re able to do and the players that they have.”
Five things to watch:
1. The Lions defense has shown some improvement against the run in recent weeks. They need to maintain that against Vikings running back Dalvin Cook who gashed the Lions for 142 yards in their first meeting. Cook has been injured but is expected to play.
2. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been dangerous this season with 23 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He’s thrown just two picks in the last 10 games. In the first game, he threw four touchdown passes against the Lions’ defense. “I would say they’re doing a great job of calling plays that fit right into his strong points,’’ Patricia said. “Obviously, the run game sets up a lot for the play-action, and the move out of the pocket sort of plays that they’re able to kind of get him out there and get him in space.’’
3. Protect quarterback David Blough in his second start. Even though the Lions lost to the Bears, the rookie was impressive in his debut on Thanksgiving. Stafford was sacked twice by the Vikings in their first meeting, both coming in the second half.
4. Let Bo Scarbrough run. The running back, who kind of came out of nowhere and has averaged 4.5 yards per carry with 53 touches for 236 yards in three games. Against Chicago, in key situations Ty Johnson and J.D. McKissic got the ball when it was Scarbrough who was having success.
5. It’s up to Patricia to keep the team pumped up the rest of the season. It might be even tougher going into a tough environment like U.S. Bank Stadium where the Vikings are 5-0. The Lions are 1-4-1 on the road.
PREDICTION: Vikings 40, Lions 24