The Detroit Lions, most likely, can't wait another second for the referee lockout to end.
The Minnesota Vikings, on the other hand, could probably stand it if the league took a little while longer to find a solution to the problem.
Both of these teams were involved in Week 3 games that were dictated by heavily-debated calls, but the Lions came out on the losing end whereas the Vikings came out on top.
Now, Detroit suddenly finds itself in desperate need of a win after dropping two straight, the most recent of which was in overtime and Minnesota, against all odds, finds itself with a 2-1 record despite having scored 26 points or fewer in each of its wins and having outscored its opponent by an average of just 5.7 points.
When the Vikings come to town to face the Lions' top-ranked passing attack, they're going to have to be prepared to do more than just keep up. If they want to win, they're going to have to find some way to shut down Matthew Stafford (if he's healthy) and his supporting cast. Although that seems unlikely now, look at what this Minnesota defense did to San Francisco last week.
Where: Ford Field, Detroit, Mich.
When: Sunday, September 30 at 1 p.m. ET
Listen: 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, KFAN 100.3 in Minnesota (and others)
Live Stream: NFL GamePass
Betting Line (via OddsShark): Detroit -6
What's At Stake?
Coming into this season, there weren't many of us who thought the Vikings would be near the top of the NFC North standings while the Lions and the Packers loitered at the bottom. And yet, just three weeks in, that's what we're looking at.
As a result, this game has pretty huge implications for both sides, even though it's only Week 4. For the Lions, it's their first divisional matchup and one they must win, especially given the way they've struggled early this season.
When the end of this season comes, the division champion could be decided by a game or two, which means that Detroit must beat what once appeared to be the weakest link if it has any aspirations of making the playoffs.
Similarly, Minnesota can prove itself in a big way if it manages to take down the Lions on the road and maintain its position atop the NFC North. However, it isn't going to be easy. This is the nation's premiere passing attack, and it's a road matchup with lots of pressure attached to it.
Basically, if the Vikings manage to snag a win here, we'll know they're for real.
Key Injuries: Vikings (via CBSSports.com)
- LB Erin Henderson (concussion) missed the Week 3 matchup vs. San Francisco
- DL D'Aundre Reed (calf) missed last week's game
- WR Jarius Wright (ankle) missed last week's game
Key Injuries: Lions (via CBSSports.com)
- DB Louis Delmas (knee) missed the Week 3 matchup at Tennessee
- LB Travis Lewis (quadriceps) missed last week's game
- TE Tony Scheffler (calf) missed last week's game
- QB Matthew Stafford (leg) left last week's game
Fantasy Prospect to Watch: Lions WR Calvin Johnson
The Lions may not be winning, but you wouldn't necessarily know it judging by the numbers Stafford and Johnson have put up. En route to building the nation's top passing attack, Johnson has already had two games in which he's passed the 100-yard mark and he got pretty close in his third game, registering 94 yards on eight receptions.
But Johnson only has one touchdown thus far—that came in last week's 164-yard performance at Tennessee—and his production could be compromised depending on Stafford's health. The quarterback went down in the fourth quarter of last week's game when he pulled a muscle in his right leg, according to the Sporting News' Vinnie Iyer.
After the game, Stafford said the injury was in his "hamstring/glute area," according to Iyer, and the Lions haven't let anything slip with regards to his status for Week 4.
If Stafford can't go, Shaun Hill will, and it could certainly be worse than that. In relief of Stafford in Week 3, Hill threw for 172 yards and two touchdowns—one of which was the one that went to Johnson with 18 seconds remaining. So perhaps this transition could be seamless after all, if Stafford does have to miss time.
What They're Saying
Not that they ever would in the first place, but the Lions would be foolish to think that Sunday's game is going to be an easy win. The Vikings, after all, are shaping up to be one of the top teams in the NFC North.
What will happen on Sunday is one of two things: The Vikings will be exposed by the Lions, or they will show the rest of the NFL that they're just as good as advertised.
Given the frequency with which these two teams meet, the Lions know they're going to have to come to play—hard—on Sunday. As wideout Nate Burleson told the Detroit Free Press' Carlos Monarrez:
It's going to be a back-alley fight. They know us. We know them. They know our best punches, and we know theirs. It's just basically going to be one of those matches where execution is going to determine the winner.
The Lions will have a lot of challenges to contend with on Sunday, among them, the fact that Vikings QB Christian Ponder has the second-best completion rate in the league, according to Monarrez, and the fact that Minnesota leads the league in sacks. Sunday's game is a must-win, but it isn't going to be a breeze.
Meanwhile, in Minnesota, the offensive fireworks this season aren't coming from the expected source, Adrian Peterson. They're coming from a burgeoning alliance between Ponder and his new favorite target, tight end Kyle Rudolph, according to Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press.
Rudolph may have finished Sunday's matchup with just 36 yards, but he caught two TD passes from Ponder, one of which gave the Vikings some necessary insurance in the fourth quarter against San Francisco.
According to Krawczynski, Ponder looks to Rudolph not only because they've become good friends since being drafted by Minnesota in the same year, but also because Rudolph has a proven tendency to come up big.
As head coach Leslie Frazier told Krawczynski:
Kyle usually comes through for him. So it means a lot that they have the type of relationship that they have. For a quarterback, sometimes the tight end becomes a security blanket. And that’s what Kyle has become for him in so many ways. And a lot of that has to do with their relationship off the field as well as what happens on the field.
That means that in addition to shutting down Peterson, the Lions are going to have to ensure they can contain Rudolph as well.
Minnesota Key Player
As good as the Ponder-to-Rudolph connection has been, the key to this offense is Adrian Peterson. He's one of the best running backs in the league and the Vikings must utilize him accordingly.
Yet Peterson still hasn't been coming up as big as you'd expect from one of the best rushers in the league. After an excellent Week 1 performance in which he got 17 carries for 84 yards and two touchdowns, Peterson hasn't managed another score, even after getting 25 carries against the 49ers last weekend.
And despite the fact that he's facing a defense that allows just 94.7 rushing yards per game, that is going to have to change this week. Never has there been a better time for Peterson to explode for a huge game. The Vikings need this win, and they're going to need Peterson to come up big in order to get it.
Detroit Key Player
The Vikings have managed to put together a decent defense in 2012, and their pass D (ninth in the NFL) is just a little bit stronger than their rush D (12th in the NFL). That means that instead of relying upon Stafford—or whomever is under center on Sunday—the Lions are going to have to bring a strong rushing attack to the table as well.
And in that case, it would help if Mikel Leshoure had another game like the one he had last week against Tennessee, when he rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown in his first career start.
The Lions can't solely rely on their passing game to get the job done, especially given its fragile state. The best teams are the ones with the most balanced offenses, and there is a possibility that Leshoure—inexperienced as he is—can give the Lions exactly that.
Prediction: Lions Win
Detroit is at home, the adrenaline is pumping after last week's tough loss and it knows how badly it needs this win if it wants to stay afloat this season.
The Vikings aren't going to be easy to beat, but neither are the Lions. Their defense may have fallen apart against the Titans last week, but that loss served as a wake-up call. The Vikings, meanwhile, could be riding a little too high after a big Week 3 win, and they'll pay the price at Ford Field.
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