The Minnesota Vikings travel to Ford Field on Sunday to take on the Detroit Lions in a game that most dubbed an easy victory for the Lions before the season began. But after three weeks, those sentiments have changed.
The Vikings sit at 2-1 after upsetting the San Francisco 49ers last week, 24-13. Christian Ponder is playing surprisingly efficiently at quarterback and Adrian Peterson seems to have put his ACL injury behind him.
Minnesota's defense is allowing 304.3 yards and 19.7 points per game. The balance this team possesses should keep them in plenty of games this season.
While Detroit's defense is ranked near the middle of the pack in yards, the 31.3 points per game allowed make it difficult for the offense to keep up, no matter how explosive the Matthew Stafford-Calvin Johnson connection is.
Here is one bold prediction for each team in Sunday's matchup:
Christian Ponder and Kyle Rudolph Hook Up for Two More Touchdowns
If asked who the five highest-rated quarterbacks in the league were right now without looking it up, you would be hard-pressed to correctly name two of them. After three games, Ponder's efficiency rating of 104.9 currently sits fifth in the NFL.
The second-year signal-caller is doing it behind Peterson and a solid running game, and relying on two dependable receiving threats.
Wide receiver Percy Harvin and tight end Kyle Rudolph have combined for 40 of Ponder's 68 completed passes, with Rudolph accounting for three of the quarterback's four touchdowns as well.
This game could turn out to be a slugfest and Ponder would do well to lean on his go-to targets again. Look for Rudolph to get plenty of looks in the red zone after Peterson and Harvin lead the charge down the field.
Matthew Stafford Throws for 450 Yards and Four Touchdowns
The Vikings' defense has done a good job so far this season in allowing just 209 passing yards per game. However, that has come against Blaine Gabbert, Andrew Luck and Alex Smith. A second-year quarterback, a rookie and a game manager are exactly world-beaters under center.
Stafford has had big games in the past, but the emergence of running back Mikel Leshoure in last week's 44-41 overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans will open things up against a defense that has yet to face an offense as explosive as Detroit's.
Whether the Lions can establish the run or if this game turns into a shootout, Stafford stands to benefit in a huge way.
Assuming Stafford plays—which all signs point to that happening—this week could signal a turning point in a paltry 2012 season for the quarterback.