The NFC North is a mess right now, and all four teams have a shot at the postseason after Week 9. The Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings will renew their rivalry on Sunday, with both aiming to make a legitimate push towards the playoffs with a win.
After a Week 4 meeting that Minnesota (5-4) won solely off special teams play, the Lions (4-4) seem to have figured it out after some early-season blunders against inferior opponents.
Minnesota WR Percy Harvin is questionable to play after a Week 9 injury, and he would be a big loss to a team looking to end a two-game losing streak.
Here's a complete primer for this weekend's matchup, including players to watch, television information and a prediction for the game.
When: Sunday, November 11 at 1:00 p.m. ET
Where: Mall of America Field; Minneapolis, Minnesota
Watch: FOX; NFL Sunday Ticket (Live Stream)
Listen: Lions Radio Networks; Vikings Radio Networks
Betting Line: Detroit -2 (according to Vegas Insider)
Injury Report (via CBS Sports)
|S||Louis Delmas||Knee||Missed Week 9|
|LB||DeAndre Levy||Hamstring||Missed Week 9|
|S||Amari Spievey||Concusion||Missed Week 9|
|TE||John Carlson||Concussion||Missed Week 9|
|WR||Percy Harvin||Hamstring||Questionable for Week 10|
|S||Mistral Raymond||Ankle||Missed Week 9 |
Adrian Peterson was likely a second- or third-round pick in your league this year coming off his ACL injury. He's made those projections look weak as he approaches 1,000 yards and is still a dominating RB1 in most formats.
Percy Harvin is a must-start if healthy. On the other side, Mikel Leshoure had a great fantasy day with three touchdowns in Week 9, but it's somewhat alarming that Joique Bell also had 73 yards and a touchdown on the day.
Start AD and Leshoure, but be wary of Christian Ponder. Detroit also leads the league in passing yards per game at 307, so even though Matt Stafford has had some rough games, he's still guaranteeing about 12 points a week (standard scoring).
What They're Saying
Although Harvin is limited right now with a left ankle injury, he still hopes to play on Sunday. However, it's not looking good for one of the league's most explosive receiver/returners, per this report from the Chicago Tribune.
"Um, it's not a good sign," said Harvin, who sprained his left ankle in three places when he rolled it during an end-around run Sunday in the Vikings' 30-20 loss to the Seahawks at Seattle.
Dave Campbell of the Detroit Free Press recognized that the Lions can help exploit a weakness in this Minnesota offense by limiting the passing game, which has been very below average in the past five games.
“We’ve seen what the passing game can do in the early season. We just have to get back to that. We’re good at throwing the ball. We’ve got good receivers. We have good blocking up front,” Ponder said after the 30-20 defeat. “I just have to keep doing a better job of getting the ball in their hands. This team isn’t one-dimensional. This offense isn’t one-dimensional.”
Forcing Ponder into mistakes will be a point of emphasis for the Lions. He had zero in Minnesota's Week 4 win, but has had eight in the last five games. The team is 2-3 in that span.
Lions Player to Watch: WR Calvin Johnson
The targets and receptions are there for Johnson, but the touchdowns haven't followed. As a result, it's part of the reason this team is just 4-4.
The big-play receiver had just five catches for 54 yards in the Week 4 loss. He'll have extra motivation to help his team get that fifth win after a poor start to this 2012 edition of the rivalry, and look for him to have a big day against a secondary allowing just 220 yards per game. If anyone can break that trend, it's Johnson.
Unless you believe in the Madden curse, that is.
Vikings Player to Watch: QB Christian Ponder
Ponder has thrown an interception in the last five games. After not throwing one the first four, he's exploded with eight in the middle of his team's 2-3 slide.
Ponder is more of a game-manager than an elite QB right now, so for him to give away the ball with Peterson lining up behind him in the backfield is completely unacceptable if Minnesota wants to turn things around quickly.
Key Matchup: Both Running Games
We all know Peterson can run the ball. The two-headed monster of Leshoure and Bell was great in Week 9 for the Lions, though, as they managed to account for all four touchdowns in the 31-14 win over Jacksonville.
The team that takes control of the ground has the inside track at taking home the win. Minnesota hangs around with a great running game behind Peterson, while Detroit becomes balanced and dangerous with a consistent running attack.
These are the kinds of games playoff teams win. If Harvin is out, which it looks like is probable, I like the Lions to take control of this game early and take a step back towards the postseason.
Detroit 35, Minnesota 25
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report's Breaking News Team.