Coming off the fifth loss in six weeks, the Detroit Lions head to Minnesota to face the Vikings in the season finale for both teams.
With the playoffs now officially unattainable for the Lions, it will be very interesting to see what sort of effort Detroit brings. The Lions currently sit at 7-8 and in third place in the NFC North.
|Team||Record||Points For||Points Against||Division Record|
|Green Bay Packers||7-7-1||
The Bears and Packers meet in Chicago in Week 17 for the NFC North Division title and the fourth seed in the conference. Chicago won the first meeting in Green Bay in a game more renowned for being the contest in which Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone.
Rodgers has not played since, and the Packers, fielding a cavalcade of reserves, have struggled. His status for the season's final week remains up in the air.
Minnesota limps to the finish after a 42-14 pasting in Week 16 by the Cincinnati Bengals. They managed just 10 first downs and 209 total yards of offense while surrendering 366 passing yards and four touchdowns to Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.
The Vikings have alternated wins and losses since Week 10, with a Week 12 tie with the Packers mixed in for variety. The Lions won the first meeting, the season opener in Detroit, 34-24.
The Lions have not beaten a non-NFC North team since edging the Dallas Cowboys in Week 8. However, Detroit has a chance to finish 5-1 in the division. That's a very appealing carrot, even though it doesn't equal a playoff berth.
Here is how the teams match up statistically:
|Rushing||Passing||Run Allowed||Passing Allowed|
|Vikings||10th (NFL rank)||22nd||18th||32nd|
*All statistical rankings courtesy of Team Rankings.
Minnesota has allowed more passing yards than any other team. To put it into context for Lions fans, the Vikings have surrendered 637 more yards through the air than Detroit. Considering the Lions average 251.9 passing yards allowerd per game, that's more than two games of extra passing yards against the Vikings.
The Lions are a virtual lock to finish in the top five in rushing defense. That is marked improvement from recent Detroit teams. Here's how the Lions have finished in run defense the past four years:
|2012||1889 yards||4.5 yards per carry||13 TDs||16th in yards allowed|
Allowing fewer than 100 rushing yards per game would be a nice feather in this defense's cap. They have currently allowed 1,422 yards, a 4.0 yards-per-carry average and just nine touchdowns.
As noted in the game takeaways, the injury bug finally found the Detroit Lions late in the season.
Johnson is the most serious of the names listed. He was clearly inhibited throughout the Giants game, failing to catch a pass after the second quarter.
The team has not ruled him out, but the prospect of shutting Johnson down for the season doesn't appear to be a possibility, as reported by Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press:
Schwartz on Calvin playing this week: "if there’s no medical reason to keep him out, we’ll have him out there."—Carlos Monarrez (@cmonarrez) December 23, 2013
Pettigrew appears unlikely to play, as reported by Kyle Meinke of MLive:
Starting tight end Brandon Pettigrew missed the game with an ankle injury he sustained a week ago against Baltimore. He hasn't practiced since, and it seems unlikely he'll play against the Vikings.
Joseph Fauria played well in Pettigrew's starting role and figures to see the vast majority of the snaps.
Dickerson's concussion complicates the matter at tight end. If he can't go, Fauria is the only tight end currently on the Detroit roster.
The cornerback situation remains tricky. Regular starters Chris Houston and Rashean Mathis both missed the Giants game. Mathis was out due to illness and is expected back for the Minnesota game.
Houston's toe issue could cause him to miss another week. Schwartz did not talk about him during his Monday press conference, which you can watch here on the Lions' official website.
Slay was active for the Giants game but did not play. Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green both played well enough against New York to merit longer looks against Minnesota.
Bentley was knocked out by teammate Louis Delmas during the game. Schwartz indicated that Bentey lost consciousness during the game, which prevented any return. As Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reported:
Bill Bentley was knocked unconscious on his concussion. Schwartz said he was "much improved" and showed diminished symptoms in locker rm— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) December 23, 2013
Look for Bentley to be back in his customary slot role versus the Vikings.
What Needs to Improve
The Lions are playing for nothing but pride. One of the ways that the team can improve is by playing with pride on both sides of the ball. Other than the Thanksgiving romp over the Packers, that has not happened for Detroit during the late-season collapse. The offense will play well for a half, but the defense will struggle. Then the roles will reverse.
Getting both units to play smart and fundamentally sound football at the same time would be a great way for the Lions to go out winners.
Having a positive turnover margin would certainly help too. That has not happened since Week 6, when the team was plus-1 in a win at Cleveland.
Detroit has committed at least three turnovers in six consecutive games. During that time, they have six combined takeaways.
|New York Giants||3||2||-1|
It's awfully hard to win games when you're minus-15 in turnover margin in just six weeks, but that's where the Lions stand at this point.
Jim Schwartz finally created some accountability by benching Reggie Bush for an extended period after his fumble against New York. It might be too little, too late, but at least there finally appears to be some recourse for being loose with the pigskin.
If Schwartz is serious about stopping the turnovers, he needs to not fear yanking Matthew Stafford if the quarterback is having another bad game.
Stafford has lost the right to not have to look over his shoulder if he's clearly not on top of his game, as was the case in losses to Baltimore, New York and Tampa Bay. It's highly controversial to sit a "franchise" quarterback, even if he's obviously not playing well.
Schwartz needs to defy conventional thinking here. If Stafford comes out flat again, is careless with his mechanics and starts throwing interceptions, then he deserves to be benched.
That is the kind of message that this team needed weeks ago, but Schwartz and his coaching staff never thought to send. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but the Lions never appeared more than mildly concerned when times were most dire.
As much as this game is about pride, it's also about laying a foundation for the offseason. Even though Detroit will almost certainly have a new coaching staff next year, the team needs to prove it can bury this bad stretch of play before the season ends.
This is a chance for the veteran leaders on the team to demonstrate true professionalism to the younger players.
Guys like center Dominic Raiola—in what is certain to be his final game as a Lion—and Nate Burleson must establish that, even though the game doesn't matter in the standings, it absolutely still matters to the players themselves.
That sets the table for the offseason. Successful organizations never mail in an effort, not even when the outcome has no impact on any playoff prospects.