The Vikings have taken over first place in the division – now all they have to do is hold that position for the final four games. Of their four remaining opponents, Detroit would seem to present the fewest problems – but, we remember that the Vikings only beat Detroit by 2 the last time they played, needing a fortuitous pass interference call and a last second field goal to overcome a 1-point defecit. The Vikings would seem to have improved since then, while the Lions have only sunk deeper. But, don’t underestimate the power of positive thinking. The Lions feel like they should’ve won that earlier game, and at least know they can play with the Vikings if everything goes well. They should have a certain level of confidence against us that hasn’t been there in other games, and if the Vikings should make a few early mistakes and allow the Lions to hang around? Then the Lions could well end their quest for a winless season, and the Vikings could find themselves humiliated and, depending on what the Bears do, back in a tie for the division.
On the other hand…Should the Vikings manage to win this game, then they will be in the driver’s seat in the division. The tiebreaker situation is far too complicated to break down in any detail here, but suffice it to say that a win over Detroit would give the Vikings a clear edge in both the division record and record vs. common opponents tiebreakers. Should the Vikings win today and the Bears lose at home to Jacksonville…well, the division race wouldn’t officially be over, but it would be just about over.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. The main concern now is Detroit. The Lions are a dismal team by the rankings – 31st in defense and 29th in offense. They are dead-last in rush defense but almost average – 19th – against the pass. This points to a large day for Adrian Peterson – but AD was beat-up some after the Bears game and had to take it easy in practice this week. Wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the Vikes dial back Adrian a bit and throw a little more Chester Taylor at the Lions. Now would be a perfect time for Chester to step it up and have his first big running game of the year. On the defensive side…I absolutely expect the defensive line, which will have the Williamses thanks to the judge, to be all over Daunte Culpepper today. Jared Allen proved against the Bears that he knows how to step it up and dominate in a big home game – now he has to show he can do the same thing in a big road game.
The worst possible scenario, of course, would be for Daunte Culpepper to turn back the clock and have some kind of huge game against his old team. I’m sure that’s what he’s thinking about, and he does have a pretty formidable receiving weapon in Calvin Johnson. Unfortunately for Daunte, I don’t know if he has that kind of game in him at this point. He looked God-awful against Tennessee, and overall has not come close to indicating that a career resurgence is in the offing for him. It’s more likely that the Vikings will use Daunte and his new team as stepping-stones to the playoffs – a circumstance that would prove more than mildly satisfying given the way Daunte handled his departure a couple of years ago.