The consolation prize of the highest draft pick is great for fans, but not for these Detroit Lions. Sunday’s game with the Vikings is well worth watching.
For teams that have no postseason to look forward to, many of their fans begin to pin their hopes on the only thing that remains to matter to them, the ability to get the highest pick possible in the NFL draft.
That means hoping for the defeat for their favorite team and victories of other lowly teams that stand in their way. In other words, a race to the bottom for a better chance to select the best college prospect possible.
For Detroit Lions fans, this has been the annual endeavor for the majority of the last two decades. But for those on the field and in the coaching booths responsible for victories it’s a totally different story. Their jobs are on the line, whether it be in Detroit or future teams that may want their services.
Sunday’s game is a perfect example. For the Minnesota Vikings, who are coming off a tough loss Monday night to Seattle, this is a must-win to make the postseason in the top-heavy NFC. That loss to the Seahawks put the Vikes closer to losing the coveted last wild card slot in the playoffs.
Losing to the Lions and then to the Green Bay Packers in Week16 may dash Minnesota’s hopes for the postseason. Expect a well-motivated team to come out for their home fans at U. S. Bank Stadium going into a bye week.
For the Lions, it may seem that they have nothing to play for except “pride”, that cliché reason that players always give when the season is all but lost yet vow to play their best. But this game in particular promises to be different.
While head coach Matt Patricia’s job is reported to be safe for next season, it remains very important to ownership as well as the fans to prove that he has some answers to the criticisms of the defense that have come his way.
This game demands that Detroit brings the maximum effort. Minnesota is a very physical team and if the Lions can’t match that intensity, they risk getting punished in an embarrassing and painful fashion. Their last meeting in October is the only game this year where they were decisively beaten and one they certainly didn’t forget.
But the Lions do have reasons for optimism. Coming off Thanksgiving Day’s loss to the Chicago Bears, they have the benefit of a few days of extra rest to heal and time to conjure up alternative game plans. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell needs to be creative against a defense that boasts many great athletes who’ve been together for several years.
Rookie quarterback David Blough will have his hands full facing the tough and experienced Vikings. But the usually stingy Minnesota defense is having a rather pedestrian season ranking 16th in total yardage allowed (347 per game) and have been vulnerable against the run (104 per game).
This has many experts and fans fearing the team is in decline. At this time last year, they recorded 50 sacks compared to only 33 this season. Look for running backs Bo Scarborough and J.D. McKissic to get plenty of touches, keeping the Vikings defense honest to protect Blough and control the clock.
The Vikings have a short week of preparation and are pretty banged up. Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook, who powered through the Lions for 142 yards in their first meeting, is dealing with a clavicle injury that knocked him out of Monday’s game. Wide receiver Adam Thielen has been nursing a hamstring injury and is doubtful.
Three-time Pro-Bowl defensive end Everson Griffen continues to struggle with a knee injury. And former Lions offensive tackle Riley Reiff is in concussion protocol and will be a game-time decision.
We should look to see how the Lions approach this game from the outset. If they come out with great intensity, willing to sacrifice their bodies to inflict punishment, this will be a fun one to watch. But it remains critical for the defensive front to find a way to pressure quarterback Kirk Cousins if they hope to emerge victoriously.
Except for second-year defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand, it appears that the remaining veteran linemen are finally healthy, a rare luxury this season. The matchup of cornerback Darius Slay, who has been lobbying for a new contract, covering Vikings speedy wide receiver Stefon Diggs will likely be a game within a game itself.
If the Detroit Lions can play spoiler for their division rival it would make amends for their previous loss, and provide a much-needed boost in confidence. It may also serve to quiet critics of Matt Patricia’s coaching style. But one thing is certain, despite the preference of the fans, they could not care less about the impact it will have on the 2020 NFL Draft.