Two teams who know each other quite well will take the field at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon, as the Vikings will host the Detroit Lions in Week 9 NFL action. This game marks the first of two between these division rivals in 2016, with their second game scheduled for Thanksgiving Day in Detroit.
Here are five storylines to watch in the buildup to Vikings versus Lions on Sunday…
1. Home sweet home for Vikings, passing game
The Vikings went into their bye with an unblemished 5-0 record and they've come out of it quite blemished, falling to 5-2 after consecutive road losses to Philadelphia and Chicago. A game inside the comforts of U.S. Bank Stadium should serve the Vikings well. They are undefeated in their new home and their new quarterback – Sam Bradford – has been incredibly sharp in home games. Bradford is 70 for 97 (72.1%) for 819 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 114.6 in three home games this season. A home game could be just what the doctor ordered for a sputtering Vikings offense.
2. What's next for the offensive line?
Against the Bears, Bradford was sacked five times, the Vikings ran for just 57 yards and left guard Alex Boone left the game early with an injury. The Vikings have now allowed 11 sacks in the past two games while their running game that had seen improvement over three games took a step back in Chicago and it's possible another starter's status will be in question for Sunday's game. This is a group, though, that played well enough over the first five games of the season to help the team start 5-0, so it's not a matter of reinventing the wheel.
3. Stafford in top form
Detroit's loss at Houston last week may mask it a touch, but Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is playing some of the best football of his career right now. He has Top 10 rankings in passer rating (4th), completion percentage (4th), touchdowns (5th), completions (7th), passing yards (8th) and yards per attempt (9th), and he also led three fourth quarterback comebacks in Weeks 5-7 to lift the Lions into NFC contender territory. Stafford has long been a volume thrower and has been able to accumulate gaudy statistics in part because of a high number of attempts. This season, however, is different. Stafford is sharp and efficient.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Lions.
4. No more Megatron
Don't be surprised if Xavier Rhodes looks lost early in Sunday's game. He may be looking for Calvin Johnson, the assignment he's drawn when facing the Lions during his career. Johnson retired this past offseason, but that doesn't mean the task of slowing down the Lions receivers has gotten any easier. As pointed out above, Stafford is playing well and that's partially because he's got a talented crew of pass catchers, including Golden Tate and new addition Marvin Jones, Jr. Both receivers have registered huge outings, with Tate hauling in eight catches for 165 yards and one touchdown a few weeks ago against the Los Angeles Rams and with Jones tallying a pair of 100-yard games, including a 200-yard game against the Green Bay Packers in Week 3.
5. Another dual threat running back for Vikings defense to battle
A big factor in the loss to Chicago last week was the production by Bears running back Jordan Howard, who had 202 total yards and one touchdown on 30 touches – 26 carries and four receptions. The Lions also have a starting running back who can produce as a runner or receiver. Theo Riddick leads the Lions in rushes (61) and rushing yards (227), but he's only four receptions behind Tate, the team leader in that category, and he has four touchdowns via reception compared to just one on the ground. Aside from the red-hot Stafford, Riddick may be Priority No. 1 for the Vikings defense on Sunday.