These count for two, they say. The Vikings have a division game on their hands as they prepare to face the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday. Here are five storylines to watch this week as the Vikings get set for Detroit.
1. First battle versus new-look Lions
Yes, Matthew Stafford is still taking snaps for the Lions and there will be several other recognizable names on the field. But overall, this is a new-look Lions team. They have a new head coach in former New England Patriots assistant Matt Patricia, and with a new head coach comes a lot of change. The Lions have shown defensive fronts with three down linemen and some fronts with five on the line. They've covered up the center, they've left the center uncovered. They've used a variety of coverages in the back end, too. On offense, there's plenty of newness, too. The running game has been revitalized…more on that in a minute. Golden Tate was traded on Tuesday. There's been a lot of change in the Motor City and there's a feeling Patricia has the outfit moving in the right direction.
2. Rookie running back putting a rush back in Detroit's ground game
Detroit selected running back Kerryon Johnson in the second round of this year's draft and the former Auburn playmaker has wasted no time impressing his new team…and head coach Mike Zimmer. At his Monday press conference, Zimmer referred to Johnson as one of the NFC North's top backs. Johnson has two 100-yard games already, and last week he displayed the ability to help as a receiver by catching six passes for 69 yards. Johnson can run with power and speed, Zimmer noted his ability to help pass protect and he's a threat on 3rd downs, too.
3. Lions next up in trying to solve the Diggs-Thielen dilemma
No team has been able to stop Adam Thielen this season and some teams haven't been able to stop Stefon Diggs, either. Thielen has opened the season with at least 100 receiving yards in every game this season and Diggs has accomplished that feat three times. Both receivers also have at least three games with 10+ receptions on the year, including a 10-catch performance last week against the Saints. Thielen had five catches for 75 yards in the first half last week against the Saints, so New Orleans tried to clamp down on him in the second half. All that did was open up more chances for Diggs, who cashed in by collecting six of his 10 catches and 65 of his 119 receiving yards in the final two quarters when extra attention was being paid to Thielen.
4. Tate's trade creates new challenge for Vikings defense
Covering Golden Tate is a chore. But it won't be a chore for the Vikings this week because the Lions traded him to the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday. Tate was a challenge because of his savvy and experience as well as his ability to contribute as a runner and in the screen game. Now that he's gone, there's receiving production opportunity for others. The division of labor employed by the Lions will be a mystery, so while the challenge of checking Tate is no more there is a new challenge of anticipating, reacting to and adjusting to what the Lions do to replace Tate's production.
5. Who's in, who's out?
This is not a fun storyline to follow and it's certainly not one any players or coaches prefer to discuss. But the Vikings injury report will bear monitoring once again this week. Last week against the Saints, the Vikings were without defensive starters Anthony Barr, Xavier Rhodes and Andrew Sendejo as well as offensive starters Tom Compton, Dalvin Cook and Riley Reiff. The status of all of those players as well as others who will appear on the injury report will be scrutinized this week, particularly with the Vikings having a bye week after their game with Detroit.