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NFL Expert Picks: Vikings Start Crucial 3-Game Stretch with NFC North-Leading Lions

There are several ways to celebrate this time of year, whether it's getting together with family and friends, or participating in a yearly tradition.

Since 2014, the Vikings have been involved in an annual ritual to end their regular season schedule: play against a division opponent in two of the final three weeks.

This year, Minnesota will face a division foe in each of its final three games for just the fourth time in franchise history (1965, 1967 and 1996 were the other seasons). The Vikings begin the stretch by hosting the Lions in a Christmas Eve showdown on Sunday before capping the regular season against Green Bay at home and Detroit on the road, respectively.

Minnesota (7-7) still has an opportunity to win the NFC North and claim consecutive division titles for the first time since 2008 and 2009 but is facing a tall task. The Vikings must win all three of their remaining games, while the Lions (10-4) must lose all three.

A Detroit victory or tie Sunday will give the Lions their first division title since 1993 and end the second-longest active division title drought in the NFL. The Lions also haven't been to the playoffs since the 2016 season — the third-longest active streak in the league — but can still clinch a postseason berth with a loss to the Vikings if either the Saints defeat the Rams on Thursday Night Football or the Titans beat the Seahawks on Sunday.

The Vikings and Lions have met 123 times in their history, with Minnesota holding an 80-41-2 advantage. The Vikings fell to Detroit 34-23 on the road in Week 15 last year but have won nine of the past 12 matchups dating back to 2017. Minnesota is also 44-16-1 at home against the Lions, including winning the past five games at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Let's see who the experts are picking to win the game:

Lions 24, Vikings 22 – Tom Blair,

One wrinkle that gives me pause here: Jared Goff's performance in his two previous games against Brian Flores-led defenses (54.5% completion rate, 292 yards per game, one TD, three picks, two fumbles lost). Another: The Lions disappearing act in their last divisional road date, a 15-point loss at Chicago in Week 14. While that's not quite enough in the pause department to get me to pick Minnesota in this one, I think Detroit will be tested more than it was in Week 15's laugher against Denver.

Vikings 23, Lions 20 – Pete Prisco, CBS Sports

The Lions can lock up the division by winning this game. It won't be easy. The Vikings defense had big issues against the Bengals last week, but I think it will bounce back here. The Vikings will get after Jared Goff to slow the offense and stay in this and win it late.

Lions 28, Vikings 22 – Staff, Bleacher Report

Following a string of underwhelming performances, the Detroit Lions ran wild in a 42-17 win over the Denver Broncos last Saturday. They had an offensive output that re-established their spot among the top teams across the NFL.

Most of our crew happily wrapped their arms around the Lions, who can clinch the NFC North title, their first division title since 1993, with a road victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

[Bleacher Report NFL analyst Brad] Gagnon … believes Minnesota will make Detroit earn it in a tight game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Keep in mind that Lions quarterback Jared Goff is 0-3 against the Vikings on the road.

"One thing the Vikings do is hang. They haven't lost a game by more than a field goal since Week 5 and haven't lost by more than one score this season, while the familiar and flawed Lions have just one convincing win since the start of November. At home, the Vikings keep this close if not pull off the upset."

Lions 24, Vikings 20 – Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News

The Lions got their running and passing groove back together again in ripping into the Broncos at home in Week 15. Jared Goff lit it up, and although he's not the same on the road, keep in mind this is a key division game in familiar controlled environment. Minnesota can slow down the run a little vs. Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery, but it just doesn't have the consistent coverage to hold up well vs. Amon-Ra St. Brown, Sam LaPorta and others downfield. The Lions take this game and put away the division title before the Week 18 rematch in Detroit.

Lions 27, Vikings 20 – Bill Bender, Sporting News

The Lions can clinch their first NFC North championship with a victory against the Vikings. It's not about the home-and-road splits with Jared Goff. It's about turnovers. Detroit is 8-1 in games with one turnover or less, and the Vikings have a -6 turnover margin and a [backup] quarterback in Nick Mullens facing that Detroit pass rush.

0 of 7 experts pick the Vikings, The MMQB

1 of 8 experts (2 of 10 total had not submitted) pick the Vikings, ESPN

"Straight-up consensus" from seven experts: Lions, Bleacher Report

2 of 12 experts pick the Vikings, The Athletic