EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings have an opportunity to do something Sunday they have only done twice in the past decade: earn a division title. And a little earlier this time.
Minnesota won the NFC North in 2015 (clinching in Week 17 to end the NFL's regular season) and 2017 (in Week 15 against Cincinnati).
In order to capture the coveted crown, the Vikings have to topple a division foe in its building. Minnesota (10-2) will travel to Detroit (5-7) to face the Lions at noon (CT) on FOX.
The Vikings and the Lions met earlier in the season for a Week 3 tilt in Minneapolis. Both teams were 1-1 at the time, and the division was up for grabs.
Minnesota and Detroit were tied at 14 at halftime before the Lions used a 10-point third quarter to take the lead. The Vikings battled back, though, and a 28-yard pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins to wide receiver K.J. Osborn with 45 seconds remaining put Minnesota in front at 28-24.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Lions.
The Lions tried to answer on their final drive, but Vikings safety Josh Metellus recorded his first career interception in the closing seconds.
The victory ignited the spark for Minnesota's seven-game win streak while Detroit lost its next four games. The Lions then snapped their streak with a 15-9 victory against Green Bay on Nov. 6 and have won four of their past five games.
"We talked earlier this week about the challenge this football team presents — both from skill players and the guys up front," Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said. "[They're a] really well-coached, tough team playing really good football in the month of December, [and it] is a real credit to [Lions Head Coach] Dan [Campbell] and his staff and their players for building something there. They're playing really good football. It's all over the tape. So, it's going to be a hell of a challenge for us, and we're going to have to be at our best to go get a victory and get our 11th win."
Here's what Sam Thiel, Lindsey Young and Craig Peters of Vikings.com will be watching for in Sunday's game:
Pick your poison | By Sam Thiel
The Vikings defense has struggled to contain opposing offenses this season, giving up 398.7 total yards per game. Only one team has allowed more: Detroit at 402.2 per contest.
When the two teams face each other Sunday, both team's defenses will have the challenging task of slowing down several weapons on the other side of the ball.
Detroit's primary target is wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, who is tied for seventh in the NFL in receptions (76), 14th in receiving yards (830) and tied for ninth in touchdown catches (six).
View exclusive images of the Vikings comeback victory game over the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Against the Vikings in Week 3, St. Brown had six receptions for 73 yards.
"You can tell the passion that he plays with, that there's a chip on his shoulder," cornerback Patrick Peterson said about St. Brown. "You can't do nothing but respect guys like that who play extremely hard. Each and every quarter, there's a guy that's extremely hard to tackle. [St. Brown] reminds me a lot of Golden Tate back in the day when you get the ball in his hands, how elusive he is after the catch. A very, very dynamic player. We have to understand where he is at all times on the football field."
In addition to St. Brown, DJ Chark (14 receptions, 212 yards and two touchdowns) and Josh Reynolds (29 catches, 376 yards and two touchdowns) pose pass-catching threats.
The Lions also drafted wide receiver Jameson Williams with the 12th pick, and he made his NFL debut last week against Jacksonville. Williams missed the first 11 games of the season due to a torn ACL he suffered in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game against Georgia in January.
And then there's Detroit's backfield. Running back Jamaal Williams is eighth in carries (188), 13th in rushing yards (769) and leads the league in total touchdowns (14). D'Andre Swift has added 64 carries for 354 yards and four touchdowns.
As a team, Detroit is sixth in scoring at 26.3 points per game, but the Lions have averaged 32.0 points per game in their past three outings.
Peterson added the team knows it's going to be another hard-nosed battle if the Vikings want to come away with a division title and a playoff berth Sunday.
"They're very explosive. It seems like the offense is just starting to catch its stride over the last month and a half; scoring on eight of their possessions last week, putting 30-plus points on [three of their past four] opponents. So those guys are starting to grow some confidence within each other within the scheme," Peterson said. "You can tell those guys are leaning on one another, and we just have to make sure that we understand it's going to be a dogfight. It's going to be a grind. If we want to go out Sunday and be divisional champs, we have to go take it. We know these guys are not going to lie down and give it to us. We have to go out there and play our best football for 60 minutes."
Run, Run, Dalvin | By Lindsey Young
Sunday could be a big game for Dalvin Cook.
Detroit's defense has struggled against the run this season, allowing opponents to rack up an average of 149.7 rushing yards per game, which ranks 28th in the NFL. The Lions rank 31st in rushing yards allowed per play (5.21).
Not to mention, Cook historically has played incredibly well against the division rival.
According to NFL Research, Cook has averaged 123.3 scrimmage yards per game against the Lions in his career. That's the most by any player versus the Lions all-time (minimum five games). He's averaged 104.9 rushing yards against Detroit, and he has seven rushing touchdowns in seven games – which is tied with Green Bay for his most touchdowns against a single opponent.
Establishing the ground game behind Cook could be key for a big offensive day, as well as playing keep away from Detroit's high-octane offense.
Vikings Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips spoke about the Lions defense Thursday, saying the group can present some challenges because of how it switches between a 3-4 and 4-3.
"You kind of have to be prepared for either one – and that can be challenging," Phillips said. "Sometimes certain schemes you like better versus certain looks; in their 3-4, they'll kind of play two different prongs; in their 4-3, they'll play kind of a standard 4-3, but when you have to prepare for both, not knowing which one they're going to present to you, it was the same way going into that first game. They played us in the 4-3, played certain teams in 4-3 that haven't played in a little bit, but we're certainly prepared for either one."
Trying to affect Goff | By Craig Peters
The Vikings defense was able to contain Mike White for most of the first half last week, affecting the Jets passer with rush and coverage.
This week, they'll try to cool down the heater that Jared Goff is on in a place where he's particularly excelled this season.
Goff's 95.7 passer rating this season is his highest since a 101.1 with the Rams in 2018, when he torched the Vikings in Los Angeles and helped his squad win the NFC Championship.
His numbers have been even better in home games. Goff has thrown 17 of his 19 touchdown passes and has totaled a passer rating of 104.8 in seven home games this season.
Goff is one of three quarterbacks (along with Jimmy Garoppolo and Trevor Lawrence) who have thrown more than five touchdowns without an interception since Week 10.
"It's different [preparing for the Vikings without Hockenson], just because you think about his role that he played for him, and having gone through preparation when he was on their team, he was a major part of what we talked about defensively," O'Connell said. "They've gotten so much production out of [Amon-Ra] St. Brown and all of their skill players, the backs, their other tight ends, and I think Jared Goff has had a phenomenal year if you watch how he's able to consistently play the position at a high level. I think they've done a great job on offense."
It will be tough for the Vikings to sack Goff. He's played fast and has only taken 19 sacks this season (five of those were in a lost to Dallas), compared to 35 last season.
Minnesota was unable to take him down in Week 3, but the Vikings will do what they can to create pressure and try to disrupt his rhythm.