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Final Thoughts: Vikings at Lions in Week 18

EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings postseason chances are contingent on defeating the Lions on Sunday at Ford Field, plus other games breaking their way throughout the afternoon.

Minnesota will be the thinnest it's been all season at cornerback. Six Vikings are already ruled out for Sunday, including cornerbacks Byron Murphy, Jr., and Mekhi Blackmon. Murphy will miss a third consecutive game with a knee injury. Blackmon fought through a shoulder injury last week, but he missed consecutive practices before being ruled out.

Right tackle Brian O'Neill was also ruled out with an ankle injury.

Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said he is hopeful guard Ed Ingram (shoulder) and left tackle Christian Darrisaw (illness) will be available.

Nick Mullens will make his third start. O'Connell announced Friday that Joshua Dobbs will be Minnesota's backup and rookie Jaren Hall will be the team's emergency quarterback.

Minnesota has had four different quarterbacks start multiple games this season, which is the most in team history and tied for the most by any NFL team (13 other teams, including the Browns this season, have started four quarterbacks).

"I think they've handled it well. It is unique. [And] absolutely not the preference, as the head coach or play caller, to have multiple guys in and out of the lineup at that position," O'Connell said. "That group as a whole is organically working at it every single day to make sure whoever is called upon in those moments is ready to go out there and execute."

Matchup to Watch: Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison vs. Lions secondary

Two weeks ago, Mullens threw for 411 passing yards. Clearly, the Cowboys watched that tape as the following week, Dallas star receiver CeeDee Lamb netted a career-high 227 receiving yards on 13 catches Saturday night.

Lamb's explosive outing keyed 345 passing yards from quarterback Dak Prescott, and the Cowboys beat Detroit 20-19 in Dallas. With one regular-season game left, the Vikings still have a chance to sneak into the playoffs and hit some important individual milestones against the Lions secondary.

Justin Jefferson needs 118 yards for his fourth straight 1,000-plus-yard season. In Week 16, Jefferson exploded for 141 yards and a touchdown against the Lions, marking the fifth time in seven games he's recorded 100-plus yards against Detroit. With 119 yards on Sunday, Jefferson will have 1,000 career receiving yards against the Lions.

Though the Lions secondary has allowed 756 passing yards in two weeks, safeties Ifeatu Melifonwu and Kerby Joseph have four interceptions in as many weeks. Joseph (two) and Melifonwu (one) combined for three of Mullens' four interceptions at U.S. Bank Stadium. Cornerback Brian Branch had the fourth.

Detroit expects safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson to return after spending 16 weeks on Injured Reserve with a pec injury. The Lions could deploy a trio of safeties against Minnesota, something the Vikings defense is used to facing when practicing against Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores' safety-heavy scheme.

Jordan Addison is also in reach of a few milestones. Addison is 146 receiving yards away from becoming the third Viking with 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie, joining Jefferson (1,400) and Randy Moss (1,313). He is 43 yards shy of passing Sammy White (906 in 1976) for the third-most receiving yards by a Vikings rookie.

Six Points: Memorable Week 18 Quotes

WR Justin Jefferson reflecting on the 2023 season:

"Yeah, this has been a complicated year, just with the injuries that have been occurring, the turnover battle that we face every single week. Just dealing with a whole bunch of stuff throughout the season. It's definitely one of the seasons I can definitely say has been the most difficult that I've experienced all around, in general. But I definitely would say it's been a team that's definitely been staying close together, also, through the tough times. We know we don't like the outcome of the games. We don't want to go out there having three-plus turnovers. We don't want to be that type of team. And we know that we have the talent on this team. It's just not our time, and it's just things that's occurring that we can't control. It's been a tough one, but I love being around these guys, and I appreciate the relationship I've been building with these guys in this locker room."

Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips on Nick Mullens:

"I think when you see Nick having to come off the bench into games, you see just what kind of preparation and [his] ability to move the team. We felt like we needed a spark at that moment, and he came in and did some good things. We were behind a little bit to have to throw it more than we wanted to get out of normal offense mode a little early in the game, but he's not going to change the way he prepares whether he's a starter or the backup. That's why we loved having him at the beginning of the year as [Kirk Cousins'] backup."

Mullens on preparing as the starter versus coming in at halftime:

"Yeah, if you're backing up, you're just trying to simulate everything. You're not getting the reps, you're not getting the feel of what it's going to feel like. And then if you get the week, you get to feel what it's gonna feel like. You get to know the nuances of the play. As a backup, you try to learn those and then feel those on your own time, but as a starter, you get the reps, you get the feel. Different guys are going to run routes differently, so you get to feel how they're going to run their route. You get more feel, get more comfortable, and that creates confidence going into Sunday."

Head Coach Kevin O'Connell on building offensive chemistry despite QB carousel:

"I think the fact that a lot of these guys have been in there and gotten reps and we've tried to really, since losing Kirk, it's been a mindset of you know Nick was injured at the time when that happened, working his way back from his lower back injury, and then we feel good about where Jaren [Hall] is at in the moment, knowing that Josh Dobbs just arrived four or five days earlier, so I think the guys understand and the challenge is, it's no question different than if you than if you just have Kirk running out of the tunnel and playing every single snap like he's done most of his career. The challenge is different, for sure, but I think it's a matter of what are the roles and responsibilities of guys on our offense. What personnel grouping are we in? Run or pass, what is my job? How am I going to do that with great technique and fundamentals, go strain and finish to get that job done and then move on to the next play? It sounds simple, but you know, if those simple things aren't going to be there because of a different quarterback in the game or whatever it may be, we don't have the right guys in that huddle, and I do believe we do."

*Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores on development of Vikings young CBs: *

"They're developing. We've got a group of guys that are young. They work hard, it's important to them. Obviously, they've made some mistakes on the field, but that's what comes with being a young player. But I think there's been growth in all of them. Akayleb [Evans], Mekhi [Blackmon], [Andrew] Booth, I think all those guys have grown this year. And I think they've had some high moments and there have been some not-so-high moments. And as a young player in this league, those experiences, every experience is a good one, whether it's bad or good. As long as you learn from it and grow from it. I think those guys are certainly grown from those moments that aren't so high."

Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels on NaJee Thompson's growth this season:

"We had a great conversation about it, about how he did get a little complacent – made the team and, for him, those first couple, three weeks, he was getting down there, but he wasn't making a play. So at that point, kind of decided to make a decision and kind of sit him down and give someone else an opportunity who could finish. With that, I think it gave him an opportunity to see the bigger picture on what he needed to work on and understand that this is revolving door, just in terms of who's in, who's out. Never feel like, 'Oh, my spot is always going to be solidified.' He kind of took that and ran with it. So I think the biggest thing is, back to your question in terms of what he's improved in, is – we always talk about entry angles, kind of understand and expect where the returner's going to go, reacting to the hands. [Assistant Special Teams Coordinator Dalmin Gibson] does a great job of reacting to the hands of the returner to know 'When is he going to catch it? Where's my aiming point at? Where do I need to shoot at?' His ability to decelerate, shoot shots, understand, 'OK, do I have an opportunity to shoot my shot, or do I need to be ready to go and come to balance because now I'm 5, 6 yards away from this guy and he's going to be able to make a move on me?' So with that, I think that was the biggest thing for him. He's found a way to finish."

Milestones Approaching

Rare Company

If Jefferson records 119 or more yards through the air, he'll join Moss, Cris Carter, James Lofton, Donald Driver and Anthony Carter as the sixth player in NFL history with more than 1,000 receiving yards against the Lions.

"Fan-ally" Friday

Currently how many picks do we have in each round of the upcoming draft? If it's not too soon, what number pick do we have in the first round?

— Dave from Lancaster, Pennsylvania

The Vikings currently have nine picks in the 2024 NFL Draft.

First round

Second round

Fourth round (from Detroit)

Fourth round

Fifth round (from Kansas City)

Fifth round (from Cleveland)

Sixth round (from Carolina through Jacksonville, Oct. 31, 2023)

Sixth round (from Las Vegas through New England)

Seventh round (conditional from Atlanta through Arizona, Oct. 31, 2023)

This story explains the reasons for the selections that have been acquired and traded and will be updated.

Draft selection order is determined by reverse order of finish, with teams of the worst records getting the highest picks (sometimes those have been traded — Chicago has Carolina's No. 1 overall pick from last year's trade).

Teams that don't make the playoffs are assigned within the first 18 spots, and then the order is determined by how far teams advance, as well as overall regular-season records.

If the Vikings do not qualify for the playoffs, we will find out where they pick at the end of Sunday's games. The overall selection number for the first and second rounds will be determined, but subsequent rounds will be affected by compensatory picks that will be awarded before the draft.

Kirk Cousins has been with the club for several years, and we all know he is aging. Why hasn't the leadership addressed the quarterback situation and drafted a higher round QB in the draft? Seems we are back to square one and will end up signing a free agent. We need to develop a QB. It would also save on the salary cap. Thanks.

— Rick

Cousins is 35 and has previously stated a personal goal of still playing into his 40s, but this was the first time in his 12-season career he's ever missed time due to a severe injury.

His rehab is going well by all accounts, but he's also scheduled to be a free agent.

The roar that he got from the crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium while sounding the Gjallarhorn was one of the most electric moments of a season that's had some ups and too many downs. He was showing benefits of having his second year in the same system with the same play caller, and I believe he'd be in the mix for the NFL lead in passing touchdowns and passer rating, even with Jefferson also missing time. I also believe Minnesota would have a couple more wins than entering the final week of the season at 7-9.

He and the team will have discussions and plenty of things to evaluate as they see if they have an agreement on re-signing him.

I know Hall's second career start didn't go the way the Vikings hoped, but O'Connell and Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips made it clear that they do not believe that is where the book of developing the fifth-round pick will end.

Cousins has expressed interest in returning to Minnesota, but if that is not what the future holds, then the Vikings might try to sign a "bridge" quarterback, invest a high pick at the position or both.

The roster needs help in multiple ways to get where Minnesota wants to go.

Nix is the Fix.

Either [Bo] Nix or [Michael] Penix, [Jr.].

— Ty Bambach

Speaking of the draft and quarterback prospects, Ty mentions Nix from Oregon and Penix from Washington among potential options.

The coaching staff will be getting caught up on the prospects during their draft prep, and O'Connell has previously talked about the amount of time he personally spends evaluating each year's group of quarterbacks. That will be the case again this year at the combine and at pro days.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 7, 2024.

I'm still not understanding what happened with Dobbs. With all the talent he displayed after just arriving to Minnesota and not knowing any of the playbook or most of the players, why was he benched to third string? I believe they should have worked with him more and incorporated his apparent talents with the play calling.

— Rolando Marin

It's going to be one of the more improbable storylines that's ever happened, considering Mullens had landed on Injured Reserve with a back injury without playing in a game and was unavailable when Minnesota acquired Dobbs just before the trade deadline.

His abilities made him prime to improvise through the improbable Atlanta win, and things were rolling in the first half against New Orleans on the way to a 24-3 halftime lead. After that break in the action, however, the Vikings struggled for multiple possessions.

From the start of the second half in that game through O'Connell turning to Mullens at Las Vegas, Minnesota had 36 possessions and scored three touchdowns and four field goals. It seemed like the more of the offense that was introduced, the fewer the desired results. Dobbs is smart enough to pick up an offensive system, but the limited time on task within this system just wasn't conducive to fully executing it.

To Roland's point, perhaps the Vikings could have streamlined or tailored things — just line up and play as opposed to trying to execute the scheme.

Just a quick observation. If the ownership, GM, coordinators, head coach don't hit pay dirt on a franchise quarterback in the draft, improve secondary, edge and guard play, the Vikings will be at the bottom of the division for the next five years. Lions are for real, Packers are young and coming, and the Bears have plenty of draft capital to be a force for years to come! Future will not be bright if this regime fails. Praying for the fans and Vikings future.

— Frankie in Connecticut

The Lions have been able to build things up with their trading of Matthew Stafford (which included the bonus of Jared Goff playing at a high level), as well as benefitting from four straight season with win totals of 6, 3, 5 and 3 games. That's plenty of opportunities for high picks, and they've hit on a couple of free agents.

The Vikings have had at least seven wins every season since 2014, including that year. The 2015 draft haul, however, set up Minnesota with Trae Waynes (11th overall), Eric Kendricks (45th), Danielle Hunter (88th) and Stefon Diggs (146th). That was a considerable core four that helped the team make three postseason appearances from 2015-19.

Hitting to that degree would definitely help a team trying to work its way around its salary cap limitations.

The 2023 season is my 57th as a Vikings fan and once again I am saying "Oh well, there's always next season." When will this nightmare end? We are not even close to being a contender. First off, we need a quarterback (please do not re-sign Kirk Cousins!) None of the quarterbacks in our stable are the answer. We need to sign a stud free agent. Our running game is non-existent (need a big upgrade at running back and the interior of our offensive line). There is an old saying: "If you can run the ball and stop the run, you will win a lot more games than you will lose!" We can't do either! Even though our defense was much improved over last season we still need lots of help (defensive linemen, linebackers, defensive backs). This all spells REBUILD. I believe our current management and coaching team tried to plug a few holes, believing that we were close to being a contender but in my opinion we are not even close. We are 6-7 players away from being a legitimate contender. I bleed purple and will continue to have faith for my 58th season as a Vikings fan. SKOL.

— Rod from Vancouver, Canada

Appreciate the longtime support.

The inbox has varying viewpoints regarding Cousins, and I don't expect there to be a shortage of thoughts in the coming months.

If he's back, or if it's another veteran, or a high draft pick, or someone already on the roster, whoever is under center (and the whole team) will certainly benefit from a more consistent running game.

It's not common for "stud" free agents to become available in free agency. has this page of prospective free agent quarterbacks.

The Vikings have had their depth tested to the brink on the defensive side of the ball late in the season.

Closing with three consecutive division games, the goal was to be as healthy as possible, but that hasn't panned out this year, either.

I'll echo that I still think the Vikings already would have a couple more wins this season had Cousins been able to play because he was playing at such a high level before his injury. Two more victories would have already cemented a playoff spot (and, depending on if one had been against Detroit, could mean a division title on the line this weekend).

Couple that with last season's 13-4 mark (Baltimore has secured the AFC's No. 1 as the only 13-win team so far this season), and that's quite a few victories and back-to-back playoff berths.

Even so, the Vikings benefit by doing a comprehensive evaluation of the full roster and doing their best to determine how far away the team is from the ultimate goal as they identify how many they can find and sign/draft to achieve the desired results.