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The Skinny Post: Vikings Ready for NFC North Showdown with Lions

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The battle for NFC North supremacy is on.

The Vikings take their six-game win streak into Detroit a crucial tilt against their division rivals on Thanksgiving Day. Kickoff is at 11:30 a.m. (CT).

Minnesota sits at 8-2 and is atop the NFC North, but the Lions, who won the teams' first meeting of the season, are lurking close behind.

Detroit is 6-4 after getting a 27-24 win over Chicago last weekend. The Lions have won three straight games.

The teams played last year on Thanksgiving, and the Vikings suffered a frustrating 16-13 loss.

Here are three areas to watch in Sunday's contest, plus some noteworthy stats on both teams:

Run game has been a predictor | By@pcraigers

Minnesota had considerable success on the ground in a season sweep of Detroit in 2015 (199 and 140 rushing yards) and hasn't rushed for more than 87 in five losses since 2014 (69 and 76 in 2014; 78 and 82 in 2016).

The Lions limited the Vikings to their lowest rushing total of the 2017 season by allowing 87 yards in Week 4.

Rookie phenom Dalvin Cook suffered a torn ACL during the game. Latavius Murray rushed seven times for 21 yards, and Jerick McKinnon totaled zero yards on two carries.

The Vikings bounced back by rushing for 159 yards at Chicago, 112 against Green Bay and 169 against Baltimore, blending the load between Murray and McKinnon. Minnesota rushed for 88 against Cleveland, 102 at Washington and a season-best 171 against the Los Angeles Rams last week.

Detroit's run defense appears to be missing Haloti Ngata, who is on injured reserve, significantly. With Ngata, the Lions were giving up close to nada on the ground (74.6 yards per game) in the first five games of the season. Since he suffered a torn biceps, however, Detroit has allowed 153.8 rushing yards a game, including 222 by Chicago on Sunday and 201 by Cleveland the week before.

Getting Stafford off the field | By@EricLSmith 

The Vikings boast the NFL's top third-down defense, but the unit will need to be at its best Thursday against Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2009 has been especially good on third downs this season. He has completed 59 of 100 passes for 783 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception. He has a 106.4 passer rating on third downs in 2017.

Minnesota fared well on third downs in the team's Week 4 matchup when the Lions converted just three of 13 third-down tries.

The Vikings were especially strong as the game wore on, as the Lions didn't convert any of their final eight third-down attempts (includes Stafford taking a knee to run out the clock on Detroit's final third down). 

The Lions moved the chains through the air in Week 4, as Stafford completed 3 of 5 passes for 58 yards early in the game. Detroit then tried to pass on every third down except the final two tries.

If the Vikings can limit Stafford's time on the field, it could swing the momentum toward the Vikings on Thanksgiving Day.

Snapping the skid | By@LindseyMNSports

The Vikings on Thursday will look to stop their skid of losses to the Lions. 

Minnesota has fallen to its division rival Detroit three games in a row and in five of the past seven. In the teams' first meeting this season, the Lions defeated the Vikings 14-7 at U.S. Bank Stadium on Oct. 1.

All-time, the Vikings easily hold the upper hand in the series with a record of 71-39-2. The longest losing streak Minnesota has had to Detroit was at the very beginning of the franchise, when the Vikings lost five straight  from 1961-63. There have been two other times when the Vikings dropped three consecutive: from 1991-92 and 2010-11.

One common thread in the five losses to Detroit since Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer took the reins in 2014 is that the Vikings were held to 16 points or fewer. They scored 26 and 28 points in back-to-back wins during the 2015 season.

Minnesota's offense has been on a roll, having scored 20 or more points in every game since Week 4, and will look to continue that momentum on the heels of a six-game win streak.

Substantial Stats

— Vikings quarterback Case Keenum has gone 102 consecutive pass attempts without being sacked, which is a franchise record; Fran Tarkenton set the previous mark at 98 pass attempts in 1972. The Vikings have allowed just 10 sacks all season.

— This will be Minnesota's eighth all-time appearance on Thanksgiving Day. The Vikings are 5-2 in franchise history. The Lions, who play on Thanksgiving each season, are 36-38-2 all-time on the holiday.

— The Vikings defense ranks first in the NFL in third-down percentage; Opponents have converted on 36 of 126 attempts (28.6 percent). Detroit's offense ranks 15th at 39 percent (53 of 134 attempts).

— Minnesota has lost its past three games to the Lions by a combined 16 points. Both losses in 2016 came on the final play of the game — on an overtime touchdown pass by Stafford in Week 9 and then a 40-yard field goal by kicker Matt Prater in Week 12.

Quotable

"We've got a great team here. It's no individuals. It's all about team here and winning games. We're 8-2, and the only thing we can do is keep on getting better each day, get better by 1 percent. If we can get better by 1 percent each day and keep striving to be better, we're going to be a better team." — Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen on his team's mindset

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