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The Skinny Post: Vikings Set For Key Divisional Stretch in November

EAGAN, Minn. — The race for the playoffs — and the NFC North title — is on.

The Vikings play host to the Lions on Sunday is a key divisional showdown, with kickoff from U.S. Bank Stadium set for noon (CT).

Minnesota is 4-3-1 after losing to New Orleans on Sunday, but the Vikings have won three of their past four games.

Detroit is 3-4 after losing in Week 8 to Seattle. The Lions have won two of three contests.

The NFC North is wide open at the midway point of the 2018 season. Chicago is in first place at 4-3, followed by the Vikings, Green Bay (3-3-1) and then Detroit.

Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit each have five divisional games left. Let the fun begin.

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

Beat the Lions at home | By @Eric_L_Smith

U.S. Bank Stadium has been a nightmare of sorts for opponents since the venue opened in 2016, as the Vikings are 15-6 (including postseason) play during that time.

But the biggest thorn in Minnesota's side at home has easily been the Lions, who have walked out of the building with a win after each oftheir two visits to Minneapolis over the past two seasons.

In 2016, the Vikings led 16-13 with just 23 seconds left before a successful Detroit field goal as time expired sent the game to overtime. That set up a 28-yard touchdown catch by Golden Tate, who was traded to the Eagles earlier this week.

Minnesota's home loss in 2017 might have been more maddening.

The Vikings lost 14-7 as running back Dalvin Cook was lost for the season with a torn ACL and Minnesota coughed up the ball three times in a frustrating defeat.

The Vikings led 7-3 at the half, but the Vikings fumbled on each of their possessions to open the second half. The first turnover led to a field goal. The second, which came on the play Cook was injured, led to the go-ahead touchdown.

Both of Detroit's scoring drives in the second half spanned a measly 29 yards, as the Lions had just 251 yards of offense on 12 possessions.

There are still eight games left in 2018, and the Vikings would improve to 5-3-1 on Sunday with a win. Seven of the past nine teams to have that record have qualified for the postseason.

Minnesota could take a big step toward the playoffs with a win Sunday, while also dishing a measure of revenge in the process.

Looking for improvement | By @LindseyMNSports

Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer spoke earlier this week and said he was disappointed in his unit's overall performance against the Saints and that "we have to come back strong" this Sunday against the Lions.

"Detroit poses a challenge because they're a divisional game. They know this is important. Coming into our place, they've won the last few years here," Priefer said. "We need to play at a very high level in every phase, all six phases, including field goal. Last year they blocked a couple, in my opinion, illegal shots on our center. We need to do a better job of protecting. We can't rely on the officials seeing that. That is a tough call for them.

"We are going to do a great job in protection and do a great job making our kicks and playing well in all six phases," Priefer said. "That is our goal this week, and that's been the focus so far this week."

Thielen going for another NFL record | By @pcraigers

When Adam Thielen was in high school, he chose jersey No. 21 because it matched the number worn by Calvin Johnson at Georgia Tech.

Fate would have it that Johnson would have an elite career with Detroit from 2007-15, and Thielen would join the Vikings in the NFC North in 2013. Fast-forward to 2018, and Thielen has tied Johnson's NFL record of eight consecutive games with 100 or more receiving yards.

The Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, native will have a chance to break the record in Sunday's game against the Lions.

Will Detroit try to bracket and blanket Thielen, particularly if Stefon Diggs (listed as questionable) is unable to play? Will the Lions send Pro Bowl corner Darius Slay in Thielen's direction on every snap?

The presence of Thielen and Diggs has forced teams to pick their poison, but both receivers have been able to post significant numbers. Thielen leads the NFL with 74 receptions and 925 yards. He also has a team-best six touchdowns. Diggs has 58 receptions (tied for fourth) for 587 yards (19th) and four scores.

Substantial Stats

— Kyle Rudolph has six career touchdown catches against Detroit. That's a career-high against one team for the Vikings tight end.

— Minnesota is 72-39-2 all-time against Detroit, and the 72 wins are the most by the Vikings against an opponent in franchise history. The 113 total matchups are the third-most against an opponent in Vikings franchise history. The Vikings have only played Green Bay and Chicago more times.

— Minnesota is one of three teams, along with the Rams and Bears, to rank in the top 10 in both offensive yards per game and defensive yards allowed per game. The Vikings are ninth offensively at 385.8 yards per game, and 10th on defense at 336.4 yards allowed per game.

— Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has played 16 career games against Minnesota. He is 8-8 and has thrown for 3,993 yards with 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Quotable

"I think it's a good division. I think anybody can win it. I think it's filled with quarterback play, it's filled with good defenses, good pass rushers, and it's the way I envisioned the NFC North being. I think the margin for error is very small in most divisions, and I think our division's no different. I'm sure it could come down to the last couple weeks of the season."

— Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins on the state of the NFC North

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