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Bleacher Report – Vikings

The division, Teddy, Stafford and other top storylines as the Vikings face Lions on Thanksgiving

By Matthew Coller

If you are older than 25, your childhood Thanksgiving football memories are mostly of games involving the Dallas Cowboys because whatever happened in the early game – outside of a few great Barry Sanders years – was short on relevance.

In the Matthew Stafford era, the Thanksgiving games have routinely been relevant to playoff position and for the second straight year, the Lions’ Turkey Day matchup with the Minnesota Vikings will be key in the race for the NFC North. Here are the top storylines going into Thursday’s game:

The division

With a win, the Vikings essentially crush any hopes of Detroit winning the NFC North. In order to win the division, Detroit would have to pick up three games and hope for a tie breaker. With a win, the Lions would not only be just one game out, they’d also own the tie breaker.

Detroit’s schedule is very manageable down the stretch. Following their matchup with the Vikings, the Lions face Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Cincinnati and Green Bay. On there other hand, the Vikings’ schedule includes road games against Atlanta and Carolina.

A loss wouldn’t guarantee a collapse for the Vikings, but it certainly would leave less breathing room over the final five weeks.

Will we see Teddy Bridgewater?

Nov 19, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) warms up before the game against the Los Angeles Rams at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

To all the people who want the Case Keenum/Teddy Bridgwater story to disappear – it isn’t going anywhere. Every week there will be questions about whether head coach Mike Zimmer will turn to Bridgewater, whether it be to start or enter in relief if Keenum struggles.

Zimmer has made it clear that he’s happy with Keenum’s winning ways, but wants to see Bridgewater in an offense better fit to his skills and with a good O-line and weapons abound. Would it take a poor first half for Zimmer to turn to his franchise quarterback? Or will Keenum continue to roll and keep Bridgewater on the sidelines?

Recent history

Detroit Lions kicker Matt Prater (5) is congratulated after making a 40-yard winning field goal during the second half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Vikings’ last three games against Detroit have been a nightmare. Last year at US Bank Stadium, kicker Matt Prater kicked a 59-yard bomb to tie the game with seconds remaining, then Matthew Stafford led a game-winning drive in overtime. On Thanksgiving, Sam Bradford threw an interception on the final drive to hand the Lions a victory. And then this year, Dalvin Cook tore his ACL and fumbled the ball, which set up Detroit’s go-ahead score. Will the Vikings have better luck this time?

Matthew Stafford has been on fire

The Vikings haven’t exactly been shredded by Matthew Stafford during their past few matchups, but Stafford has come out on top by coming through in key situations. He’s entering Thanksgiving with a high level of confidence with three straight weeks of games with over a 100 quarterback rating. Last week against Chicago, he threw for 299 yards, two touchdowns and averaged 9.7 yards per attempt.

Over the past three seasons, Stafford has solidified himself as one of the league’s better quarterbacks, posting a 95.9 rating since 2015 while ranking seventh in total yards and sixth in touchdowns.

Who will it be this week, Thielen, Diggs or the Lions’ secondary?

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) runs from Los Angeles Rams defensive back Dominique Hatfield, right, during a 65-yard touchdown reception in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

To open the season, Stefon Diggs dominated opposing defenses with 22 receptions for 391 yards in his first four weeks. But since a groin injury slowed Diggs down, Adam Thielen has stepped up. In his last five contests, Thielen averages seven catches for 105 yards. Both have the capability of getting open against any matchup, but the Lions have a particularly skilled defensive backfield, starting with shutdown corner Darius Slay and safety Glover Quin.

In the Vikings’ first matchup with the Lions, Thielen gained 59 yards on five catches and Diggs had five for 98 yards. Will either explode this time around? Or will the Lions contain them?

A tougher matchup for Everson Griffen

Oct 15, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen (97) celebrates during the first quarter against Green Bay Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings sacked Stafford six times in their first matchup, but that was with first-round bust Greg Robinson starting at left tackle for the Lions. This time around, first-round star Taylor Decker will be in the lineup for Detroit. He was one of Pro Football Focus’s highest rated left tackles last year, but was forced to miss the first eight weeks of this season with an injury. Few teams have the talent to slow down Griffen and Danielle Hunter, but Decker and offseason signee Rick Wagner give Detroit a chance against the Vikings’ D-line.

McKinnon and Murray should be licking their chops

Oct 22, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Latavius Murray (25) carries the ball for a touchdown during the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

With nose tackle Haloti Ngata on injured reserve, opponents have run all over the Lions. Detroit ranks 24th in yards per carry against overall and has given up 5.9 YPC to the Browns and 7.4 per rush to the Bears in the last two weeks. Both teams cleared 200 yards on the ground against the Lions. The Vikings’ run game has been strong this season even without Dalvin Cook, sitting eighth in total yards on the ground. With Latavius Murray heating up, the Vikings may pound the ball up the middle on Detroit, hoping to force the Lions into bringing safeties down into the box to open up deep throws to Thielen and Diggs.

The Super Bowl conversation

With another win, the Vikings would put themselves squarely in the middle of the conversation for the NFL’s best team. They may not have Tom Brady at the helm and they’d still have one more loss than the Eagles (if Philly takes down Chicago on Sunday), but a seven-game winning streak for a team with top-notch defense and offensive weapons abound would add steam to the Super Bowl talk that began after the win over Los Angeles.

The post The division, Teddy, Stafford and other top storylines as the Vikings face Lions on Thanksgiving appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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