DETROIT (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings have won enough to be in a position to clinch the NFC North with almost a month left in the regular season.
The Vikings (10-2) have won nine of their last 10 games, a string of success that started in September with a comeback win over Detroit and has been marked by one-possession games to raise questions about how good they are.
The Lions (5-7), meanwhile, have won four of five games and have earned enough respect to be favored to beat Minnesota by 1 1/2 points, per FanDuel Sportsbook. It’s the first time in the Super Bowl era that a 5-7 team is favored over a 10-2 team, according to Sportsradar.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins certainly isn’t apologizing for winning nine games by eight or fewer points.
“If you go back and look at seasons past, most games are coming down to the final minute, final play,” Cousins said. “It seems like the oddball game is one that you’re in the early fourth quarter and it’s already decided. That just doesn’t happen much in the NFL.”
If Minnesota beats or ties the Lions it will win a division title for the first time since 2017.
Detroit is playing for something, too.
The Lions have surged into the playoff picture by winning four of five games, putting them in the hunt to potentially be an NFC wild-card team.
“We win, we got a chance,” quarterback Jared Goff said. “We don’t, we probably don’t.”
Fair enough, but having anything at stake in December for a team that started 1-6 after a three-win year in coach Dan Campbell’s debut season seems to be a sign of progress.
“It brings a little extra spark to everything, certainly, when you know that you’ve got a chance,” Campbell said. “More importantly, it’s the fact that we feel like we’re playing pretty good football because we’re doing things a certain way and the guys have gained confidence from that.”
Campbell publicly acknowledged he made a mistake in Week 3 at Minnesota, where he chose to attempt a 54-yard field goal with a three-point lead and 1:14 left against a team with no timeouts.
“Of course, it burns me,” Campbell said this week. “I mean, that’ll be there until the day I die. That’s not going to go away.”
Austin Seibert, who was later released, pushed the kick wide right and Cousins took advantage by completing a pair of 28-yard passes to K.J. Osborn for a 28-24 win.
It’s easy to understand why Cousins loves playing for Minnesota in Detroit.
In addition to playing quarterback for Michigan State and at Holland Christian High School on the west side of the state, he has had a lot of success against the Lions.
In four starts at Ford Field with the Vikings, he is 4-0 — thanks in large part to him completing 73% of his passes for an average of 334 yards per game with 12 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Winning again, and earning some NFC North championship gear, is top of mind for him.
“Any time you can play in a T-shirt-and-hat game and get the job done, that’s what’s special,” Cousins said. “I always enjoy going back to the state where I grew up and seeing people in green and white and that kind of a thing.”
Cousins said he asked for 15 sideline passes for family and friends, giving them access to the field before the game.
MOTOR CITY MATCHUP
Vikings star receiver Justin Jefferson was held to a career-low 14 yards and three receptions, a season low, in the last meeting and Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah had a lot to do with that.
If Jefferson is slowed again, Minnesota has a standout it didn’t have previously against the Lions — but someone who played in the game. Tight end T.J. Hockenson, acquired from Detroit on Nov. 1, has 30 catches for 225 yards and one touchdown in five games with the Vikings. He had three receptions for 18 yards and a touchdown for Detroit in the teams’ last meeting.
Detroit has scored 30-plus points an NFL-high six times and leads the league in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on nearly three-fourth of its drives deep in opponents’ territory.
If Minnesota wins another game by eight or fewer points, it will join the 2019 Seattle Seahawks and 1978 Houston Oilers teams in the league with 10 victories by that margin.
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