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AP Photo/Stephen Morton
By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Minneapolis, MN - From the beginning of the 1998 season up to the 2011 season, the Vikings dominated their yearly match ups with the Detroit Lions. Posting a 22-3 record against Detroit over that time, the Vikings also rolled a 13-0 record at home over that time span. These stats make this weekend's betting line all the more confusing, depressing and frustrating. Heading into Sunday's games at Mall of America Field, the Lions are favored, albeit by one point, to beat the Vikings on the road at the Metrodome.
Since 2011, the Vikings have lost three of four games against the Detroit Lions with their lone win coming earlier this season at Ford Field in a game where the Vikings failed to score an offensive touchdown. Playing as underdogs at home is not a favorable position for Minnesota to be in but facing a familiar opponent does have its advantages during the preparation process.
Here are a few things that you should know about the Detroit Lions heading into this weekend's game...
The Lions that will roll in to Mall of America Field Sunday morning are not the same pretty kitties that the Vikings saw in Detroit on September 30th. Since falling to the Vikings in week four, the Lions hit the bye week and have gone 3-1 in their most recent four games beating the Philadelphia Eagles, the Seattle Seahawks and most recently the Jacksonville Jaguars. The biggest change for the Lions has come on the defensive side of the ball.
Never known to have stellar defensive units, the Lions are actually the NFL's 6th best passing defense (in terms of yards allowed) and the league's 11th best rushing defense. Over the span of their first four games this season, the Lions allowed 28.5 points per game to opposing offenses. Since the bye week, Detroit has bettered that number by ten points, allowing only 18.5 points per game to opponents in their last four outings. Having won three of those games, the Lions are back to .500 (4-4) and very much in the NFC playoff hunt.
However, much like the Vikings, the Lions don't necessarily have an easy road to the playoffs with four divisional games left on top of match ups against the Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons (both played at Ford Field in Detroit).
In what turned out to be a weird series of events, Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson came out on Thursday revealing that he has been struggling with "nerve damage" since sustaining a concussion in week four against the Vikings. These comments are note worthy for two main reasons. First, Johnson was given a concussion test on the sideline and was cleared to return to play only a few snaps later. Secondly, it was never reported to the NFL that Johnson had suffered a concussion, an omission that could cost the Lions up to $20,000 in fines payable to the league.
"Actually I had some nerve damage that was kind of messing up my grip a little," Johnson said. "Not to blame that, but I think that the concussion could have had something to do with some of that damage I had going on."
On the surface, the accuracy of Johnson's claims seem to be more excusatory than factual as Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has denied that Johnson ever suffered a concussion.
One year after barn busting the league for 16 touchdowns in 2011, Johnson has only found the end zone once this season and has yet to catch a touchdown from the hand of quarterback Matthew Stafford. In any matter, Johnson got back on track last week against Jacksonville with a seven catch 129 yard performance last week and will be looking to piggy back on that performance this week.
With only three and a half seasons under his belt, Matthew Stafford already holds the Lions record for most game winning touchdown passes in the final minute of a game (4). In 37 career games, he has led nine game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime when the Lions trailed or were tied, including three already this season.
It's actually pretty simple, the Lions are twice as good in the second half as they are in the first half.
So far this year, the Lions have posted only 55 points in the first halves of games. Moving into the second half, the Lions turn up the heat and double their performance scoring 110 points in the second halves of games already this year. In fourth quarters of games this season, Matthew Stafford has completed 85 passes for a league leading 993 yards and six touchdowns. His fourth quarter passer rating of 99.8 is nearly 17 points higher than his overall passer rating this year.
With a developing running game and an always dangerous passing attack, the Lions are always dangerous and hardly ever out of a game in the second half of play.
Injuries could be the story of Sunday's game...
As of Thursday afternoon, the Vikings and Lions combined to have 24 players listed on their injury reports. Included in this grouping are big names on both sides who have yet to practice this week.
Percy Harvin (ankle) is the biggest concern for the Vikings while Calvin Johnson (knee) remains sidelined for Detroit. Throw in Guion (toe), Peterson (illness), Kalil (knee) for the Vikings and Avril (back), Delmas (knee) and Titus Young (knee) for the Lions and you've got a handful of big concerns on both sidelines.
PREDICTION: Looking at the way they've been playing lately, it's tough to have faith in Minnesota right now. That being said, Detroit is still a flawed team that regularly caves in when they start getting national attention. Christian Ponder throws for 200 yards and 1 TD as AP runs wild and the Vikings win 24-17.
Aj Mansour covers Minnesota Sports for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions regarding this post in the space provided below. For Vikings' updates and breaking Vikings' news, follow Aj on Twitter. @AjKFAN