Allen Park — The Lions and Vikings are doing their best to downplay the magnitude of the teams’ matchup on Thursday, despite Detroit’s opportunity to sweep the season series from its division rival and essentially open a two-game lead in the NFC North with five weeks remaining.
“It’s a big one because it’s the next game on our schedule,” Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said.
When you only play 16 games, they’re all important. But it’s not often the Lions head into their annual Thanksgiving Day game with so much at stake.
“There’s this old slogan, take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said.
“We’re interested in the little things. The big things will take care of themselves.”
The little thing for the Lions would be taking care of business at home, where the team is 4-1.
With the three remaining games at Ford Field against NFC North opponents, a clean sweep could be enough for the Lions to earn their first division crown, and the home playoff game that accompanies that accomplishment, in 23 years.
The Lions and Vikings enter today’s game with matching 6-4 records, but took very different paths to those marks.
Detroit stumbled out of the gate, losing three of its first hour, but have reeled off five come-from-behind victories in its past six games.
Minnesota was the NFL’s last remaining undefeated team at 5-0 before dropping four straight, including an overtime loss to Detroit this month. They finally stopped the skid with a 30-24 victory over Arizona last weekend.
Given the turbulence both franchises have experienced, maybe a two-game lead in the division won’t be enough, but it would be a steep hill for the Vikings to have to overcome.
“I honestly think there is a lot of time left,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “A lot of things can happen. I mean we went 0-4 in four games, so a lot of things can happen as you continue to go forward.”
Zimmer also noted no one should write off the third-place Packers, who have fallen to 4-6 after dropping four straight, but close the year with games against the Vikings and Lions.
One thing is for certain, everyone is expecting a raucous environment today.
“Thanksgiving Day games are really special here,” Caldwell said. “I think that our fans have been absolutely outstanding. It’s always a challenge to come in here and play because of the fact that they will certainly give you some difficulty operating at the line of scrimmage.”
The Lions will be looking for their fourth straight win on Thanksgiving after blasting the Eagles, 45-14, last year.
Overall, the Lions are 36-38-2 on the holiday.
Detroit and Minnesota last met on Thanksgiving in 1995, with Detroit winning 44-38.
Vikings at Lions
Kickoff: Thursday, 12:30 p.m., Ford Field, Detroit
Records: Vikings 6-4, Lions 6-4
Line: Lions by 2