Five things to watch: Vikings at Lions
When strong arguments could be made that your team should be 5-0 or 0-5, it’s probably a bizarre season.
So, all bad calls and solid losses considered, along with gifted missed field goals and opponents’ injuries, somehow finding a way to be exactly .500 after five games sounds about right.
The Lions have the look of a team playing slightly better than their record, with that record still slightly outpacing our expectations.
Looking at the rest of the remaining schedule, there are a handful of wins for the taking.
But the season’s ultimate story could boil down to how the Lions fare at home against NFC North opponents: Sunday against Minnesota, Thanksgiving against Chicago, and the regular-season finale against Green Bay.
Win all three of those games and a clear playoff road map appears.
Here are five things to watch in Sunday’s matchup against the Vikings (1 p.m., Fox/WJR 760):
1. The countdown
Since he’s only thrown for less than 87 yards once in his career, Matthew Stafford will almost certainly make history Sunday. Stafford will become the fastest player to reach 40,000 career passing yards, as his 147th game is four games less than close friend Matt Ryan (151).
Stafford will be the 21st quarterback in the 40k club, and Denver’s Joe Flacco should become the 22nd next week.
The one game Stafford didn’t reach 87 passing yards also may have crossed your mind this week. In that game, an injury forced Shaun Hill into action in Chicago and he almost sparked a comeback win — had Calvin Johnson completed the process.
2. Barrier Reiff
The Lions need to get the pass rush going, and one of Minnesota’s gatekeepers is an old friend.
Riley Reiff, the 2012 first-round pick from Detroit, was moved back to left tackle by Minnesota in 2017 after spending his last season with the Lions on the right side.
Reiff suffered an ankle injury and left last week’s win against Philadelphia early, but he is off the injury report after missing practice on Wednesday. He’ll see plenty of Trey Flowers, a guy who made his own news last week.
3. Sad sacks
The Lions gave up 10 sacks to the Vikings in Minnesota last year, a stink that followed around the team the rest of the season.
Danielle Hunter had 3.5 sacks and a touchdown in that game, a nice half-season for some starters.
Hunter’s eight tackles for a loss are tied for the league lead this season. On the other edge of the defensive line, Everson Griffen has at least one sack in his last four meetings with Detroit, and 14 in the 14 career games he has saw action against the Lions.
Safe to say the Lions need to get that figured out.
4. Big Johnsons
Maybe you’ve heard this before, but the Lions need to get Kerryon Johnson going this week. Through five games, he’s behind last season’s pace by more than 7 yards per game.
It’s not exactly the breakout sophomore campaign that was hoped for by Lions fans and fantasy owners.
After two offensive snaps and no carries last week, maybe Ty Johnson could be more of the change-of-pace look J.D. McKissic failed to be Monday night, when he gained four yards on three carries.
5. Shifty line
According to the Action Network, the Lions’ betting line has moved 2.5 points since it opened for the second straight week.
Last week, Detroit became a slightly smaller underdog throughout the week, and eventually covered the 3.5-point spread in Green Bay.
This week, the smart money is moving the line in favor of Minnesota, with a pick 'em turning into a 2.5-point spread favoring the road Vikings.
Interestingly, the Lions are tied with the Bills and 49ers with a league-leading 4-1 record against the spread. A win Sunday would make it five straight wins against the spread for Detroit.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.