The Minnesota Vikings are the bookends on a Lions season that started with the prospect that they would meet their own high expectations but is ending with the depression of falling short.
If the Lions' 34-24 victory over the Vikings on opening day at Ford Field was at the very least a mini-peak, then Sunday's season finale against the Vikings in the final game ever at Mall of America Field is a march through Death Valley.
There have been many seasons when the Lions had a worse record than what they'll finish with this season – either 8-8 with a victory over the Vikings or 7-9 with a loss – but this season stands on its own for making the Lions feel like they've sunk into a bottomless pit of frustration.
The Lions' record climbed steadily after beating the Vikings on opening day – to 3-1 and 6-3, and seemingly in control of first place in the NFC North. But from there they plummeted, losing five out of six games.
"We just weren't able to put things together, whether it was hurting ourselves with turnovers or making mistakes on the field -- mental errors, physical errors," Johnson said.
"It just wasn't the year for us. We had the team. It's just unfortunate were weren't able to put it together like we wanted to this year.
"We lost our chance to get in the playoffs. It was right there in front of us. We had our own destiny in our hands, as we said many times. We didn't take advantage of the opportunities we had at hand."
"I don't feel we took a step back," Johnson said. "I just say we didn't finish like we needed to or like we could have, as expected. We had high expectations for us.
"We definitely didn't come close to meeting those this year."
The Vikings are feeling their share of disappointment with a 4-10-1 record after making the playoffs last year at 10-6.
However, they'll have some inspiration from ceremonies marking the last game at Mall of America Field. They move into a new stadium in 2016. In the interim, they'll play the next two seasons as the University of Minnesota's stadium.
My prediction for Sunday: With both teams having nothing to play for, take the home team.
Vikings 27, Lions 26.
Opponent focus – Adrian Peterson:
What he has done would qualify as a good year – a career year, even – for most running backs. But for Peterson, it has fallen short of expectations.
Peterson's season started with a 78-yard TD run on the Vikings' first offensive play against the Lions in the opening game, but it will end on a far less dramatic note. The Vikings never were in the playoffs after starting the season with three losses and skidding to 1-7 at the halfway point.
On an individual level, Peterson ranks third in the NFL in rushing with 1,266 yard and tied for third with 10 rushing touchdowns. He won't come close to last year's total of 2,096 yards, second-most in NFL history to Eric Dickerson's league record of 2,105.
Peterson has fought through injuries all year, but he still can take over a game.
"I am feeling all right," Peterson said in a conference call interview this week. "Not as healthy as I would like. I am going to push to try and get out there this week."
Peterson sustained a foot injury early in a 29-26 loss at Baltimore three weeks ago. It limited him to seven carries and 13 yards in that game, and did not play the next week in a 48-30 win over the Eagles. He returned last week to gain 45 yards on 11 carries in a blowout loss at Cincinnati.
Peterson has had some big games this year. Two of his best were in two straight overtime games against the Packers and Bears before the injury against the Ravens set him back. He rushed for 146 yards in a tie at Green Bay and 211 in a win over the Bears.
The one thing that's been missing from Peterson's arsenal in the second half of the season is the big play. He had a 52-yard run in a loss at Dallas in Game 8. His longest run since then is 23 yards.
Except for the 299 yards they gave up in a snowstorm at Philly three weeks ago, the Lions have had one of the league's best rushing defenses in the second half of the season. It starts in the middle with
"Those guys, big Suh and Fairley and their young guy in there (Ziggy Ansah), their front is awesome," Peterson said. "It's pretty outstanding. It is pretty hard to block those guys man up. Both Suh and Fairley, you have to double team and you can't do that.
"So with that, you will have a mismatch the entire game."
The Vikings have a 68-34 won-lost record against the Lions with two ties. The Lions have played the Vikings every year at Mall of America Field except once. The 1982 game – the year the stadium opened under the name Humbert H. Humphrey Metrodome – was canceled because of a players strike that reduced the schedule to nine regular season games.
Lions' biggest Dome games: They had big wins in three of their playoff seasons – 1991, 1997 and 2011.
1991: Barry Sanders carried 23 times for 220 yards and four TDs in a 34-14 victory. Sanders also had four catches for 31 yards, giving him 251 yards from scrimmage. He went out early in the fourth quarter. The Lions won the old NFC Central with a 12-4 record.
1997: Herman Moore caught a one-yard TD pass with three seconds left and Jason Hanson added the extra point for a 14-13 victory that kept the Lions' playoff hopes alive. Scott Mitchell led the Lions on a 72-yard, nine-play drive in the last two minutes. Mitchell completed every one of his nine passes in the drive. The Lions beat the Jets the next week to make the playoffs as a wild card with a 9-7 record.
2011: A 26-23 Lions overtime win in Game 3 made their record 3-0. A 40-yard pass to Calvin Johnson put the Lions in position for Jason Hanson to kick the game-winning field goal.
Vikings' milestone vs. Lions: On Nov. 30, 2000, Vikings Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter made his 1,000th-career reception against the Lions in the second quarter of a 24-17 Vikings victory. The catch went for a four-yard TD. For the game, Carter had seven catches for 45 yards, with a long reception of nine yards.
Vikings rankings: Offense -- 10 rushing (127.1), 22 passing (217.1), 13 total (344.2); Defense – 18 rushing (113.6), 32 passing (294.4), 31 total (408).
Lions rankings: Offense – 17 rushing (115.3), 3 passing (286.7), 3 total (401.9); Defense – 4 rushing (94.8), 27 passing (251.9), 16 total (346.7).
Calvin 1,500 record: With 1,492 receiving yards, he needs eight more to become the first player in NFL history to have 1,500 or more receiving yards in three straight seasons. Johnson set the single-season record for receiving yards with 1,964 last year after having 1,691 in 2011.
Bush-Bell "500" club: Reggie Bush and
Bell already has hit both levels with 619 yards rushing and 522 receiving. Bush has 974 yards rushing and 473 receiving, leaving him 27 yards short of 500 receiving.