The Detroit Lions are on the road in Minnesota today with a chance to win their first division title in 30 years with a win or tie against the Vikings.
It certainly won't be easy, as the Vikings are still in the NFC North title race and playoff hunt. They can keep their division title hopes alive with a win over Detroit today, and by defeating Green Bay next week and hoping Detroit loses to Dallas, which would set up a winner takes the division matchup Week 18 in Detroit.
There's a lot on the line today at U.S. Bank Stadium. Here are five things to watch out for in today's matchup:
1. HOSTILE ENVIROMENT
It you're a fan who likes to travel and see great NFL venues, U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis should be on your list. The stadium is beautiful and the atmosphere is one of the best in the NFL.
It will be ramped up today not only because of the importance of the contest but the Vikings are taking part in a 'Vikings Winter Whiteout' where all the fans are asked to wear white and the players are wearing a white-on-white uniform combo.
"Our home crowd can be electric for us this weekend," Minnesota head coach Kevin O'Connell said this week.
Lions head coach Dan Campbell is embracing the challenge.
"Yeah, look, this is about to be a tough environment," Campbell said. "Going on the road at Minnesota, they got an outstanding defense, they've changed a couple of things up offensively just watching crossover tape. So, this is not going to be easy. Defending (NFC) North champs from last year.
"But man we wouldn't have it any other way. Go out there on the road, tough environment, and we got a chance to get the next one, so we are going to be looking forward to it. I know I am, and I know our guys will. So, we did what we needed to do today against a hot team to get to 10 wins and now we got to find a way to get to 11."
Lions fans have traveled well this year and the blue will certainly stand out among all the white today.
2. BEN JOHNSON VS. BRIAN FLORES
The two coordinators have done a terrific job with their respective units all year. Johnson has the Lions ranked in the top five in total offense (third), scoring (fifth), rushing (second) and passing (fourth). Flores has guided Minnesota's defense to seventh in the league in points allowed (19.5) and fifth against the run (92.0).
Flores has a really unique scheme. The Vikings lead the NFL with a blitz percentage near 50 percent, but they also lead the NFL in the number of times they've dropped eight into coverage.
"Yeah, it's the two extremes," Johnson said this week. "In certain situations, offensively, we always talk about, 'Hey, they're either max-coverage or max-pressure,' as a general philosophy. A lot of teams do that down in the red zone, but Flores has kind of taken that to a new extreme. At any time, at any moment. It's been fun this week trying to dissect their defense."
What did Johnson cook up to attack the extremes today? The Lions are fresh off scoring 42 points against Denver last week.
3. ROOKIE SHOWCASE
Both the Lions and Vikings have first-year players making huge impacts for their respective teams.
Detroit's rookie class has combined for 18 touchdowns, the third most by a rookie class since the franchise moved to Detroit in 1934 – tight end Sam LaPorta (9), running back Jahmyr Gibbs (8) and cornerback Brian Branch (1).
Among all NFL tight ends, LaPorta ranks first in touchdowns (9), first in contested catches (12), third in 25-plus yard catches (6), fourth in receptions (71) and fourth in receiving yards (758). Gibbs leads all NFL running backs in average yards per rush (5.7) and 20-yard rushes (10). With one more scrimmage touchdown by Gibbs, the Lions will become the first team in NFL history to have multiple rookies with nine or more scores.
On the other side, wide receiver Jordan Addison and linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. have been critical to the Vikings' success this season. Pace was the Week 14 NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Through 14 games he has 77 tackles, 2.5 sacks, seven quarterback hits, two tackles for loss, an interception and a forced fumble.
"He's the real deal now," Johnson said this week of Pace Jr. "He is slippery, he'll take on blocks, but at the same time, he'll get right on by in a hurry."
Addison's nine receiving touchdowns leads the Vikings and is tied for the fourth most with LaPorta among all NFL players. He's caught 62 passes on the year with 824 yards.
4. STRENGTH ON STRENGTH
There are some terrific matchups all over the field today but one of the most important for both sides will be Lions right tackle Penei Sewell vs. Vikings edge rusher Danielle Hunter. Sewell has allowed just one sack and 10 hurries in 14 games. His 2.8 pressure percentage is the lowest among all NFL tackles.
Hunter leads the Vikings with 15.5 sacks, which is only a half sack behind Pittsburgh's T.J. Watt for the NFL lead. He has at least one sack in 11 of the Vikings' 14 contests this season.
What makes Hunter so dangerous is that he's recorded a number of his sacks this year when the Vikings have only rushed three and dropped eight into coverage. He's relentless, and if Minnesota can pressure quarterback Jared Goff on three-man rushes that's advantage Vikings.
Another strength-on-strength matchup today is Detroit's rushing offense vs. Minnesota's run defense. Minnesota is holding opponents to an average of 3.7 yards per rush and 92.0 yards per game. The Vikings have allowed only one rush of 20-plus yards all season.
Detroit has the second best rushing offense in the NFL (140.9) and Gibbs leads the NFL with 10 rushes of 20-plus yards this season. So what gives today?
5. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF MISTAKES
Minnesota ranks 30th in the NFL with 26 giveaways on the year. Their 14 fumbles are the second most in the league behind only the New York Jets (15). Their 12 interceptions are the sixth most. Nick Mullens, who is getting the start at quarterback for the Vikings today, threw two interceptions last week at the Cincinnati 14 and 22-yard lines in what ended up being a three-point Vikings loss in overtime. He is 5-13 in his career as a starter with 29 touchdowns and 25 interceptions.
There's a good chance the Lions get some good opportunities to generate takeaways and they have to take advantage of those. Detroit's 15 takeaways on the year rank 24th in the league.