The Detroit Lions kick off the fourth quarter of their season on the road today against division foe Minnesota. The Lions are looking to start the final month of the season on a good note after losing five straight and eight of their last nine.
Detroit's in a spoiler role the rest of the way having been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. The Vikings are currently the No. 6 seed in the NFC and just a game behind the NFC North leading Green Bay Packers in the division. Can the Lions hit the road and find a way to break their losing streak later today?
Here are five things to watch in today's matchup:
1. STILL WAITING
14 weeks into the season and we still haven't seen the full complement of defensive linemen healthy and able to play in a game for the Detroit Lions this season.
Detroit was close last week, but defensive tackle Damon Harrison Sr. missed the Thanksgiving Day Game due to ankle and calf injuries.
Detroit was trending towards full health along their defensive line early in the week, but then Da’Shawn Hand aggravated an ankle injury he's been dealing with the last couple weeks in practice on Wednesday. He's out today.
Rookie defensive end Austin Bryant injured his hip in Thursday's practice and he's doubtful to play.
It was a position group with so many expectations heading into the year, but injuries and inconsistencies have zapped them. There's no time for those players upfront to stand around and feel sorry for themselves as they'll face another good test today against a formidable Vikings' offense.
Maybe next week, or the week after, or maybe the last week of the season we'll get to see what a healthy Detroit defensive line with all of its moving parts might look like.
2. DAVID BLOUGH ENCORE
The undrafted rookie made his NFL debut on Thanksgiving for the Lions and set a franchise record for the most passing yards (280) by a Lions quarterback in his NFL debut. He also pitched in two touchdowns and gave the Lions a chance to win the game late in another close 24-20 defeat.
The Vikings don't have a ton of tape on Blough, and even turned to a resource on their staff this week that coached Blough in the East-West Shrine Game back in January for some insight, but rest assured, Mike Zimmer and the Vikings' defense will have a good plan in place for Blough.
"Honestly, I think that's my favorite part of it," Blough said this week. "Being able to compete at this stage, and it's the strategy. I was a kid who grew up and you love the game, and I've kind of really enjoyed being with the highest level of thinkers.
"That's what I enjoy about the game. I'll be excited to go up against Zimmer and (Vikings defensive coordinator George) Edwards and just give everything we have."
Jones had himself a day the last time these two teams met back in Week 7 at Ford Field.
Matthew Stafford targeted Jones 13 times in that contest and Jones caught 10 of those for 93 yards and a career-tying best four touchdowns.
Two of those touchdowns were with Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes in coverage. He also tagged cornerbacks Mike Hughes and Trae Waynes for a touchdown apiece when they were in coverage on him.
Jones is currently tied with teammate Kenny Golladay for the league lead with nine touchdown receptions. He caught a touchdown from Blough last week.
This is a Vikings' offense that averages 26.6 points per game, so the Lions know they have to score to keep pace, and could look to Jones and Golladay to continue to be big components of their plan on offense.
4. DALVIN COOK STATUS
Cook has said all week he's playing.
The Vikings running back, and fifth leading rusher in the NFL, was removed from Friday's injury report, so he should be ready to go today.
In four games and three starts in his career vs. the Lions, Cook's rushed 64 times for 370 yards (5.78 average) with three rushing touchdowns and a 70-yard run mixed in there. He's also caught nine passes for 70 more yards.
5. KIRK COUSINS PRESSURE
The eight-year veteran is having a sneaky good season for the Vikings. He leads the NFL with a 111.9 passer rating and has an NFL best 20 touchdown passes since Week 5.
The Lions have to be much better against Cousins than they were the first time around, when they allowed him to complete 24 of his 34 passes for 337 yards with four touchdowns and no picks.
Cousins leads the NFL with a passer rating of 131.4 on attempts that travel at least 20-plus yards in the air. The Lions allowed four passing plays of 25-plus yards in the first matchup. Detroit enters this contest 30th in pass defense, so they'll obviously have to be much better in that department.
Detroit didn't have a single sack in that first game and hit Cousins just three times. They'll need to be better in that regard today.