Opponents look at the schedule, too. They see struggling teams, their weak spots, and see a chance to pick up a win and build on their won-loss record.
That's one of the things we learned in the Detroit Lions' 34-20 loss to the Minnesota Vikings Sunday. The Lions saw the Vikings as a struggling team with a 2-5 record. But the Vikings saw the Lions the same way – a struggling team with a slightly better record of 3-4 going into the game.
Among the other things we learned include the following: The play of the Lions' special teams in the loss to the Colts the previous week was not a fluke; that a defensive lapse, with the help of a fundamental breakdown, can change the game's momentum.
We start with struggling teams:
The Vikings looked like a team ready made for the Lions to beat and improve their record to 4-4 at the halfway point of the season. The Vikings were giving up 411 yards per game going into the game, and injuries and personnel losses had reduced the effectiveness of a pass rush that had averaged 41 sacks per season for the six previous seasons.
That left areas for the Lions to exploit.
But the Vikings also saw an inconsistent Lions team that had problems stopping the run and getting to the quarterback.
The Lions piled up 421 yards, slightly above the average per game that the Vikings allowed in the first seven games. However, the Lions did not convert the yards into points often enough.
They managed only two touchdowns and two field goals, and they were hurt by two interceptions thrown by quarterback Matthew Stafford in the third quarter that stopped possessions when the Lions were in scoring territory.
On the opposite side, the Vikings rolled for 487 yards – 275 rushing and 212 passing. Dalvin Cook ran for 206 yards. Kirk Cousins – sacked only once – threw for 220 yards and three TDs.
It was a neat, tidy performance all the way around by the Vikings' offense. They took advantage of what they'd seen in their opponent.
Special: The Lions' special teams have been just that – special -- the last two weeks. What they did in the previous game against the Colts, blocking a punt, was not a fluke. They had another big game against the Vikings.
They blocked two punts and were strong on coverage. After a 15-yard TD catch by wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. with 1:19 left in the first half cut Minnesota's lead to 13-10, Miles Killebrew tackled the return man at the Vikings' 13-yard line on the ensuing kickoff.
If the defense could have gotten a three-and-out, the Lions would have had a chance to tie the game with a field goal or take the lead with a touchdown.
Neither happened. The Vikings drove through the Lions, covering the 87 yards to the end zone on six plays. Ameer Abdullah's 22-yard catch and run with a screen pass made it 20-10.
The special teams unit had done its job, with no reward.
Breakdown: The Lions twice had only 10 men on the field in the loss to the Colts. Against the Vikings, it happened once – on Cook's 70-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
Linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. could be seen gesturing with his right hand that something was wrong, but the Vikings got the play off and scored a TD that made it 34-13.
Cook really didn't need any help from the opponent. He got it, anyway.