The Viking have had longstanding rivalries with the Packers and Bears over the last half-century that have gone back and forth. For a period of years, one team has been superior to the others, but they always seem to be battles when divisional opponents meet.
The rivalry between the Vikings and the Detroit Lions over the years has been more like the rivalry between a hammer and a nail. Prior to Detroit beating the Vikings in the 2010 regular-season finale, the Vikings had won six straight meetings and 10 of the previous 11 games. Detroit hasn't won at the Metrodome since 1997 and, despite several close games, the Lions were something of a running joke – almost like a high school or college team scheduling a cupcake to be its homecoming opponent.
But the 2011 Detroit Lions are a different animal than what the Vikings have seen in recent years. Detroit hasn't lost in 10 months – winning their last six regular-season games dating back to last season and, if you factor in preseason games, have won 10 straight.
They are off to a dominating 2-0 start in which they are not only the highest scoring team in the NFC but have allowed the fewest points as well. These aren't the toothless Lions we have become accustomed to seeing.
"This is a young, explosive team on both sides of the ball," linebacker Erin Henderson said. "They're doing some new things on offense, getting the ball to their playmakers and allowing them to get out in space and make plays. They're disciplined and they do what they are supposed to do. But they have a mean streak to them too. Those offensive linemen will get after you and maybe take a couple of shots after the play. You have to be prepared to protect yourself. They're doing some good things over there, so we have to counter it and play ball like we know we can."
The Lions have built their team the old-fashioned way – through the draft. Since 2007, they have added Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Jahvid Best on offense and built what could be the best defensive tackle tandem of the future in Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. In an era where teams can rise and fall in a hurry (just ask the Vikings), the Lions are no longer the whipping boys they have been for the last decade.
"The thing about the league now as opposed to when I came into the league is that there is so much turnover on teams from season to season," Longwell said. "You can go from worst to first in a hurry in this league now. [The Lions) have drafted well and made some key signings. That is a big reason why they have been able to get the attention of the rest of the league. They're a young team that is developing together as a group. They're a team to be reckoned with."
Much of the blame for the Lions' lack of success since the retirement of Barry Sanders has been directed (rightfully) at former general manager Matt Millen. An ill-equipped former player and broadcaster with no front-office experience, Millen consistently botched drafts on players that never lived up to their expectations. Vikings wide receiver Michael Jenkins, who saw the Atlanta Falcons rise from the ashes of a 4-12 season in 2007 to post the NFC's best record in 2010, said the players win or lose games, but franchise success typically begins with people who don't take the field.
"It starts from the top with the front office and the coaches," Jenkins said. "The attitude and the atmosphere at the facility plays a big role in getting a team moving in the right direction. That's what it looks like they're doing."
Things were so bad in Atlanta in 2007 that their head coach Bobby Petrino, hired just months earlier, took a job to return to the college game and bailed on his team – something Jenkins still shakes his head in disbelief over. The Falcons were at rock bottom – their coach had quit and their quarterback (Michael Vick) was heading to jail. This couldn't have been much worse, but the Falcons made front office changes and the results have been self-explanatory.
"When I was in Atlanta, we were at the end of the Vick era and had the Petrino season where we went 4-12," Jenkins said. "It was a frustrating season and changes were made. The team brought in (general manager) Thomas Dimitroff and hired coach Mike Smith and the whole atmosphere changed. That what it looks like is going on in Detroit."
Vikings fans may expect that the Lions are going to be the same pushover they have been for so long – season ticket holders haven't left the Metrodome to a Lions victory for 14 years – but the Vikings know this isn't your dad's Detroit Lions. This is a team on the rise and one that will give the Vikings a lot of problems on Sunday. If the home winning streak is to continue, the Vikings will have to play at a high level. This Lions team won't give away wins like previous Detroit squads have.
"The fact that they're 2-0 shouldn't surprise people," Henderson said. "When you watch tape and see the plays they're coming up with and things they're able to do out there on the field, you have to take it for what it is. You can't really talk about what they've done in the past or didn't do. It's a new team that is improving."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings know the Lions have changed
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