The Minnesota Vikings have only played in six Thanksgiving games previously, with a 5-1 record in those games, but the last time they were in one was in 2000. Their only loss on Thanksgiving was in 1995 to Detroit.
“Every team has to go through it,” CB Captain Munnerlyn said. “The NFL, every team plays on Thursday night. So it can’t be an excuse for us. We’ve just got to go out there and play. We know what we signed up for. This is the NFL. … We’ve got a chance to go out and play prime time. We’ve got to take advantage of it and execute and try to get this win.”
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer estimated on KFAN that he has coached in more than a dozen Thanksgiving games.
The biggest issue is that both the Lions and Vikings had only three days of recovery before putting their bodies back out there. While the Vikings could be missing some important players – CB Terence Newman and WR Stefon Diggs likely among them – the Lions don’t have any players listed as “out” or “doubtful” on their injury report and had an easy road to get to Thanksgiving. After playing the Vikings on Nov. 6, the Lions had a bye week, then played Jacksonville on Sunday.
LB Chad Greenway, who said there is a possibility he could miss the game because his fourth child is due to be born soon, said physical “recovery” is the hardest part of playing on a Thursday.
“Mentally getting yourself around the playbook isn’t as hard because we just played them,” Greenway said. “That makes it a little bit easier from a game-plan standpoint. We know they’ll be limited in what they can put in, which helps.”
When the NFL sees a chance for money – and the more eyeballs focused on one game, the more money there is – it will take it.
Thursday’s games are among the best Thanksgiving ones in some time. It is the first time since 1935 that the Thanksgiving schedule has at least three games and every team has a .500 record or better. And, for only the third time in the past 20 years, every team playing on Thanksgiving won its preceding game (1998 and 2011).
Of more local importance, the Lions and Vikings are fighting for first place in the division.
“It was a missed opportunity for us a couple weeks ago, so it’s right in our memory bank,” Greenway said, referencing the Vikings’ Nov. 6 loss to Detroit. “It’s going to be a challenge for us.”
WHAT’S DIFFERENT IN DETROIT?
While the Lions have generally been a bad franchise, they are only two games away from a .500 record on Thanksgiving tradition.
This year, the Lions are the first team to trail in their first 10 games in the fourth quarter and still have a winning record (6-4). Part of the reason is solid play from QB Matthew Stafford.
The Vikings credit several factors for the Lions being better: They are “impressive” converting third-and-long situations, their protection of Stafford has improved greatly under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, and they are one of the best teams at creating yards after contact.
That makes tackling, which was subpar by the Vikings in their last meeting, critical.
“From last game, we just didn’t tackle well enough,” Greenway said. “Too many yards after contact and catch. (Golden Tate) really hurt us with that. We know the back is capable of doing a lot of great things, too.”
Last time, Tate had 11 catches for 79 yards and the game-winning touchdown in overtime.
“He’s a great receiver,” CB Xavier Rhodes said. “He’ll get in and out of his breaks. The quarterback throws accurate. We look forward to him.”
BLITZ OR NO?
The Vikings backed off their blitzes quite a bit against Arizona, blitzing only 13 percent of the time, according to Pro Football Focus, and found that to be successful.
Last time against the Lions, the Vikings rushed five or more on 11 of Stafford’s 41 dropbacks, according to our charting, and Stafford completed 8 of 11 for 88 yards, one touchdown and was sacked once. Without the blitz, Stafford was 15-for-24 for 131 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
- Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine named Vikings executive vice president Steve Poppen its CFO of the Year for large private businesses.
- While the Vikings are increasing their use of the Wildcat, QB Sam Bradford said he probably used more gadget plays when Josh McDaniels was his offensive coordinator in St. Louis in 2011.
- Although T.J. Clemmings has been criticized for his up-and-down play in 2016, PFF gave him a 70.2 grade in giving up only two pressures against the Lions earlier this month. However, that was when he was at right tackle. This time, after the injury to Jake Long, Clemmings is at left tackle.
- Newman isn’t expected to play because of a neck injury, but last time vs. Detroit he allowed only three catches for 10 yards.
- Harrison Smith is expected to play, but PFF credited Stafford with a 158.3 passer rating when targeting Smith in their last meeting and had Smith for four missed tackles, including one on Tate’s game-winning touchdown. In his previous seven games combined, Smith was only credited with four missed tackles.