When fans saw the Vikings schedule when it was released this spring, seeing the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers at the start had many thinking the Vikings would sail into their Monday night matchup with the Packers at 3-0. Of those, the easiest appeared to be Detroit, and why not? The Lions have lost 18 straight games and, unlike the rivalries with the Packers and Bears that have gone back and forth, the rivalry between the Vikings and Lions has been akin to the rivalry between a hammer and a nail.
The numbers speak for themselves. The Vikings have won three straight, 13 of the last 14 and 17 of the last 19 games against the Lions. The lone loss in the last seven years came in 2007 in a game the Vikings would have won had a Ryan Longwell field goal as time expired not hit an upright and bounced back.
Yet, the Vikings aren't taking the Lions lightly and know that they want their record-setting losing streak – the first team to go defeated (as opposed to undefeated) in the 16-game era of the NFL – to end. They may appear down and out, but that can be misleading. What happened to Detroit last year is history and, in many respects doesn't apply to the 2009 season.
"It's a divisional game and whenever you play a divisional game, you have to throw the records out the window," defensive end Jared Allen said. "They always play tough and they're an improved team. You can't look at last year's record. I look at those two games last year and those are two games we could have lost, especially the one at home. Whenever you play a division opponent on the road, you have to come with your hard hat and your lunch pail ready to go to work."
The Vikings needed a phantom pass interference penalty late in their game at the Metrodome last year and a 50-yard field goal from Longwell as time expired to pull out a 12-10 win. And they needed Tarvaris Jackson to come off the bench and rally the Vikings to a 20-16 win at Ford Field later in the season. Those were both games they could have lost and offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie said he believes there is more pressure on the Vikings to hold serve and win than on the Lions.
"Division games are always a little more intense," McKinnie said. "We're a team that everyone thinks is supposed to win, so that's even more motivation for them to prove a point and play us extra hard. We just have to execute, because that has worked in the past. We have to look at them as another good team, because any given Sunday, any team can beat any other team."
There are times where it seems one team has another team's number. Anyone who watched the Monday night doubleheader knows about the long winning streaks the Patriots have over Buffalo and the Chargers have over Oakland. Both teams needed near-miracle finishes to win those games, but there is something to be said about karma being on the side of one team in divisional matchups.
Quarterback Sage Rosenfels is no stranger to that. In his three seasons with Houston, the Texans went 1-5 against the Indianapolis Colts. They had more than their fair share of chances to win more than just the one game, but almost all of them were close and weren't decided until the fourth quarter. He believes the familiarity that grows with a rival in the division is what makes the games so intense – meeting twice a year every year.
"One team may win the majority of those games, but a lot of them come down to just a field goal or a touchdown," Rosenfels said. "The players know each other so well from seeing each other twice a year. No matter what the records are, you come in knowing that the game will probably be close. Of the three teams I played on in Houston, probably the worst of those teams was the one in which we beat them – and they went on to win the Super Bowl that year. You sort of learn the formula of how to beat the best team in the division. With Indianapolis, it was to grind them out, run the football and keep Peyton (Manning) off the field."
The Vikings aren't taking the Lions lightly for just that reason. They are familiar with what the Vikings do on offense and defense. They know who can hurt them the most and they are prepared to try to take them away from the offense and neutralize them on defense.
"They always play us tough," Pat Williams said. "We know about the games that we've won against them, but we never go into the game saying they're sorry and we're going to have it easy today. They have played us tough the last couple of years and you don't take that for granted."
Fans may dwell on the 18-game losing streak, but it's clear that eventually it will come to an end. Nobody wants to be that team, but the Lions are about as hungry as anyone to get away from "The Streak." They are hungry, and with new coach Jim Schwartz looking to change the culture of losing in Detroit, they aren't the pushovers that they may appear to be on paper.
"They want to win more than anybody in the NFL right now," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "Nobody wants to win more than the Detroit Lions. We have to go into the game knowing they're going to be giving everything they've got and they do have talented players. They have the ability to beat anybody and they almost beat us twice last year. They have new coaching staff, brought in a bunch of new players and have a new outlook. A lot of those players and coaches weren't part of the losing streak last year."
As the Vikings head into Detroit, they have every right to be confident. Numbers don't lie. The Vikings have dominated the Lions over the years and they have the worst record in the league over the last season-and-a-half. But the Vikings can't use that as a reason to get overconfident. They're not looking at the Lions as an also-ran in the NFC. They've convinced themselves to approach Detroit as a true contender, because the scores of their recent games would say the Lions are much better than their record would indicate – at least when they play the Vikings.
"We haven't dominated them scoring-wise," E.J. Henderson said. "We have to approach them like we're playing a Super Bowl champ, because if you take a team like that too lightly, they will beat you."
On the injury report for the Vikings, LB Erin Henderson (calf) is out, LB Heath Farwell (hamstring) is questionable, and guard Anthony Herrera (back) and TE Jim Kleinsasser (hand) are probable.
For the Lions DE Cliff Avril (hamstring) and QB Drew Stanton (knee) are doubtful. DE Andre Fluellen (knee), and CB Eric King (shoulder) are questionable. DT Grady Jackson (knee), CB Williams James (foot), G Daniel Loper (knee), CB Phillip Buchanon (neck) and K Jason Hanson (right knee) are probable.
WIN ONE, LOSE ONE
RB Adrian Peterson earned the FedEx Ground Player of the Week for his 180-yard performance against the Browns last Sunday, beating out Julius Jones of the Seahawks and Thomas Jones of the New York Jets. Peterson was the FedEx Ground Player of the Year last year and won the weekly award four times.
WR Percy Harvin was beat out for the Diet Pepsi Rookie of the Week honors by Jets QB Mark Sanchez, who threw for 272 yards, a touchdown and an interception in a win over the Houston Texans. The other finalists were Titans WR Kenny Britt, Raiders WR Louis Murphy and Ravens T Michael Oher.
Tim Yotter contributed to this report. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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