Where: Mall of America Field, Minneapolis, Minn. (turf, indoors)
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (Fox)
Spread: Lions by 2 1/2
Records: Lions (Overall: 4-4, NFC North: 0-2); Vikings (Overall: 5-4, NFC North 1-0)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Sept. 30, 2012: Vikings 20, Lions 13; Dec. 11, 2011: Lions 34, Vikings 28. Series record: Minnesota leads 67-33-2.
What matters: The Lions’ 3-1 record since they last played the Vikings in Week 4 has their season back on track. If they want to have any chance of getting a playoff berth, they need to win Sunday against the Vikings, who have lost two straight and are battling key injuries and uncertainty at quarterback.
To beat the Vikings on Sunday, Detroit must:
• Contain Adrian Peterson: QB Christian Ponder’s recent struggles indicate that Peterson, who rushed for more than 100 yards against the Lions in Week 4, will likely shoulder a large part of the offense Sunday. The Lions’ linebackers have been excellent at filling gaps in the run defense during Detroit’s last two wins. The unit must continue to play the run tough and force Ponder to throw.
• Beat Minnesota’s 12th man: The crowd at Mall of America Field is among the most raucous in the NFL, and the Vikings take full advantage of the dome’s noise to intimidate opponents. Several Lions admit that it’s difficult to hear audibles in key situations inside the dome, which can lead to costly penalties. Detroit must figure out a way to be effective despite the noise and avoid the crowd-related penalties that have hurt them in recent years.
• Maintain its own kind of offensive balance: Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s return to a pass-first offense the past two weeks has sparked production and given some of the young players the confidence they lacked during the 1-3 start. But Matthew Stafford’s success hasn’t eliminated the need for an effective run game, and Linehan’s playcalling has made effective use of backs Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure. To win Sunday, Linehan must use Bell and Leshoure enough to force the Vikings to respect the run, without affecting the up-tempo passing game.
Who matters: WR Calvin Johnson’s health remains a concern, but the All-Pro proved he could play through pain when he caught seven passes for 129 yards against Jacksonville last week. The Lions need Johnson to be just as effective Sunday to create favorable matchups for their other receivers
Ryan Broyles has quickly grown into Detroit’s slot receiver role by finding gaps in the two-deep coverage that the Lions typically face. Broyles was so effective at picking apart the zone against the Jaguars that he forced Jacksonville to move away from its initial two-high safety coverage looks. If he can do that Sunday, it could be a good day for Stafford and his receivers.
Safeties Erik Coleman and Ricardo Silva were effective starting last week. Coleman made his first interception as a Lion, and both excelled at stopping the Jaguars’ rush. They should start Sunday, and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham will likely rely heavily on them to provide extra help to contain Peterson.
• Lions T Jeff Backus vs. Minnesota DE Jared Allen: The rivalry between Allen and Backus has grown over the years, but Allen’s speed has helped him get the better of Backus. Allen has seven sacks in his past three games against Detroit, so don’t be surprised if the Lions use Riley Reiff as a sixth lineman on the left side as extra protection against Allen’s pass rush.
• Lions DL against Vikings Ts Phil Loadholt and Matt Kalil: Ponder’s struggles would be much worse were it not for the protection he receives from an OL that is improved over last season. Minnesota allowed two sacks against the Lions in Week 4, but Ponder also had several opportunities to work through his receiving progressions. If DEs Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch can collapse the pocket from the outside, they can funnel Ponder into the waiting arms of Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams.
• Lions CBs Jonte Green and Jacob Lacey against Vikings receivers: The injury to Vikings’ WR Percy Harvin should take some pressure off the secondary, but Green and Lacey still need to prove they can maintain effective coverage. Green’s learning the finer points of pass coverage, making him an easier target than No. 1 CB Chris Houston. Lacey has also proven vulnerable to big plays. They can’t afford any lapses if the Lions are to win.
Injuries of note: The Lions released the following status report for Sunday’s game: Out: Safeties Louis Delmas (knee) and Amari Spievey (concussion). Questionable: DE Avril (back), T Corey Hilliard (knee), WR Johnson (knee), DT Williams (knee) and WR Titus Young (knee). Probable: S Coleman (toe), CB Houston (illness), RB Leshoure (ankle), LB DeAndre Levy (hamstring) and LB Stephen Tulloch (knee).
Inside stuff: If the Lions start Houston and Lacey at cornerback Sunday alongside Silva and Coleman at safety, it will mark the first time all season that the secondary has had the same four starters in consecutive weeks. The ability to carry over the same starting group could prove to be a plus in a loud environment that will put a premium on communication.
Connections: Vikings FB Jerome Felton spent three seasons in Detroit, appearing in 42 games. QB Shaun Hill was coached in Minnesota by Lions’ offensove coordinator Linehan, who held the same position with the Vikings from 2002-2004.
Stat you should know: Stafford needs two touchdown passes to reach 70 for his career in 38 games. Stafford would join Dan Marino (29) and Kurt Warner (31) as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to reach the mark in fewer than 40 games.
Looking ahead: Detroit returns home the following Sunday to face Green Bay before the Texans visit Ford Field for the traditional Thanksgiving Day game in Week 12.
Prediction: Lions 17, Vikings 13