Game Scout: Lions at Vikings

Jeff Reynolds, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

Detroit Lions (7-8) at Minnesota Vikings (4-10-1)
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Mall of America Field, Minneapolis - TV: FOX
*TV announcers: Gus Johnson, Charles Davis, Charissa Thompson
*Keys to the game: Teams with playoff expectations -- the Vikings were in the field in 2013, the Lions controlled the NFC North at midseason -- have little to play for and protecting their franchise stars will be a factor. If Lions WR Calvin Johnson (knee) is held out, it wouldn't guarantee another long day for QB Matt Stafford, but he'd need more support from RBs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. The Vikings won't have MLB Audie Cole, a revelation in the second half of the season who hiked up the production of Minnesota's run defense. QB Matt Cassel starts again for the Vikings and the tempo of the offense is vastly improved in recent weeks. Cassel cannot carry the load by himself -- he threw three interceptions and tossed up a 32.6 passer rating last week trying -- but with just 58 yards rushing from RB Adrian Peterson in two games, getting the ball out early to WRs Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings is the wise approach. Detroit's secondary play has improved but remains a weakness.
*Matchup to watch - Lions Bush and Bell vs. Vikings SS Jamarca Sanford: Bush's best game of the season might have been Week 1, when he caught four passes for 101 yards and rushed for 90 more. Bell also had two rushing TDs.
*Player spotlight - Vikings LB Erin Henderson: He was ineffective in the middle earlier this season and replaced by Cole, but returns to the middle with Cole hobbled. Marvin Mitchell moved back to weak-side linebacker, a small role in the Vikings' defense because of how often they play nickel.
*Fast facts: Patterson needs four kickoff return yards in the season finale to break the team record of 1,345 set by Buster Rhymes in 1985. ... Stafford has three career wins against teams with a winning record.
Finishing .500 isn't the rallying cry the Lions expected for the finale, but with coaches Jim Schwartz and Leslie Frazier on high alert, Detroit gives its boss a worthy sendoff.
*Our pick: Lions 29-23

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