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Five things to watch: Lions vs. Vikings
November 23, 2017 11:15 AM | Tim Twentyman
The Detroit Lions host the Minnesota Vikings today for Detroit's 78th Annual Thanksgiving Day Game.

It's a monster NFC matchup pitting the top two teams in the division against one another for the second and final time this season. The Lions are looking for the season sweep, having already beaten the Vikings in Minneapolis Week 4.

What are five things we should watch out for today?

NFC NORTH HEATING UP OR PRETTY MUCH OVER

Minnesota (8-2) holds a two-game lead over Detroit (6-4) in the NFC North. A Vikings win today, and they hold a three-game lead with just five games left in the season. That doesn't mathematically eliminate Detroit from the division race, but it's certainly not an ideal situation to be in.

A Detroit win trims the Vikings lead to just a game in the division, and Detroit would own the ever-important season sweep and head-to-head season edge, which is the first tiebreaker for a division title, if it comes to that.

RUN DEFENSE

It's starting to become a tired bit, but until the Lions show more consistency stopping the run, it will be a popular theme.

Cleveland rushed for 201 yards two weeks ago, and the Bears racked up 222 yards on the ground last week. Over the last five games, the Lions are allowing on average more than 153 yards per game on the ground. That's simply not good enough.

Minnesota comes into the game averaging 123.3 yards per game on the ground, which ranks eighth in the NFL. If they rush for 200 yards, and are allowed to control the tempo with their ground attack, it will be nearly impossible for the Lions to win this game.

Head coach Jim Caldwell said this week that his players on defense have to fit the run better and tackle better.

Safety Glover Quin and linebacker Jarrad Davis went a little deeper, and said players have to trust that the man next to them is doing their job, so they don't have to feel like they have to do more than their job, which they think has been part of the problem the last two weeks.

GRIFFEN VS. DECKER

Minnesota's front four is extremely talented and disruptive, but veteran defensive end Everson Griffen is their ringleader. Griffen leads the team with 10 sacks in the nine games he's played.

He recorded a sack, had two tackles for loss, and hit quarterback Matthew Stafford three times in the first meeting between these two Week 4. However, Griffen was up against backup Greg Robinson in that matchup, not starter Taylor Decker.

Decker has worked his way fully back after missing half the season with a shoulder injury. He hasn't allowed a sack in the two games he's played in since his return, but Everson is certainly his toughest test to this point. Griffen has terrific speed and power, and a pretty wicked spin move to boot. It should be a good matchup for 60 minutes.

ABDULLAH ENCORE?

Lions running back Ameer Abdullah had his best game as a professional in the Week 4 matchup against Minnesota earlier this year. He rushed 20 times for 94 yards (4.7 average) and had a touchdown. He also didn't play most of the fourth quarter after rolling his ankle early in the final 15 minutes.

Abdullah was particularly good breaking tackles and earning extra yards after contact. Minnesota comes in ranked second in the league stopping the run at 77.7 yards allowed per game.

Can Abdullah finally break Detroit's streak of 60-plus games without a 100-yard rusher?

ANOTHER NAILBITER?

The last three games between these two clubs have all been wins by the Lions, but by just 16 total points combined. One of those wins was in come-from-behind fashion in overtime in Minnesota last year. The other two the Lions were able to win by forcing a turnover in the final minutes.

It seems when these two teams play, especially lately, they are physical, hard-nosed games that come down to the very end.

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