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5 questions for season finale between Vikings and Lions

With the energy of a third preseason game, the Vikings will close out the season in Detroit.
Mike Zimmer

The Minnesota Vikings will close out their 2020 season in Detroit on Sunday and if you're not feeling enthused about the matchup, it only makes sense. The Vikings were eliminated from playoff contention after their loss to the New Orleans Saints and Sunday's finale serves as a final impression before Minnesota heads into the offseason.

With several key players out or potentially limited, the game will also have the feel of a late preseason game. Even though the game has little ramifications, we'll ask five questions that will surround the game.

Which starters will be rested on Sunday?

If you believe Mike Zimmer, the answer to this question may be none. With the exception of Kyle Rudolph (IR), Dalvin Cook (personal), Eric Kendricks (calf) and Ifeadi Odenigbo (chest) it appears that most of the Vikings starters will be playing to make their final impressions.

We'll get to the potential ramifications in a minute, but in true Parcells-like fashion, Zimmer sees a football game he expects to win. With that being said, he'll use his key players accordingly in Detroit.

Will Justin Jefferson break more records?

Zimmer's decision to treat Sunday like a win-or-go-home playoff game falls into the lap of Jefferson. With one game to go, Jefferson is within striking distance of Randy Moss' franchise record and Anquan Boldin's NFL record of receiving yards by a rookie.

Jefferson comes into Sunday's game with 1,267 receiving yards and will need 47 yards to surpass Moss' franchise record of 1,313 set in 1998. The odds of this seem happening are good as Jefferson has been held under that number just three times since becoming a starter in Week 3.

The bigger challenge will be catching up to Boldin's 1,377 yards he put up in 2003. To do that, Jefferson will need 111 yards but has hit that number four times this season.

If Kirk Cousins is throwing him the ball, Jefferson should at least threaten both numbers on Sunday. If the Vikings opt to give Sean Mannion snaps, he might not have the opportunity to bolster his rookie of the year campaign.

Can Alexander Mattison make good on the opportunity to start?

With Cook returning to Miami after the death of his father, the Vikings will turn to Mattison in Detroit. While Mattison has put up similar numbers to his rookie campaign, this season hasn't felt like a step forward due to injury and low usage.

The last time Mattison got an opportunity to start, he only put up 26 yards on 10 carries in a loss to the Falcons. As the second-year running back enters Sunday's game, he's seen light usage, logging six carries since Week 9.

Part of that may be his recovery from appendicitis, but that Week 9 game happened to be against the Lions. If Mattison can produce a similar line to the 12 carries and 69 yards he hung on the Detroit defense, it could entice the Vikings to use him more in 2021.

Will D'Andre Swift be the latest running back to torch the Vikings?

You may still be having visions of Alvin Kamara running through your head after his Christmas Day performance against the Vikings, but the Minnesota defense will have to shake it off heading into Detroit. 

The Vikings will be down three starters in the front seven on Sunday and five if you include Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce, who haven't played all season. With Minnesota ranking 27th in Football Outsiders DVOA metric against the run, this could spell another bad day to a defense that's also been carved up by David Montgomery in recent weeks.

Enter D'Andre Swift, who has struggled at times this season but is a promising rookie for the Lions. As one of the best pass-catching backs in last year's draft, Swift has a skill set similar to Kamara, which could be trouble for defense using primarily backups. Mix in another Adrian Peterson revenge game and the Vikings will have to get creative to stop the run.

Where will the Vikings pick in the 2021 NFL Draft?

As someone who grew up tearing franchises down and building them back up on Madden, the most interesting part about the outcome of this game is where it will push the Vikings in next year's draft order.

According to Tankathon, the Vikings enter Sunday's game with the 13th overall pick in the draft. A win will probably keep Minnesota in that 13-to-15th overall range but a loss could catapult them into the top 10 and possibly as high as seventh.

If you're looking for the Vikings to land a quarterback, Sunday's game may be one where you're willing to take a loss for the greater good. As Zimmer has shown this week (see above), he expects his team to come away with a win. This will create an interesting (or not really) dynamic for Sunday's game.

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