Matthew Coller is a published author and football writer who covers the Vikings. He also writes a weekly Vikings column for Bring Me The News, in addition to hosting a livestream on the Bring Me The News YouTube and Facebook pages every Tuesday. You can find more of his work at Purple Insider.
Nobody wins when the Minnesota Vikings play the Detroit Lions. For years the Lions have been a speed bump that tells us very little about who the Vikings are and for Detroit it’s a waste of jet fuel to fly to Minnesota.
It wasn’t always that way back when the Vikings’ defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed and Barry Sanders played for the Lions. Barry played the Vikings 19 times and won nine times. He averaged 98 yards per game and over five yards per carry in those games. Between 1994 and 1998, Sanders had 12 runs of more than 20 yards against the Vikings alone. The next most against Minnesota is three during that span.
Detroit was competitive back then, too. They had five winning seasons between 1991 and 1997 and lost in the first round of the playoffs four times in a five-year stretch from ‘91-’95.
The Vikings were very much in that same competitive boat. Between 1991 and 2000, the Vikings’ worst record was 8-8. So every time they played Detroit, it was a big game. And there were some nutty ones mixed in, including a 44-38 win for the Lions in 1995 and the following year’s opener in which the Vikings picked off Scott Mitchell four times in a 17-13 victory.
Sweet mother of Joey Harrington, that has not been the case in recent years. Over the last three years, the Vikings have beaten the Lions by a combined score of 184-110.
Only one contest between the Vikings and Lions since 2018 has been single digits and that was the Misery Bowl in Week 17 of last year. All the other games were senseless beat downs. The David Blough Game. The 10 Sack Game. The Game Where The Vikings Ruthlessly Threw A Bomb To Stefon Diggs At The End.
It’s OK if you don’t remember them. Why should you?
A fun word that people use to describe bad football teams is “woebegone.” But the Lions’ woe seems far from gone. They’ve started out this year 0-4 despite Dan Campbell’s best efforts to pump up his team by sounding like Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Get this: They have a bad offense and a bad defense. Not exactly shocking considering they’ve finished outside of the top 10 in offense and defense in all but three years since Y2K.
And yet, this one could be memorable.
If the Vikings let Dan Campbell’s club win and 65,000 people rain down boos like frustration confetti, we could see a major shift in this organization.
Working on names for it already. How about, “The Goff that broke Zimmer’s back?” Or maybe something like, “Spielman on Spielman Violence.” KNEECAPPED.
It’ll probably never get there. The Vikings beat the silver paint off the Lions because that’s what they do. They lose the game that matters and then come back with a win against the Lions that’s just statistically impressive enough to earn Cousins another contract extension.
This time is different though. We have reached the Nobody Cares portion of the Zimmer-Spielman-Cousins era.
Nobody cares about beating the Lions. Nobody cares about Cousins’ quarterback rating or whatever statistical endpoints the broadcast can vomit out to make him look like Tom Brady. Nobody cares about the bad breaks they’ve had and nobody wants to hear that they are the best 1-3 team in the NFL. Nobody cares about which injuries are hurting the lineup or which curses seem to be haunting them this year (looking at you, kicker). Nobody cares if the refs screwed you or if the guys you drafted this year will someday make it all better.
That’s all over. Wins against the Lions are no longer cute. The real road back to convincing the world that the money showers the Wilfs poured down on this team over the last three years were worth anything starts against 3-1 Carolina and then carries on against the teams that don’t have to explain all their bad breaks each week in Dallas, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Green Bay and San Francisco.
Win those games and there will be reason to believe the Vikings have something different than all the other years they ended up floating around the middle, putting “We Were In The Hunt” banners in the rafters.
Back to the Lions. You know what’s weird? The Lions are kind of cool again. They sure don’t have Barry Sanders running wild but they are tanking and if we think about some of the teams that bottomed out in recent years, we see the Bills and the Cardinals’ dynamic quarterbacks flinging passes all over the opposition. Cleveland has a pretty strong club too, huh. That could be the Lions in two years. That’s fun to think about for their fans.
If the Vikings smash the Lions with a 2x4, that won’t change the reality that they’re on a path that has a higher success rate than teams who fiddle around in the middle trying to claw for the seventh seed.
And if the Vikings lose to them, they might just get to the same tanky place, only by accident.
But they probably won’t lose, so enjoy the fourth preseason game and get ready for some of the harshest proving ground that the Zimmer era has faced.
P.S. Sorry Barry Sanders, you deserved better.