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.
Did you ever play basketball in the driveway with your dad when you were a kid and he said, “I’ll spot you five points.”
If you didn’t, the concept is pretty simple: Dad knows he’s 6-foot tall and can block every one of your shots, so he’s going to give you some free points to start with to give you a fighting chance.
That’s what the Detroit Lions have been to the Minnesota Vikings since 2018. In seven matchups, the Vikings are 7-0 and have outscored the lowly Lions 203-127. In those contests, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has thrown for 1,826 yards with 16 touchdowns and just two interceptions, good for a 123.0 quarterback rating.
If you were wondering, Detroit quarterbacks have an 81.0 rating and have taken 27 sacks in those seven forgettable games.
So the Lions basically spotted the Vikings two free wins in 2018, 2019 and 2020. This year, Detroit got a little feisty. They went for a two-point conversion after scoring a late touchdown and took the lead in the waning moments. Oh no, could the Lions actually beat the Vikings? Oh, wait, nevermind. Detroit instantly Detroit’d and gave up a game-winning drive to Cousins, capped off by a 54-yard field goal by Greg Joseph.
But the thing about these gimme games is: You can’t keep from thinking what it says about the rest of the 2018-2021 seasons that the Vikings have been given two free wins by one of the universe’s most pathetic franchises and still haven’t been able to get where they expected to go.
If you take away the Lions freebies, the Vikings’ total record since 2018 is 23-28-1.
In 2018, the Vikings had a chance to make the playoffs on the final day of the season. Appreciate the opportunity, Lions.
In 2019, the Vikings finished 10-6 and made the playoffs by a single game over the 9-7 Rams. Thank you, Lions!
In 2020, the Vikings celebrated the Week 17 victory over Detroit because, if we’re being honest, 7-9 looks a lot closer to being competitive than 6-10. XOXO, Lions.
Here we are again with the Vikings traveling to Ford Field with a chance to get back to .500 for the second time since they lost in the playoffs to the 49ers in January 2020 (the first time was two weeks ago when they beat the Packers to get to 5-5). With a win, they stay neck-and-neck with Washington for the final playoff spot. Low and behold, the Lions are 0-10-1, basically spotting the Vikings the points they need to stick around in the race.
You might say that other teams get free wins too. That’s kind of true but not to this degree. Since 2018, the Lions are 14-43-2, the second worst record in the NFL. In that time span, they’ve been outscored by 375 points, the third worst point differential in the league. So, few teams have benefited more from having a pathetic organization in their division than the Vikings.
You can’t help but wonder if things would be different for the Vikings if the Lions were halfway competent or even good over the last four years. Would they have missed the playoffs by so far in 2018 that there would have been a coaching change? Would the Vikings have extended Cousins following the 2019 season if they went 0-2 at reaching the postseason in his first two years? Would we be talking about playoff scenarios right now for the Vikings?
Oh, and don’t tell me that these Lions are fighters. I’m sure you’ll hear that 50 times on the FOX broadcast on Sunday and Mike Zimmer did everything he could to point out the things the Lions do at a mildly professional level. But they rank 30th in scoring and 27th in defense. Their expected win-loss record according to Pro-Football Reference is 2-9.
Best 0-10-1 team ever!
Look, the Vikings don’t have to apologize for whooping the Lions. And we could spend hours and hours breaking down every team’s good and bad fortunes when it comes to the schedule. Tom Brady got lots of free wins against the Jets and Bills during his career. It’s just worth saying out loud that handout wins against the Lions are unconvincing when making the case that the Vikings should keep going down the paths they have been traveling. Being five games under .500 when playing anybody but the NFL’s abomination isn’t something you hang in the rafters.
Same goes for Sunday. There’s only two paths: The Vikings either take their annual gift from the Motor City and move on to games that anybody cares about or they embarrass themselves by becoming Detroit’s only win and then we talk about how the organization is going to dig themselves out of this hole.
This offseason, the Vikings made moves to get back to being a legitimate NFC contender. They spent up to the cap and drafted dudes to help right away. While it’s been a weird and kooky season, the bottom line at 5-6 doesn’t match up with going all-in rebuilding the defense to win this year. Heck, Justin Jefferson said as much at the podium on Thursday when talking about his Player of the Month award.
“It’s good that I got Player of the Month but the record has to be better,” Jefferson said. “We need to be better as a team. Player of the Month is cool but I’d rather get wins.”
They set out to be a playoff contender. They have spent the entire season saying they are a good team and can play with anybody in the NFL. At times they have shown that but not enough to sit in a playoff spot in Week 13.
A win in Detroit this week is fine. Survive and advance. Hey they’re a professional team too yada yada yada. But floor-wiping the Lions isn’t what anybody was looking for from the Cousins era or this season. It’s only been a ticket to play in meaningful games – the type they haven’t often won. The opportunity will be there to change all that if they smack Detroit again and beat teams like Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles and Detroit down the stretch to end the season with belief that they can be dangerous in the NFC playoffs.
That hasn’t been how it’s gone in years past. So for now, take the spotted points and we’ll wait and see if they can use them to make something of this season.