When you were a kid there were certain things you hung onto for comfort. Maybe it was a favorite stuffed animal or even a blanket, but for the Minnesota Vikings, it's the Detroit Lions.
Every time the Vikings have been in trouble, the Lions have been there to make them feel better. Since Mike Zimmer arrived in Minnesota in 2014, the Vikings are 11-5 against Detroit and have won eight straight matchups.
With the Vikings' playoff hopes in the balance, it's a great time to see the Lions. Here's what you can count on Sunday afternoon.
1. A rebound game for Kirk Cousins
Last week was a prime example of "Chaos Kirk" as he threw an interception and lined up behind the guard on a crucial fourth-down play. With Cousins under scrutiny, he too will enjoy a trip to Detroit.
Cousins has a 7-1 career record against the Lions and has never lost to them as a Viking. He also has a 17-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio in those games and averages 8.9 yards per attempt, the second-highest of any opponent with a minimum of four career starts.
In the last meeting with Detroit, Cousins led a last-minute drive that set up a game-winning field goal. In the previous meeting, Cousins did "The Griddy" in the end zone. Whatever Cousins has planned this time around, it figures to be a great week to be a Cousins stan.
2. Alexander Mattison carrying the load
With Dalvin Cook out with a shoulder injury, Alexander Mattison will have an opportunity in the backfield. The Vikings' backup racked up 153 total yards and a receiving touchdown in a Week 5 victory over the Lions but 48 of those yards came on one carry.
Mattison's efficiency has tanked in his third season, with a career-low 3.8 yards per carry and Pro Football Focus grades him 61st of 63 running backs who are within 20 percent of the league lead in offensive snaps.
The Vikings were planning on getting Kene Nwangwu more involved in the offense but he has been added to the injury report with a non-COVID-related illness. That means Mattison will have to grind his way to power the Vikings offense unless they decide to take to the air.
3. Justin Jefferson getting peppered with targets
We already talked about Cousins' success against Detroit but there should be no doubt about who he'll be throwing the ball to. After the Vikings had a revelation against the Los Angeles Chargers, Jefferson has averaged 10 targets over the last three games.
This week should be no different as Jefferson goes up against a Detroit defense that coughed up 124 yards on seven catches to him in Week 5. One key difference from that game is that Jefferson made just one catch after halftime, which made the game a lot closer than it should have been.
That shouldn't be a problem this time around. The Vikings have to keep their foot on the gas no matter who the opponent is and the best way to do that is to keep throwing the ball to Jefferson.
4. A short-handed defense
The Vikings defense struggled last week and injuries have played a big role. With the announcement that Eric Kendricks will miss Sunday's game with a biceps injury, the Vikings will be down at least four starters heading into Detroit.
Although they'll get Michael Pierce (elbow) and Davlin Tomlinson (COVID) back, they'll still have many of the same issues against the Lions. Detroit employs a run-heavy attack which should fare well against a Minnesota defense allowing a league-high 4.8 yards per carry.
Even the secondary feels the sting as Patrick Peterson will miss Sunday's game after testing positive for COVID. But even with Jared Goff's struggles, there could be enough for the Lions to muster some punch.
5. A game that's much closer than it should be
On paper, this should be a smash spot for the Vikings. They have dominated the Lions in recent history and with head coach Dan Campbell still looking for his first win, this looks like the game the Vikings should win without breaking a sweat.
But that's not the 2021 Vikings.
The Vikings have held a lead of seven or more points in all 11 games this season but have found a way to to have nine games come down to the final play. Even against an overmatched team like the Lions, the Vikings have enough bad habits to turn this into a nail-biter.
At some point, the Vikings won't be able to avoid their fate. But with the Lions being the Lions, this is a game they should win, albeit narrowly.
Prediction: Vikings 23, Lions 20