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NFL Preview - Detroit (0-2) at Minnesota (0-2)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The odds of getting back to the playoffs are already stacked against the winless Minnesota Vikings. Perhaps an NFC North showdown with the 0-2 Detroit Lions this Sunday from the Metrodome is what the struggling team needs.
It's no secret Minnesota's offense has been extinct through the first two games of the season, having scored just 19 points in losses to New Orleans and Miami. In its defense, last year's breakout wide receiver Sidney Rice is still sidelined after undergoing hip surgery, second-year playmaker Percy Harvin hasn't been effective and quarterback Brett Favre already has four interceptions to just one touchdown pass.
Favre's been through slow starts in his career before, and if anyone knows how to snap out of a funk, it's the veteran.
"We can't make excuses," Favre said after the home-opening loss to the Dolphins. "There will be what-ifs or shoulda, coulda, woulda's. That's part of it. You go down swinging and you win swinging. If we don't make it, we don't make it."
While the stagnant offense is making fans edgy in the Twin Cities, running back Adrian Peterson has been his usual self with back-to-back productive performances to start the season. Peterson was lost in the second half of a loss to the Saints in Week 1, but head coach Brad Childress went back to his workhorse versus Miami. It must be nice for a team to revert back to arguably the best running back in the game when the aerial attack has been grounded, like when Favre threw three interception last week for example.
It's a given teams will have a hard time achieving success turning over the football, something Minnesota did four times last Sunday.
This week's matchup will not be a cakewalk for the Vikings, with a much- improved Detroit squad coming in with an identical 0-2 record. It will be a tough task for the Vikes to avoid starting 0-3 for the first time since losing the first four contests of the 2002 campaign.
Detroit may have an improved squad, but it's still trying to avoid starting 0-3 for the first time since its unprecedented 0-16 run in 2008. It could have easily been 2-0, as the team was victimized by a blown touchdown call in Week 1 at Chicago and came up just short after a hard-fought rally in last Sunday's 35-32 home loss to Philadelphia.
It didn't help when franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford was lost for the season in Week 1, though backup Shaun Hill has been a capable insurance policy and almost led the winless Lions to their first victory since a 38-37 triumph versus Cleveland last November 22.
Hill will again take center stage for a Lions team that has lost 21 straight as the visitor and hasn't tasted victory outside the Motor City since a 16-7 win at Chicago back on October 28, 2007.
Either way, Hill put a positive spin on the team's slow start.
"This is a long season; 0-2 is not out of it. You can't dwell on that," Hill noted on the team's site. "You go in, you learn from your mistakes and you better come out next week ready to go."
Rookie running back Jahvid Best has proven he is ready for the fast-paced NFL and is the league leader with five touchdowns through two weeks. Best leads the team in both rushing and receiving and is coming off a tremendous performance against the Eagles in which he ran for 78 yards and two scores and caught nine passes for an additional 154 yards and a touchdown.
Lions head coach Jim Schwartz was defensive coordinator of Tennessee before joining the Lions and knew his front line needed an adjustment. His team selected tackle Ndamukong Suh with the second overall pick in last April's draft and acquired defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch through free agency and tackle Corey Williams in a trade with Cleveland. Those three, among others, will be thrown into the fire against Peterson and Minnesota's tough ground attack.
The Vikings hold a 65-30-2 lead in the all-time series with the Lions, and extended their winning streak in the series to five with last year's home-and- home sweep. Minnesota was a 27-13 winner when it visited Ford Field in Week 2, and completed the sweep with a 27-10 win at the Metrodome in Week 10. Detroit is 1-15 against the Vikings since 2002, with the only win over that stretch a 20-17 overtime triumph at Ford Field during the 2007 campaign. The Lions are 0-12 in Minnesota since last winning there in 1997.
Childress is 7-1 against the Lions as a head coach, while Schwartz is 0-2 against both Childress and Minnesota as a head man.
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
Hill (423 passing yards, 2 TD, 3 INT) will make his second start in a Lions uniform and faces a fierce defense for a third consecutive week. Hill almost pulled the Lions to victory over the first two weeks, but unfortunately bowed out in the final minutes. He has performed admirably in place of Stafford and threw for a career-best 335 yards versus the Eagles. Hill was sacked just twice behind an improved offensive line that has allowed three total in Hill's time as a starter. The line has also made Best look like Walter Payton so far, as the former Cal standout is an early favorite for Rookie of the Year. Best (98 rushing yards, 170 receiving yards, 5 total TD) is a multi-purpose back who will create mismatches with opposing defenses because of his speed and pass-catching ability. Speaking of catching passes, Lions Pro Bowl wide receiver Calvin Johnson (8 receptions, 1 TD) recorded his first touchdown reception last week and will be keyed on early by Minnesota's secondary. Johnson and tight end Brandon Pettigrew (8 receptions) are second on the team in receptions, while Best leads the pack with 14. Pettigrew had a breakout game last week with a career-high 108 yards on seven catches, adding to Detroit's total of 444 yards.
Minnesota's defense has been playing well in losing fashion the first two weeks and held the Dolphins to 226 yards in Week 2. All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen (7 tackles, 1 sack) recorded his first sack of the season after registering 14 1/2 in each of the past two years. The Vikings were a bit shaky in rush defense, as Miami's Ronnie Brown ran for 80 yards on 13 touches. Best will pose problems for Minnesota bulky front line, which sacrifices speed and agility for power and size. End Ray Edwards (4 tackles) is off to a slow start and must provide pressure from the opposite side of Allen. While mammoth tackles Kevin and Pat Williams are notorious run stuffers, linebackers Chad Greenway (20 tackles) and E.J. Henderson (16 tackles) hope to keep up with Best out of the backfield and Pettigrew across the middle. Kevin Williams (6 tackles, 1 sack) owns six sacks in his past five encounters with the Lions, who have an advantage with Johnson lining up against either Antoine Winfield (13 tackles) or Asher Allen (7 tackles). No Vikings starter has an interception in 2010.
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
This week is a must-win for Favre (198 passing yards, 1 TD, 4 INT) and the Vikings. Their offense has been below average thus far and the legendary quarterback has been at the controls. Whether it's age, lack of interest or a beleaguered receiving corps, Favre has fallen flat on his face to the tune of a 56.1 passer rating. He was intercepted three times last week and still needs just two more touchdown passes for 500 in his career. Judging by his 15-2 record in the last 17 meetings with Detroit, Favre should reach that mark on Sunday. Harvin (6 receptions) seems to have curbed his migraine issues, but is now hampered with a balky hip. He was able to shake it off to the tune of 32 yards on five catches last week. Childress said an MRI revealed no structural damage on Harvin's hip, but it is still unknown if the second-year star out of Florida will be able to play this week. The Vikings assumed Bernard Berrian would have stepped up his game by now, but he only has three catches on the season. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (10 receptions, 162 yards, 1 TD) is healthy and one of Favre's favorite targets. He leads all NFC tight ends in receiving yards. Wideout Hank Baskett was cut by the Eagles and picked up by Minnesota this week to bolster the depleted corps.
The Lions are aware of Minnesota's struggles on offense, but that won't have any effect on their game plan. They know Favre and that offense can explode at any moment and must tighten things up after surrendering 409 yards to Philadelphia. The front line of defense had a tough time stopping Eagles back LeSean McCoy, who scorched the Lions for 120 yards and three scores on 16 carries. Not only did the defensive line, led by Suh and Vanden Bosch, fail to stop the ground game, but also the linebackers were seen chasing down players from behind. Outside linebackers Julian Peterson (8 tackles) and Zack Follett (7 tackles) will be in for a long day if Adrian Peterson is on his game and able to break through a massive Detroit front line that produced six sacks. The two Lions linemen combined for six stops last week. Vanden Bosch (17 tackles, 2 sacks) and Suh contributed a few of those sacks, while Suh is on pace for 16 this season. Free safety Louis Delmas (15 tackles, 1 sack) and strong safety C.C. Brown (11 tackles) are fortunate that Rice isn't healthy yet, but do have Harvin and Bernard Berrian to worry about.
Favre hasn't been a reliable fantasy quarterback in two games this season. However, he's bound to break out of his funk sometime, and this could be the week. But remember, Detroit has vastly improved from years past and will try to keep Favre winless after he's tantalized the franchise for decades. The Vikings have a depleted receiving corps and Harvin is still banged up with a hip issue. The only reliable receiving option is Shiancoe. Many believed Berrian would have stepped up his game with the issues with Rice and Harvin, but he should only be used in emergency situations. Minnesota's defense is a good choice, but has a challenge in containing Best.
Best and Johnson are the only fantasy options for Detroit right now, but perhaps Hill may get some recognition soon. Pettigrew is coming off a big week, but will run into some trouble Sunday. The same holds true for Hill, who will become a reliable backup in fantasy leagues with another respectable outing.
An 0-3 start for the first time in eight years seems unlikely for Minnesota regardless of how well the Lions have played this season. The Vikings have beaten up on Detroit for so many years, and that's not going to change Sunday with an entire team anxious to get off the schneid. Yes, the Lions are also winless and have an exciting piece to the puzzle in Best. One person actually can make a difference on the football field (see Adrian Peterson), but it's too soon to crown Best as one of the top backs in the league. The rookie still has a lot to learn, especially in the NFC North, and will get another division lesson Sunday against an aggressive -- and maybe desperate -- Vikings defense.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 24, Lions 16
09/26 02:56:06 ET