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NFL Preview - Minnesota (6-9) at Detroit (5-10)
By Shawn Clarke, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - If Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre's history of indecisiveness has any bearing, Sunday's season finale against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field may not be the future Hall of Famer's last game.
But then again, what Favre has had to endure in 2010 will most likely lead to the gunslinger's third -- and this time permanent -- retirement. Favre's been dealing with elbow, shoulder and neck issues and is hoping to get clearance to play on Sunday following a concussion suffered against Chicago on Dec. 20. He must pass a neurological exam in order to compete, something Favre did 297 consecutive times before a shoulder problem forced him to end the streak in a Week 14 loss to the New York Giants, which also took place at Ford Field.
The only quarterback to throw for more than 70,000 yards, 500 touchdown passes and 300 interceptions, Favre has also dealt with off-the-field issues that were settled by the league's standards this week. Favre was embroiled in an ongoing case with former New York Jets employee Jenn Sterger, who accused Favre of sending her improper voice mails and several graphic pictures when he was with the team back in 2008. The NFL fined Favre for violating the league's personal conduct policy after months of in-depth investigations.
Favre, who was inactive for Tuesday's 24-14 win in Philadelphia, was penalized for not cooperating in "a forthcoming manner," resulting in a longer investigation and the hefty fine. Sterger could still seek litigation in this matter and previously stated she would not go that route if the league opted to suspend one of its all-time greats. That means Favre may face a busy upcoming offseason, even if he's not preparing to play.
The Vikings will also be busy after the season as they try to determine who will be their next head coach. Leslie Frazier has done an admirable job since taking over on an interim basis for Brad Childress, going 3-2 following a miserable 3-7 start under his predecessor just one year removed from reaching the NFC Championship Game.
Frazier and his staff put forth an excellent defensive package to stop quarterback Michael Vick and an explosive Eagles offense by sacking the former incarcerated star six times this past week.
"Our goal was to attack Vick and make him pause a little bit, and we were able to get that done with six sacks and constant pressure," Frazier said.
Another big question, besides the employment future of Frazier, is if the Vikings will roll with quarterback Joe Webb against the Lions. The rookie made a case for the starting job by throwing for 195 yards and also running for a score in the win over the heavily-favored Eagles. Webb was precise, completing 17-of-26 passes, and also ran for 31 yards on six scrambles.
Frazier has said if Favre is not cleared to play Sunday, Webb will get the nod again.
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson had a few extra days to rest a thigh bruise, with the Philadelphia game pushed back to Tuesday due to a winter storm, and rumbled for 118 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries against the Eagles. Before the game Peterson was named to his fourth straight Pro Bowl and is the only NFC representative from the Vikings.
Minnesota is 6-9 on the season and defeated the Lions, 24-10, back in Week 3 at the Metrodome, which has since had its roof collapse because of heavy snow a few weeks ago and forced the Vikings to relocate twice and play home games at both Detroit's Ford Field and the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium.
Detroit, meanwhile, has played better than its 5-10 record shows and will enter the offseason with much optimism for 2011.
The Lions are riding a season-high three-game winning streak after they rallied for a 34-27 victory in Miami this past weekend. They ended a five-game slide to the Dolphins and are seeking to record the franchise's first four-game winning streak since Oct. 17-Nov. 7, 1999. That was the last time Detroit reached the playoffs, when Bobby Ross was head coach and Greg Hill the leading rusher.
Today the Lions are loaded with talented young players such as defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and wide receiver Calvin Johnson. The two were just voted in as starters for the NFC's Pro Bowl team and will get to polish off solid seasons Sunday at home.
Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew put a good perspective on the final game of the season.
"We're obviously not going to the Super Bowl. We just want to get it done and lay a foundation for next year."
Head coach Jim Schwartz agreed and added that while other teams are battling for postseason berths, the Lions are only focusing on the direction of the organization and continued momentum for 2011.
Shaun Hill will get the start at quarterback for Detroit and threw for 222 yards and two scores this past weekend. Hill battled through injury this season and was thrust into the spotlight when expected franchise signal-caller Matthew Stafford went down with shoulder issues. Third-stringer Drew Stanton even made a few starts to make a case for the job.
Hill was picked off twice and threw a touchdown pass in the first meeting with Minnesota this season.
The Vikings hold a 66-30-2 lead in their all-time series with the Lions and extended their winning streak in the set to six with the above-mentioned 24-10 home triumph in Week 3. Detroit is 1-16 against Minnesota since 2002, with the team's lone victory over that stretch a 20-17 overtime verdict at Ford Field during the 2007 campaign. The Vikings have left with a win in seven of their last eight stops in the Motor City, not including a 21-3 loss to the New York Giants at Ford Field last month in a game that was moved from Minneapolis due to a winter storm that damaged the Metrodome roof.
Schwartz has never won in three previous encounters with the Vikings as a head coach, while Frazier will be opposing both Schwartz and the Lions for the first time as a head man.
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
Favre's status up in the air forces the Lions to prepare for two quarterbacks just in case the Mississippi native decides at the last minute to play, much like he did in the recent loss to the Bears. That's when Favre sustained the concussion and put his availability for Sunday's game in question. Favre (2,509 passing yards, 11 TD, 19 INT) passed for 63 yards and a touchdown with an interception against Chicago before a sack ended his day. His last full performance was at Washington on Nov. 28, when he completed 15 of his 23 attempts for 172 yards. The entire NFL world knows that Favre will try his hardest to get onto the field for possibly the last time, especially since he's enjoyed plenty of success throughout his career against the Lions. He's thrown for 8,079 yards with 52 touchdown passes and 33 interceptions in 31 contests against Detroit. The yardage total is the most against any opponent in Favre's career. Webb (332 passing yards, 2 INT) will get the start in case Favre is out and is coming off his impressive showing in Philly. He was able to protect the football and has scrambled for a rushing score in back-to-back games. Webb has the luxury of having Peterson in his backfield and can thank Mother Nature for postponing Sunday's game and allowing the star running back to heal. Peterson (1,267 rushing yards, 12 TD) shook off a thigh bruise to post his fifth 100- yard rushing game.
Suh (60 tackles, 9 sacks, INT) will be a staple in Detroit's defense for quite some time barring any injury, and has been simply impressive in his rookie season. The powerful tackle and his teammates still have a tough task in stopping Peterson, who victimized the Lions for 160 yards and two scores on 23 carries in the teams' first meeting this season. Suh leads all NFL rookies with nine sacks -- the most ever by a Lions rookie -- and needs two more to set the league's rookie record for defensive tackles established by Dana Stubblefield with 10 1/2 in 1993. Detroit has a solid group of linebackers led by veteran Julian Peterson (83 tackles, sack), while young middle backer DeAndre Levy sealed Sunday's win over the Dolphins with a 30-yard interception return for a score. Levy (61 tackles) placed the final nail in the coffin that was Miami's home schedule, as the Dolphins ended with an NFL-worst 1-7 mark as the host this season. If Webb gets the start this weekend, the Lions can expect to see Peterson making at least 20 carries. Maybe Webb will even utilize the talents of wide receivers Sidney Rice or Percy Harvin against Detroit's 17th-rated pass defense. Cornerback Alphonso Smith (39 tackles) leads the defense with a career-high five interceptions, but is out for the season with a dislocated shoulder. Levy is second with two.
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
Johnson (77 receptions, 1,120 yards, 12 TD) is well-deserving of a Pro Bowl nod and eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the second time in his four-year career. He is one catch shy of matching his career-high of 78 receptions recorded during the 2008 campaign. Johnson has 11 receiving scores in his past 12 games and a touchdown grab in all three career home meetings with Minnesota. He'll be coming into the contest a little banged up, but still hopes to finish the season strong. Pettigrew (68 receptions, 4 TD) is second on the team in receiving yards (703) and flourished at the position in his second year, recording career highs in catches, yards and touchdowns. His 68 grabs are the most by a Lions tight end in a season. Detroit is 11th in the NFL with an average of 237.3 passing yards per game, and that number may seem a bit off since Stafford was hobbled most of the year. Hill (2,428 passing yards, 15 TD, 11 INT) has been doing his best to keep the offense on the same page and will close out the regular season as the starter, though whether he will test the free agent market in the offseason remains to be seen. Running back Jahvid Best (521 rushing yards, 4 TD) is the only rookie with 500-plus rushing yards and 400 or more receiving yards (464) this season. Veteran back Maurice Morris (315 yards, 4 TD) has scored a touchdown in consecutive games and in four in his last five tilts.
The Vikings can breathe a sigh of relief now that they don't have to worry about containing a quarterback such as Vick this Sunday. Hill doesn't have near the same mobility, and the defense will be teeing off with ends Jared Allen (56 tackles) and Ray Edwards (30 tackles). Allen and Edwards have 11 and eight sacks, respectively, this season, and both had one in the team's six-sack effort on Tuesday. Allen started the season slowly just like the Minnesota offense, but has picked up steam with 9 1/2 sacks in the past eight games. The former Buck Buchanan Award winner owns five sacks and three forced fumbles in three career games at Detroit. Linebacker Chad Greenway (137 tackles, 1 sack) will be searching for his sixth game with at least 10 or more tackles and must keep up with Pettigrew on pass plays. The Lions are 11th in passing and will be targeting Pro Bowler Johnson right away. The Vikings were able to stop the Eagles' potent pass attack, including speedster DeSean Jackson, but faces another test this Sunday. Veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield (81 tackles, 2 INT) posted his first two sacks of the season on Tuesday and even recovered a fumble he raced 45 yards with for a score. Safety Husain Abdullah (66 tackles, 3 INT) was credited with three pass breakups in Tuesday's triumph.
Peterson battled through a knee injury against the Eagles to give fantasy owners a nice chunk of points. There's no reason why he won't do that again Sunday against Detroit's 24th-rated run defense. Harvin and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe are good choices, since Rice's status is unknown after he sustained a concussion following a helmet-to-helmet hit by Philadelphia's Asante Samuel on Tuesday. Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell appears to be in line for a busy day.
Lions kicker Dave Rayner had a solid output against the Dolphins and deserves another crack at it in deeper leagues. Johnson is Detroit's main fantasy player for obvious reasons. Best and Morris may find trouble running the ball.
The Vikings have braved the elements of Mother Nature for three straight weeks and will be ready for a conventional road trip to the Motor City. They've had plenty of success in this series and will try to give Frazier another win as he continues to showcase his coaching abilities with intentions of relinquishing the interim tag to his name. If Favre is cleared to play, it will only increase Minnesota's chances of saving face from a disastrous start to the season. The Lions are looking for their first four-game win streak in more than a decade, and will make the Vikings earn it instead of rolling over like in years past.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 23, Lions 17
12/30 15:50:09 ET
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