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Vikings vs. Lions: 5 things you can count on in Week 18

The Vikings still have a shot at making the playoffs, but they'll have to beat the NFC North champion Lions.
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The Minnesota Vikings will wrap up the regular season with a trip to Ford Field to battle the Detroit Lions on Sunday afternoon.

The Vikings come into Sunday's game with a 3% chance to make the playoffs and will need to beat Detroit and get plenty of help to earn their second straight playoff appearance for the first time since the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

Standing in their way will be an angry Lions team that will be playing for the No. 2 seed and looking to erase the bad taste in their mouth from last week's controversial loss to the Dallas Cowboys. 

Here are five things you can count on when the Vikings and Lions meet in Detroit.

1. Justin Jefferson getting to 1,000 yards

Jefferson's season hasn't gone as planned, but he has a chance of hitting 1,000 receiving yards for the fourth straight season to start his career. 

Jefferson needs 118 yards on Sunday to reach this mark, which would put him in some elite company. Only four receivers since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger have reached 1,000 receiving yards in their first four seasons – a group that includes Randy Moss, A.J. Green, Mike Evans and Michael Thomas.

While Jefferson will have to deal with Nick Mullens at quarterback, he should be able to shred the Lions' secondary after racking up six catches for 141 yards and a touchdown in a loss to Detroit on Christmas Eve.

2. More turnovers for Nick Mullens

The Vikings announced they will be turning back to Mullens after Jaren Hall struggled in his second career start against the Green Bay Packers last week. Mullens has thrown for 910 yards and five touchdowns in four games this season but his biggest problem has been turnovers.

While Mullens can rack up yardage, he hasn't taken care of the football. According to Pro Football Focus, Mullens has a 4.9% turnover-worthy play rate in his career and that number has skyrocketed to 7.4% this season.

Mullens' turnover issues were amplified the last time he faced the Lions, throwing four interceptions, losing a fumble and logging seven turnover-worthy plays on 41 dropbacks – a turnover-worthy play rate of 15.9%.

If Kevin O'Connell wants to deploy a similar gameplan that saw Mullens have an average depth of target of 16.6 yards on Christmas Eve, more turnovers could be on the way and it could bring problems for the Vikings offense.

3. A shorthanded offensive line

Although the Vikings have an outside chance at the playoffs, they may be looking to keep their hopes alive without most of their offensive line.

Brian O'Neill has been ruled out with an ankle injury while Christian Darrisaw (illness) and Ed Ingram (shoulder) are listed as questionable on the Vikings' final injury report.

If the offensive line can't protect Mullens, it could be an ugly finish to the 2023 season. 

4. Historically bad season for Alexander Mattison?

Mattison has logged 173 carries this season but has yet to score his first rushing touchdown. If Mattison is held out of the end zone on Sunday, it'll mark one of the most historic seasons for a running back in Vikings history – and we don't mean that in a good way.

No running back in Vikings history has scored fewer than two rushing touchdowns with a minimum of Mattison's 173 carries. Alfred Anderson (1984), Dave Osborn (1967) and Robert Smith (1999) all had two rushing touchdowns during their low-water mark seasons and Mattison could set a new low in what's been a disappointing season.

Mattison ranks 44th out of 63 qualifiers in Pro Football Focus' rushing grades this season and is 36th out of 47 qualifiers with a 45.7% success rate. While Mattison was anointed the No. 1 running back with Dalvin Cook's release last June, he seems to have taken a back seat to Ty Chandler over the last two games.

It creates an interesting dynamic if the Vikings get to the goal line on Sunday and a point of emphasis to correct next offseason.

5. A last place finish in the NFC North?

According to Bet Online, the Vikings need a 32-to-1 parlay to hit just to get into the playoffs. The string of events needed: 

  • The Vikings beating the Lions
  • The Arizona Cardinals beat the Seattle Seahawks
  • The Chicago Bears beat the Green Bay Packers
  • The Atlanta Falcons beat the New Orleans Saints or the Carolina Panthers beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If the Saints defeat the Falcons, the odds jump to 38-to-1 as the Vikings will need the 2-14 Panthers to upset the 8-8 Buccaneers. 

With coach Dan Campbell describing the Lions approach to this game as "controlled fury," it's unlikely the Vikings will come away with a win – especially with the injuries they're dealing with at this point in the season.

A more likely outcome is the Vikings losing this game and watching the Bears pull off the upset at Lambeau Field. If that happens, the Vikings' "competitive rebuild" will have them in last place in the NFC North, which should serve as a wake-up call to the front office ahead of one of the most important offseasons in franchise history.