Last week the Minnesota Vikings were a trap game for the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay entered the week with a 5-1 record and had already destroyed Minnesota earlier in the season. However, it was the Vikings who won 28-22, dominating for most of the game and earning just their second win of the year.
Perhaps the Vikings aren’t even worthy of having a matchup deemed a “trap game.” After all, the Vikings are only 2-5 on the season and do not have the pedigree of a playoff team. You would think Minnesota would go to drastic lengths to avoid overlooking opponents at this stage of the season, but they have already fallen victim to a trap game this season, losing to the previously winless Atlanta Falcons, 40-23.
The Vikings entered the game with a 1-4 record and had shown signs of life in the previous three games. They had recorded one-point losses to two undefeated teams (Tennessee and Seattle) and had defeated Houston. The Falcons, meanwhile, had not won a game during the first five weeks of the season.
And yet, Atlanta marched into U.S. Bank Stadium and throttled Minnesota.
It’s true: Any team can be the victim of a trap game. Historically, the Vikings have dominated the Detroit Lions, and they aren’t exactly intimidating this year. So why could it be a trap game for the Vikings?
Here are three reasons why the Vikings need to make sure they don’t overlook Detroit:
1. Divisional Opponent
It’s no secret that NFL games are taken to another level when the matchup is between two teams from the same division. Of course, the Vikings-Lions rivalry is not Steelers-Ravens, but any divisional matchup adds that extra anything-can-happen element.
This has proven true during head coach Mike Zimmer’s tenure with the Vikings. While the perception may be that the Vikings have steamrolled lowly Detroit over the past six seasons, that isn’t the case: Minnesota is 7-5 against Detroit since 2014. Granted, the Vikings have won the past five matchups dating back to 2017. But the 2020 Vikings are certainly not the same Vikings that have won the past five meetings between these teams.
Matthew Stafford isn’t regarded as one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. However, the former Georgia Bulldog and No. 1 overall pick is an above-average starter, and he’s certainly not the main culprit for the Lions’ struggles over the years.
It’s worth noting that Stafford is currently in NFL’s COVID-19 protocol after coming in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus. However, as long as Stafford tests negative and does not show symptoms, he should be back with the team and able to play Sunday.
Minnesota’s defense has been fried by great quarterbacks doing great quarterback things during the first half of the 2020 season. The Vikings have faced a gauntlet of passers that includes Aaron Rodgers (twice), Philip Rivers, Ryan Tannehill, DeShaun Watson, Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan.
When Minnesota has faced stiff quarterback competition, its defense has appeared vulnerable. That is certainly the case in 2020, as the Vikings rank 28th in the NFL in net yards per attempt allowed.
3. Revenge Games
Detroit’s roster includes three prominent former Vikings who are champing at the bit to get revenge on their old teams. Adrian Peterson and Everson Griffen may be getting the most attention, as their tenures in Minnesota certainly garnered more attention, and rightfully so. But Jayron Kearse is also playing his old team and has not been shy about his frustration with the Vikings over the past couple of years.
Peterson, of course, has not been a Viking since 2016 and has bounced around the league over the past few years, playing for New Orleans, Arizona and Washington before signing with Detroit this fall.
Wednesday was was the 13-year anniversary of when he slashed the San Diego Chargers for 296 yards — the greatest single-game rushing performance of all-time.
Peterson’s return to Minnesota is poised to be more friendly than fueled be revenge, but that may not be the case for Griffen and Kearse. Griffen’s tenure in Minnesota was superb, as the former fourth-round pick played in four Pro Bowls and recorded eight or more sacks in five different seasons as a Viking.
When speaking with media this week, Zimmer said that Griffen was “a good player” for the Vikings. Griffen felt disrespected by that, suggesting Zimmer should have called him a great player.
Clearly, Griffen is playing with an extra chip on his shoulder this weekend. Having practiced against the likes of Riley Reiff for several years, Griffen’s presence will certainly be worth monitoring for quarterback Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota offense.
Kearse, the former Clemson Tiger who was drafted by the Vikings in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL draft, was not shy on his Twitter page about the fact that his opportunities were limited in Minnesota with the likes of Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris and Andrew Sendejo getting the most reps.
And then, back on October 26, Kearse tweeted this gem after the Vikings had fallen to 1-5 and Detroit had managed a 3-3 record through Week 7.
It’s impossible to calculate just how much a “revenge game” matters in the final outcome. Perhaps it won’t mean anything when the game kicks off on Sunday. But it’s certainly something to monitor as the Vikings try to improve to 3-5 and climb back into the NFC playoff picture.