While the Detroit Lions appear to be back on track after a rough start, the Minnesota Vikings have hit a rut in the last month.
Trying for a season-high third straight victory, the visiting Lions look to avenge an earlier defeat to the Vikings by handing their division foe a third consecutive loss Sunday.
Detroit (4-4) is last in the NFC North, but has a chance to move ahead of Minnesota (5-4) and over .500 for the first time since Week 1. The Lions have won three of four since a 20-13 home loss to the Vikings on Sept. 30.
In contrast, Minnesota has dropped three of four.
"I think that whether it's the first game of the year or the ninth game of the year, whatever it is, when you're playing a division opponent it becomes more important because a win for you also puts a loss on them,' Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. "The way (the Vikings) started the season, they put themselves in the picture. We can't worry about that. We need to worry about just this game.'
This contest is of vital importance for both teams as they face difficult schedules in the second half. Detroit and Minnesota have yet to play surging Green Bay and both face AFC power Houston. The Vikings have two games against division-leading Chicago while the Lions face the Bears one more time.
The Lions should be confident after rallying for a 28-24 home win over Seattle on Oct. 28, then rolling to a 31-14 victory at Jacksonville last Sunday. Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell combined to score four touchdowns and gain 143 of Detroit's season-high 149 rushing yards against the Jaguars.
The Lions, who averaged 97.1 yards on the ground prior to that contest, could be in for another big day against a Minnesota defense that has allowed an average of 165.8 rushing yards in the last four games.
"We need to score enough points to win the game," Schwartz said. "However we do that, it's great.'
After being held to six receptions for 80 yards in the previous two games, Calvin Johnson caught seven passes for 129 last Sunday despite a sore knee. Matthew Stafford went 22 of 33 for 285 yards to become the second fastest to reach 10,000 passing yards, doing it in his 37th game.
Stafford did not throw a TD or an interception Sunday, and also didn't record either while going 30 of 51 for 319 yards against the Vikings in September. He was sacked a season-high five times in that game while the Lions were held to 55 rushing yards and Johnson managed five catches for 54 yards.
Stafford threw for 378 yards and two TDs - both to Johnson - as Detroit snapped a 13-game skid at Minnesota with a 26-23 overtime win Sept. 25, 2011. The Lions have not won consecutive road games against the Vikings since 1990-91.
Adrian Peterson, who ran for 102 yards Sept. 30, gained a season-high 182 of his NFL-leading 957 yards and scored twice in Minnesota's 30-20 loss at Seattle on Sunday. He's averaged 152.7 yards in the last three games.
The Vikings may be forced to continue leaning heavily on Peterson with the passing game struggling, and the potential absence of Percy Harvin (ankle), the team leader with 62 receptions for 677 yards, wouldn't help. Harvin is listed as doubtful after not practicing all week, though coach Leslie Frazier won't rule him out.
Christian Ponder threw four TDs and no interceptions in the first four games, but he's been picked off eight times and thrown six touchdowns in the last five. Bothered by a sore knee, Ponder was 11 of 22 for 63 yards with a pick against the Seahawks - the second time in three weeks he failed to throw for at least 65 yards.
"He knows there are some things that he needs to improve on, but there are also some things throughout our passing game that we have to get corrected in order to help him be successful,' Frazier said. "That will be the challenge for all of us.'
Ponder was 16 of 26 for 111 yards against the Lions in Week 4.
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