While the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers duke it out for the NFC North title, the conference's other two teams are just ready to put 2013 behind them. The Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings will be put out of their misery Sunday when they face off in the season finale.
Just a few short weeks ago the Lions were on top of the division. Three consecutive losses, culminating in a 23-20 overtime embarrassment to the lowly New York Giants in Week 16, have eliminated them from the playoffs and could have head coach Jim Schwartz on his way out of town.
The Vikings' Leslie Frazier could very well be coaching his final game as well. He's followed up last year's unexpected playoff run with a 4-10-1 record this season. His team pulled of a surprise 18-point win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 15, but came crashing back to earth with a 42-14 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals last week.
Meet the Vikings
The Vikings' offense can be summed up in two words: Adrian Peterson. While the passing game ranks 22nd in the NFL, the ground attack, carried by Peterson's 1,266 rushing yards, is in the top 10. Unfortunately for Minnesota, they could be without their do-it-all back on Sunday. He said he hopes to play through a foot sprain, but could be held out of the meaningless game for precautionary reasons.
Frazier announced earlier this week that Matt Cassel would again earn the nod at quarterback despite his ugly outing against the Bengals. With the Vikings surely set on addressing their quarterback troubles this offseason, it will be Cassel's final opportunity to show he belongs on the roster.
The Dallas Cowboys are the only thing preventing the Vikings from being the worst defense in the league. They rank just in front of Dallas with 408 offensive yards allowed per game, and are actually dead last in scoring defense. Their banged-up secondary has especially had problems, giving up a league-worst 36 touchdowns through the air.
Meet the Lions
With dangerous weapons in Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, the Lions' offense is certainly capable of being prolific, and rank third in the league in yardage. They've disappeared down the home stretch, however. Since putting up 40 against the Packers on Thanksgiving, they've scored just 20, 16 and 20 points during their current three-game losing streak.
Anchored by Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh, the defensive interior is one of the best in the league and helps the defense rank fourth against the run. While the d-line can stop ball carriers, they've struggled getting to the quarterback, which is one reason the soft secondary ranks 27th against the pass.
Local Takes: Vikings
Christopher Gates at Daily Norsman marvels at how far both teams have fallen since the season's beginning.
The New York Times has put both Frazier and Schwartz in the "likely to be fired" category for the so-called "Black Monday," the day after the regular season ends. Who would have thought that a season that started out with a lot of promise for both of these teams would end with both of their coaches getting pink slips before the New Year?
Local Takes: Lions
Sean Yuille at Pride of Detroit doesn't think the Lions should risk playing a banged up Calvin Johnson on Sunday.
It seemed like Calvin Johnson barely even played on Sunday. He finished with only 3 catches (on 4 targets) for 43 yards, and he was nonexistent in the second half and overtime, likely because he was dealing with injuries to both his ankle and knee. He's been dealing with a knee injury all season, and with nothing to play for in Week 17, there's no reason for him to suit up. The Lions should just shut Johnson down for the final week of the season and let him start recovering from these injuries right now. There's no point in risking further injury in a meaningless game.
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I motion for the NFC North to not even get a playoff spot this year. What a joke of a division.— Pride Of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) December 23, 2013
Three of SB Nation's five NFL experts picked Detroit to win.
As an illustration of how far Detroit has fallen in recent weeks, the Vikings opened as a three-point favorite, according to Oddsshark.com.
Both teams are already eliminated from the playoffs and conclude their seasons in Week 17.