The NFC North seems to have been an average division over my lifetime.
But you can pretty much count on Green Bay, Minnesota and Chicago to at least live up to the old “Black and Blue Division” nickname. These are tough football franchises the Lions have to line up against six times a season.
The Lions usually come up Minnesota purple after games against them.
You can spend all day finding pathetic stats about Detroit’s past, but here’s a recent one from mostly the Matt Patricia era to chew on.
Since the start of the 2019 season, the Lions have lost 13 of 14 games against NFC North opponents. The win was a 4-point home victory for interim coach Darrell Bevell against Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears last December.
Get ready for that annoying Minnesota horn on Sunday.
Here are five things to watch as the Lions visit the Vikings (1 p.m., FOX, 97.1):
►1. Mr. Dalvin’s health: Running back Dalvin Cook is the engine of the Minnesota offense. He’s recovering from an injured ankle though. So if he’s slowed, Detroit could have a chance to stop a Kirk Cousins-heavy attack. If Cook is bullying the Lions as usual, averaging 106.3 yards per meeting, there’s really no chance for Aaron Glenn’s group.
►2. Dan the Dicer: We’ve said in this space that we want Lions coach Dan Campbell to roll the dice and take some chances. We are resigned to the fact that the Lions are going to be bad this year, but you may as well be interesting. Plus, going for it on fourth down should further grow credibility from players that at least appear bought in. What does executing short field goals do to help long-term development? Don’t listen to the haters after last week’s loss, Dan. No reason to get boring now.
►3. Receiver believer? We know the Lions wide receiver crew is really thin, but are any of these young guys worth keeping an eye on? Quintez Cephus and Amon-Ra St. Brown are obviously a spot or two higher than they should be on a real NFL depth chart. But with T.J. Hockenson banged up, there’s a chance for these guys to show something. Cephus caught four of five targets last week and also caught four balls and a touchdown against Green Bay in Week 2. A trifecta of strong NFC North road outings is a nice start to his second year. St. Brown had six catches last week, equaling the output from his first three career games. Plus, Kalif Raymond had two touchdowns after scoring one in his first 38 career games.
4. Next man up: Jerry Jacobs, undrafted out of Arkansas, is the latest candidate to be an answer for the beleaguered secondary. He can’t do much worse than Bobby Price did last week in his first career start. To make matters worse, Lions corners will be opposite Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen on Sunday, one of the league’s best combos.
►5. Public flip: We told you last week how much the public loved the Lions in Chicago, getting just three points on the road. This same Detroit team is now getting 10 points against 1-3 Minnesota and the public hates Detroit this week. That’s not to say they’re wrong, but what’s up with that? BetMGM Sportsbook said the Lions-Vikings game is the most bet-on game for the Sunday slate with 89% of spread bets on Minnesota. The line moved almost a field goal there from a 7.5-point opening. DraftKings had 85% of spread handle on the Vikes. Feels like a huge over-reaction from the public, who bought into the 0-3 Lions but are staying away at 0-4.
Matt Schoch covers sports betting for PlayMichigan.com.