Detroit Lions wide receiver Mohamed Sanu cannot finish the game against Minnesota Vikings goaltender Anthony Harris (41) in the first half at Ford Field on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. Sad Detroit Lions
Nothing is taken for granted in a season when a once well thought out football team is 1 to 3 to four weeks old. So when the Minnesota Vikings host the Detroit Lions in Week 5, a mix of relief and have ants exist.
Historically, the Vikings totally dominate the Lions – complete mastery of the Purple Team. In the historic series, Minnesota holds a 78-39-2 (.664) record over Detroit. For division enemies in any area of professional football, it’s about as lopsided as it gets. In addition, the Vikings have beaten the Lions on seven consecutive occasions. From the moment Kirk Cousins arrived on the scene, Minnesota have been unbeatable against Detroit – a rare nod to the Vikings signalman. Cousins is generally the villain for many fans, but he’s innocent against Detroit.
With recent success in mind – coupled with Detroit’s current 0-4 ranking in the NFC North – the Vikings’ Week 5 game against the Lions is the almighty of must-see wins. In fact, this contest has the highest stakes up for grabs to date in the Mike Zimmer era. The pressure has never been more intense not to lose. Indeed, other games since 2014 were more important than this Week 5 game, but the fallout from a hypothetical loss would be damn almost apocalyptic. Next to the Houston Texans and arguably the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Lions are among the worst teams in the NFL. Minnesota have just suffered a demoralizing home loss to the Cleveland Browns, turning the ship right at home against anybody, not to mention the Lions, is necessary.
The calls for Zimmer’s termination are already present. Because Vikings alternate good seasons with bad ones, some people wanted to end the Zimmer experience a few years ago. The noise started in the shadows after the 2018 season, when Minnesota collapsed. Cousins was acquired to capitalize on the glory of the 2017 NFC Championship a season later. Zimmer and Cousins didn’t do that. Fast forward to 2021, and the Vikings are set to miss the playoffs for the third time in four years with Cousins and Zimmer jointly in charge. It’s not going to cut it.
While the Vikings, in all likelihood, will send the Lions out with relative ease – that’s how it goes with Cousins vs. Detroit – a loss would bang the drum for change harder than ever. It’s unclear if general manager Rick Spielman is “safe” for a job in 2022, but his head coach is in limbo. Ditto for the QB1.
Underperforming at 1-3, the Vikings actually have a roadmap to get back to normal. The Lions game should be a win. The next game, at the Carolina Panthers, is certainly a winnable one – if the right Vikings version of Zimmer feels like making the trip to the Southeast. It’s still a mystery lately. Will productive offense be paired with stingy defense in any given week? That didn’t really happen in 2021. In the first three games the offense kicked in while the defense lagged behind. Against Cleveland, the reverse was on display. The offense was anemic, but the defense kept the team in the game. Once again, this responsibility for consistency is at Zimmer’s feet. His job is to make sure all facets of the team are up for the win. So far, the 2021 season isn’t a place for multiple sides of the ball shooting all cylinders – at the same time.
Finally, the points gap is heavy on the Vikings. Bettors believe Minnesota will win by about eight or nine points. The game does not expressly matter to the x’s and o’s in football, but the odds do inform public opinion. The Vikings should beat the Lions with one or more touchdowns.
If they don’t, brace yourself for a fury not seen against the Vikings since 2013. To his credit, Zimmer has never led the Vikings to insignificance or a record worse than 7-9. A loss to Detroit would serve as a breadcrumb trail that the season was much worse than 7-9. Zimmer could last for the rest of 2021, mainly because his coaching staff doesn’t have a coaching personality type. But not winning this week would be the first tangible clue that the Vikings are fully on a collision course with change.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. Its Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Guilty pleasures listed: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, “The Sopranos” and The Doors (the band).