The Vikings game on Sunday against the Detroit Lions isn't so much must-win as can't-lose.
A loss would effectively end the competitive portion of a season and, perhaps, eradicate an entire organization.
Lose to the Lions on Sunday, and the Vikings will or should be on their way to a new general manager, coach, coaching staff and quarterback.
The Vikings are 1-3. A loss to the Lions would leave them 1-4 entering a difficult and perhaps season-defining six-game stretch against contenders.
If this sounds like too much emphasis on a game against woeful Detroit, please consider that the Lions' historic woefulness is exactly what makes this a vital game.
The Lions have lost eight in a row. The Vikings have won their past seven games against the Lions, with an average margin of victory of 12 points.
The Lions feature a new coach, Dan Campbell, who talked about biting opponents' kneecaps during his introductory news conference. Given Lions history, if Campbell spent every minute of every game on his hands and knees, trying to bite the legs of opponents as they ran by the Lions' sideline, that act would qualify him as one of the Lions' most effective coaches of the past 30 years.
The Lions are historically and persistently bad, and their mere existence has elevated the Vikings franchise. The Lions are the Purple People Feeders.
The Lions are also the Vikings' canary in the coal mine. Games against the Lions often reveal whether the Vikings are a playoff team.
Since the start of the 2007 season, Vikings playoff teams are 11-1 against the Lions. Vikings non-playoff teams are 7-9. From 2007 through 2017, Vikings non-playoff teams were 3-9 against the Lions.
If you can't beat the Lions, you probably won't make the playoffs.
If you can't beat the Lions, you don't deserve to make the playoffs.
In franchise history, the Vikings have a 78-39-2 record against Detroit. The Vikings' record against all opponents other than Detroit: 418-386-9. Minnesota is more games above .500 against Detroit (39) than they are against the rest of the league (32).
The 2021 Lions could be mistaken for a competitive but unlucky team. They almost beat Baltimore, losing only on a miraculous fourth-down pass and a 66-yard field goal.
Bad franchises find ways to lose games like that, and the Lions team showing up at U.S. Bank Stadium is not as healthy as the team that pushed the Ravens to the last second.
The Lions have little receiving talent, and little healthy talent at running back, offensive line and in the secondary.
This is an ideal matchup for the Vikings. The Lions have given up 4.4 yards per carry and six rushing touchdowns — only the Texans, with eight, have given up more.
The Vikings should be able to run the ball and rush the passer, which would make this Mike Zimmer's favorite kind of game.
The NFL rewards bad teams with high draft picks, and bad teams usually squander them or suffer Timberwolves-like strokes of bad luck.
The Lions had the seventh pick in the 2021 draft and chose offensive tackle Penei Sewell. He could miss Sunday's game because of an ankle injury.
In a league devised to promote parity, the Lions haven't had a winning record since 2017 or made the playoffs since 2016. The coach who engineered those seasons, Jim Caldwell, was fired. The Lions replaced Caldwell with Matt Patricia, who went 13-29-1.
The Lions haven't won 10 or more games in a season since 2014 (also under Caldwell) and haven't won a playoff game since the 1991 postseason, when one more victory would have brought them to the Metrodome to face the Bills in the Super Bowl.
Since 1972, the Lions have had just one coach last more than eight games and build a winning record. Caldwell, again.
Lose to this bunch, and the Wilfs should fire everyone, maybe even themselves.