Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has posted a 34-24 record over the past four seasons, but the Lions — who the Vikings face in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day — own a 5-2 record in the series since Zimmer took over in 2014.
Zimmer said this week that when he looks at the past few Lions games, one of the big factors has been the Vikings’ lack of scoring. They have averaged only 10.6 points per game in their five losses.
But another big part of the series during the Zimmer era has been the Lions’ ability to win close games. Four of the five losses were by one score or less.
Former Vikings coach Bud Grant had much better success against the Lions. When he took over as head coach in 1967, the Lions led the all-time series 8-3-1. But during Grant’s primary stint as head coach from 1967-1982, the Vikings went 24-6-1 against Detroit.
“We didn’t win every game but we had a good record against Detroit,” Grant said. “I don’t think there’s any mystique to it. We had a good football team and had good fortune against Detroit. They had a good team with [coach Joe] Schmidt and they were a very good team. But we had good fortune.”
For Grant, 13 of the 24 victories were by one score or less, which shows what has long been true in the NFL: A lot of success comes by a thin margin.
“We were in our heyday at that time against Detroit, and we won a lot of very close ballgames,” he said. “We weren’t that much better, but we were that lucky against Detroit.”
Zimmer is hoping some of his luck starts to turn Thursday in a huge divisional contest.
While the Vikings (8-2) have built a two-game lead in the NFC North, there is no question the game in Detroit (6-4) will be crucial to how the rest of the season plays out. The Vikings basically could clinch the division with a victory over the Lions, going up three games on Detroit with only five contests remaining, including home games against the Bengals and Bears.
But lose to Detroit and things get interesting. If the Lions win and move to 7-4 and the Vikings drop to 8-3, the remaining schedule is much more favorable for Detroit.
The Lions’ schedule after Thursday looks like this: at Baltimore (5-5), at Tampa Bay (4-6), Chicago (3-7) at home, at Cincinnati (4-6) and Green Bay (5-5) at home.
This is the Vikings’ schedule after Thursday: at Atlanta (6-4), at Carolina (7-3), Cincinnati at home, at Green Bay and Chicago at home.
The Vikings could be underdogs on the road against the Falcons and the Panthers, and losing both games would make it much more difficult to hold onto the division lead.
The good news is the Vikings have had success playing on Thanksgiving, against the Lions and Cowboys, posting a 5-2 record. They also will be looking to pay back a Lions team that beat them 14-7 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Week 4 in one of their most lackluster performances of the season.
On top of that, the Vikings played the Lions in Detroit on Thanksgiving last season, with both teams having 6-4 records and the Vikings looking to regain control of their season after starting the year with five consecutive victories.
The Lions won 16-13, after the Vikings held a 13-10 lead with 5:02 remaining and the Lions taking possession on their own 2-yard line. Detroit marched 68 yards in 10 plays before Matt Prater kicked a 48-yard field goal to tie the score with 1:45 left.
The Vikings then faced a third-and-7 at their own 28-yard line with 38 seconds remaining, but Sam Bradford threw a pass intended for Adam Thielen that was intercepted by Darius Slay. The Lions took a knee, then Prater kicked a 40-yard field goal with no time left for the victory.
Fleck on Wisconsin
As the Gophers get ready to face No. 5 Wisconsin on Saturday for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, they know they’ll have to defeat one of the best teams in the country if they are to guarantee themselves a bowl game.
Coach P.J. Fleck, who received a one-year extension to his contract Wednesday and is now signed through 2022, said when he looks at the Badgers, he sees a program that at one point resembled the current state of the Gophers.
“That goes back 30 years ago,” he said. “When [former coach and current Wisconsin athletic director] Barry Alvarez came there in . If you think back to when Barry Alvarez got there, they were 1-10, 0-8 in the Big Ten [in Alvarez’s first year]. Eventually they got there and that’s what you’re starting to see is a long, consistent, sustainable culture over a long period of time. That’s why 30 years later, they’re one of the top five teams in the country, consistently.”
Even though the Gophers stand at 5-6 overall and 2-6 in conference play, Fleck said this season has not been a disappointment to him.
“It’s exactly what I expected,” he said. “It’s exactly what [athletic director] Mark Coyle talked to me about and President [Eric] Kaler talked to me about when I took the job, told me exactly what the issues are and the things we had inside the program. I’m very honored to be the head coach at the University of Minnesota, and it’s exactly what I thought it would be.”
• ESPN NFL reporter Bill Barnwell recently ranked the most important roster moves from the offseason, with the Vikings’ signing of Case Keenum to a one-year, $2 million contract at No. 1. “I wouldn’t say Keenum is the primary reason why the Vikings are 8-2,” Barnwell wrote. “The defense has obviously played great, and the running game has done its part despite losing rookie second-round pick Dalvin Cook to a torn ACL. Keenum is holding up his end of the bargain, though, and making plays way too frequently for a guy who was basically available for nothing in March.”
• The Drake Bulldogs are off to a 3-1 start this year, with longtime former DeLaSalle basketball coach Dave Thorson as an assistant to former Gophers assistant coach Niko Medved on their staff. One of the big reasons is the play of Graham Woodward, the former Edina standout who transferred to Drake from Penn State in 2014. Woodward is averaging 15.0 points, 1.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. … Former DeLaSalle standout forward Reid Travis appears to be fulfilling his promise after a number of injury-plagued seasons at Stanford, averaging 21.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game as a redshirt junior.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. firstname.lastname@example.org