To the Vikings, the only unfamiliar thing about these Detroit Lions is their place atop the NFC North and their potential staying power.

Tight end T.J. Hockenson knows of the struggle in Detroit, where he was a part of just 12 victories in 3½ seasons as a first-round draft pick. He has already enjoyed more wins (14) since being traded to the Vikings last year. He will need another victory on Sunday to prevent his former team from clinching Detroit's first division title in 30 years.

The surging Lions arrive to U.S. Bank Stadium with respect from Vikings coaches and players who are familiar with quarterback Jared Goff, the former Rams starter; wunderkind playcaller Ben Johnson, who is Hockenson's former tight ends coach; and an impressive Lions roster that appears to be taking the next step in Year 3 under General Manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell.

"They know what we can do, and we know what they can do," Hockenson said. "There's not really many secrets. Just who can go out there and play the best and prepare the best? And who can play fast and make plays? It'll be fun."

The Vikings and Lions play each other twice in the season's final three weeks, ending the regular season in Detroit. It was a successful bet by NFL schedule makers who expected new relevance in the rivalry. The rise of the Lions gives the Vikings a chance to see just how competitive their "competitive rebuild" can be in Year 2 under GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O'Connell.

"We still have the crown," Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson said. "The crown hasn't been taken from us yet."

To keep the crown, the Vikings (7-7) need to win their last three games, including a home game against Green Bay on New Year's Eve, and need the Lions (10-4) to lose Dec. 30 in Dallas. The Vikings, on their fourth quarterback, are limping to the finish line with no intention to pull punches.

"Where we are as a team and some of the things we have had to overcome, this is all about whatever it takes to win this," O'Connell said, adding, "This is a really good team coming into our house."

Is this personal to Hockenson? The jovial giant called the Lions "just another team" when asked about seeing them atop the division standings.

"You want to be relevant in December, right?" he said. "You want to be playing for something in December and that's what we're doing in this locker room. It's going to be a lot of fun these next few weeks."

Detroit way: 'rugged, real gritty'

A three-week stretch in January 2021 set Detroit on a new course after decades of losing. The Lions first hired Holmes — a longtime Rams scout — to lead their front office. Then came Campbell, the brash 47-year-old football lifer, to coach. In their second week together, they agreed to trade longtime quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Rams for Goff, two first-round picks and a third-round pick.

Stafford immediately won a Super Bowl with the Rams. But the Lions didn't lose the trade.

The Lions have a top-five offense for the second consecutive season. Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in 2016, has thrown 55 touchdowns to 17 interceptions in that span while averaging 263 passing yards per game. He's 18-6 in his past 24 starts. Johnson, the offensive coordinator, has worked his way into NFL head coaching conversations. Running backs David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs are one of the best tandems in football.

Goff's production hasn't surprised two of his former Rams coaches, O'Connell and Vikings offensive coordinator Wes Phillips.

"I wish he wasn't in the division because I can really root for Jared Goff," Phillips said. "I really enjoyed my time with him. … He's one of those guys that if you can scheme it right — and Ben Johnson has done a great job — if you scheme it right, he's going to hit it every time. Kind of like what I'd say about Kirk [Cousins]."

Campbell, a former NFL tight end, is known as an outlandish motivator. At his introductory news conference, he famously said his players will "bite a kneecap off" after getting knocked down.

His imprint in Detroit can be seen by many in Minnesota.

"They're really good people outside of the football," Vikings special teams coordinator Matt Daniels said, "but they're really nasty during it."

"It's kind of that Detroit way, really," he added. "It's kind of rugged, real gritty. That's just kind of who the identity of the team is and you really appreciate that. The guys understand this isn't the same Detroit you're used to seeing, and we're going to have to put our big boy pads on to be ready for a physical, physical football game."

Now Campbell has to maintain his team's edge as they shift from underdogs to favorites.

The Vikings are three-point underdogs in their own building on Sunday.

"The more you win, the more the pressure goes up," Campbell told Detroit reporters this week. "But you can't let that — you should enjoy that. And I think that's kind of where we're that. I mean, I think we — it's when we're at our best is when you have people gunning for you."

Holmes, the third-year GM, has built a roster with staying power.

His front office has drafted key contributors, including receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, tackle Penei Sewell, edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson, Gibbs, tight end Sam LaPorta, linebacker Jack Campbell and defensive back Brian Branch.

Holmes also traded Hockenson to the Vikings in November 2022, opening the door for LaPorta — this year's second-round pick out of Iowa — to seamlessly replace him.

LaPorta caught three touchdowns last week against the Broncos. He is already just the third rookie tight end in NFL history with at least 70 catches. After St. Brown, Goff has looked LaPorta's way for 71 grabs, 758 yards and nine scores.

Hockenson, an Iowa alum, recalled meeting a sophomore LaPorta in 2020.

"He's been awesome for them," Hockenson said. "My second year in the league, I went down there [to Iowa City] and sat in the meeting room with him, taught him some stuff, you know? It's just cool to see all the Iowa guys. It doesn't matter who you are or where you play, there's a bond there just being Hawks. It's great to see, and he's going to be very successful in this league."

Young Vikings showing 'a lot are capable'

A year behind the Lions' rebuild, the Vikings moved on from many star players last offseason. But they still sit atop the NFC North in star power — at least as reflected in the popularity contest of Pro Bowl fan voting, which ends Monday and counts for one-third of All-Star balloting. Players and coaches voted Friday.

As of Tuesday, the last update available, fans voted eight Vikings players into the top 5 at their positions in the NFC: Hockenson; outside linebacker Danielle Hunter; safeties Josh Metellus, Harrison Smith and Camryn Bynum; long snapper Andrew DePaola; fullback C.J. Ham and center Garrett Bradbury. Two big names — Cousins and Jefferson — are absent after each were injured and missed about half the season so far.

Fans ranked seven Lions among the top 5 in the NFC: Goff, St. Brown, LaPorta, center Frank Ragnow, Sewell, Hutchinson and long snapper Jake McQuaide.

The Vikings' sixth-ranked scoring defense under coordinator Brian Flores has kept them relevant despite key injuries. The development of players like the 25-year-old Metellus and rookie linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. have answered some questions about roster depth. Difference-makers, like receiver Jordan Addison, have been slower to emerge from Adofo-Mensah's drafts.

The Vikings are the NFL's only team with three safeties atop Pro Bowl fan voting due to the unique way Flores designs the defense.

Bynum, 25, said the defense should at least have five Pro Bowlers in himself, Metellus, Smith, Hunter and cornerback Byron Murphy Jr.

"A lot of people are capable," Bynum said. "I think especially us in the secondary, I'd say me, Harry and Josh — in a humble way — we pride ourselves on trying to be the best backfield in the league, so I think we for sure deserve some recognition."

The futures of Smith and Hunter, who might have only three Vikings games left, are up in the air. But the Vikings' young core also includes offensive tackles Brian O'Neill and Christian Darrisaw, whom O'Neill sponsored for the Pro Bowl.

"There's one that absolutely needs to be and that's Christian Darrisaw," O'Neill said. "What he's done for the past couple years, he deserves to be recognized for how elite he is week in and week out. That's really all I care about is that he goes."

The Vikings have to overcome more impactful injuries, including to Murphy this week, but they feel they have got enough to tame the Lions on Sunday.

"Easier said than done sometimes against a defense like this," O'Connell said, "where they are well coached and have clearly added talent."