At this point in their equally impressive and heartbreaking history, most Vikings seasons feel like a torturous prelude to a draft that will not yield a franchise quarterback.

The Vikings are stuck in the middle of the standings, and stuck in their usual quarterback quandary.

Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings, with their fourth starting quarterback of the season, will face the Detroit Lions, who have become an excellent team after trading their former franchise quarterback and first-round draft pick Matthew Stafford.

This represents an important game in a sold-out stadium in late December. But if you have Vikings fans in your life, you've probably heard two themes repeated this season:

1. If they weren't going to be great, why couldn't they have been terrible and gotten a high draft pick?

2. It's time to find their future quarterback.

So as the Vikings stumble toward the finish line, we are mere weeks away from the next inevitable conversation about the most important position in sports.

Kirk Cousins is the only proven starting quarterback on the roster and he is unsigned past this season.

The Vikings' backups haven't played well enough (in the case of Joshua Dobbs and Nick Mullens) or often enough (in the case of Jaren Hall) to be considered potential starters in 2024.

The 2024 draft is widely thought to feature one of the best groups of quarterbacks in recent history.

So, of course, the Vikings need to spend their first-round pick on a quarterback and develop him into a star. Right?

The AFC standings agree.

The NFC standings offer a rebuttal.

Each conference has spent this season proving that there are two distinct ways of finding the right quarterback.

The AFC has taken the traditional route.

The current top three AFC seeds, and nine of the top 10, drafted a quarterback in the first round who is on their current roster. Seven are current or budding stars — Baltimore's Lamar Jackson, Miami's Tua Tagovailoa, Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes, Jacksonville's Trevor Lawrence, Cincinnati's Joe Burrow, Houston's C.J. Stroud and Buffalo's Josh Allen. The Browns traded for a first-round quarterback, DeShaun Watson, who is injured. The Colts and Steelers lost their first-round quarterbacks, Anthony Richardson and Kenny Pickett, to injuries.

The NFC has proved more creative. All nine teams with a .500 record or better are not starting a quarterback they drafted in the first round.

San Francisco starts Brock Purdy, the last pick in the 2022 draft. Dallas starts Dak Prescott, a fourth-rounder. The Lions traded their franchise quarterback, Matthew Stafford, to the Rams, where he won a Super Bowl, and received Jared Goff, who had gone to a Super Bowl with the Rams and is poised to win a division title with Detroit.

The Eagles start second-rounder Jalen Hurts, who was drafted when they still had their supposed franchise quarterback, Carson Wentz, who was taken one pick after the Rams made Goff the first pick in the 2016 draft.

The Bucs start another former first-overall pick, Baker Mayfield, who started his career with the Browns and is with his fourth team.

The Rams start Stafford. The Seahawks start Geno Smith, a former second-round pick by the Jets, and he has been relieved when injured by Drew Lock, a former second-round pick of the Broncos. The Saints start Derek Carr, a former second-round pick of the Raiders.

The most obvious path for the Vikings' future is also the most enticing: Draft a quarterback in the first round and settle the position for the next 5 to 10 years.

But the Lions are on the cusp of winning the NFC North after drafting a franchise quarterback in Stafford, trading him for another first-round quarterback, and building around Goff.

Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell coached Goff and Stafford with the Rams under head coach Sean McVay.

"Jared has had a ton of success," O'Connell said. "I enjoyed coaching him every day and just seeing the kind of success he's had. He's capable of just about every kind of performance from the quarterback position you can imagine. I mean, he's thrown for 400, 500 yards in a game, and executed game plans as well as anybody. He's really, really aware, and you can put a lot on his plate from a schematic standpoint, so it's not a shock to see him doing well.

"I think [Lions offensive coordinator] Ben Johnson does a great job. Everybody knows my feelings toward Matthew and Sean and L.A. I don't know if it's rare for a trade to seem to work out for both sides, but I'm happy for all parties involved."