The Vikings visit the Lions on Sunday and there is no team that this franchise has dominated more than Detroit. The two clubs have faced off 115 times since 1961 and the Vikings have a .652 winning percentage with a 74-39-2 record.
The Vikings once had a 13-game winning streak against the Lions from 1968 to ’74. They also won 20 out of 22 contests from 1999 to 2006.
That 13-game winning streak had players such as Grady Alderman, Bill Brown, Fred Cox, Carl Eller and Mick Tinglehoff go six seasons in a row never once losing to Detroit despite playing them twice a year.
“We were pretty lucky, and they had pretty good teams, too, when we beat them,” said Bud Grant, the Vikings coach during that stretch. “We had some good games against Detroit but we had a good streak against them, too.”
How does he figure a team can win 13 games in a row against one franchise?
“They had some good players, too, you know?” Grant said. “They had a pretty good team but we had good luck against Detroit. It’s nothing special. Just good luck. … They were a challenge every [time].”
Stafford a tough test
The matchup has been a little more even lately with the arrival of quarterback Matthew Stafford in Detroit. He has gone 8-10 in 18 career starts vs. the Vikings, averaging 239 yards passing per contest and throwing for 23 touchdowns against only seven interceptions.
Since Stafford was drafted No. 1 overall in 2009, he has started 145 of 165 possible games for the Lions. The Vikings have used 13 starting quarterback in that time.
And while the Vikings have lost four Super Bowls — and have lost four NFC Championship Games since their most recent Super Bowl, the Lions have won only one playoff game since the Vikings came into existence in 1961.
NFC North the best in NFL
Vikings receiver Adam Thielen said this past week that the Lions are going to be a tough test.
Stafford threw for 265 yards in the Lions’ 23-22 loss at Green Bay on Monday, and the Lions’ two losses have come by a combined five points. Had Detroit beaten the Packers, the Lions would be in first place in the division; instead, they are in last place at 2-2-1.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Thielen said. “They’re a really good football team that has been playing really well this year. They have lost a couple close games that they easily could have won. When they have the quarterback they have and a defense that is playing the way they’re playing, it’s a tough game. We have to play 60 minutes.”
Just as important is the fact that the NFC North might be the most competitive division in football, as the Packers (5-1), Vikings (4-2), Bears (3-2) and Lions (2-2-1) are all at .500 or better. No other division in football has more than two teams with winning records.
The Vikings already have suffered tough losses to the Bears and Packers, so a win at Detroit is going to be key if they’re going to win this division. But it’s worth remembering that the Packers, Bears and Lions still have to come to U.S. Bank Stadium this season.
“We haven’t done a good job on the road so far with that, but you know for us we have to continue to focus on each week and try to play our best football that week,” Thielen said. “This week is a divisional opponent that is playing really good football. We’re going to have our work cut out for us.”
Gophers 7-0 start is historic
The Gophers’ 42-7 victory over Rutgers on Saturday was no surprise. The oddsmakers had made the 20th-ranked Gophers 28-point favorites in a road conference game. But it still was impressive to see just how dominant this team can be when playing a weaker opponent.
They had 443 yards of offense to Rutgers’ 189 and held the Scarlet Knights to an incredible 48 passing yards. Once again the Gophers got a little bit of everything from a number of contributors. Tyler Johnson had 130 yards receiving; Rodney Smith rushed for 116 yards and two scores; and Antoine Winfield Jr. had two interceptions and returned one for a touchdown.
The victory moved P.J. Fleck’s squad to 7-0, and 4-0 in conference play. But the bigger news is that the Big Ten West now runs through the Gophers as Wisconsin had an unbelievable 24-23 loss at Illinois, a game the Badgers were favored to win by more than 30 points. The Gophers beat Illinois 40-17 on Oct. 5.
So not only are the Gophers ahead of Wisconsin by a game, but the Badgers have to play at No. 4 Ohio State next week. Both the Gophers and Badgers still have Iowa on the schedule as well, and the teams meet at TCF Bank Stadium to end the regular season Nov. 30.
Only five Gophers teams have started 7-0 since 1930 and all five won the national championship. Those clubs were the 1934, 1935, 1940 and 1941 clubs, all coached by Bernie Bierman, and the 1960 team coached by Murray Warmath.
• Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, on why the offense has performed so well the past two weeks: “I think we are executing better. I think the mixture of the run, the play-action pass, moving the pocket, getting inside runs, outside runs. I think those things add to what we’re doing.”
• Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph has only nine receptions through six games after totaling 64 in 16 games last season. But he did move into seventh place on the Vikings’ all-time receptions list week. Rudolph has 394 catches in his career, six behind Ahmad Rashad at No. 6.
• Kirk Cousins’ first four weeks: 735 yards passing, three touchdowns, two interceptions. Cousins the past two weeks: 639 passing yards, six touchdowns, one interception. “You never know what’s going to happen week to week,” Cousins said.
• Vikings kicker Dan Bailey is 6-for-6 on field goals and 11-for-11 on extra points since missing a fieldgoal attempt and an extra-point try in a Week 2 at Green Bay. “I think amnesia is an important characteristic for this position.”
• Pro Football Focus praised Vikings rookie center Garrett Bradbury for his improvement: “Bradbury took a massive step forward in Week 6, keeping a completely clean slate for the second week in a row and ending the game with a career-high pass-blocking grade of 85.2.”
• Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr, on Stefon Diggs’ breakthrough last week, “You give him the opportunity to make big plays, and he’s going to take advantage of it.” Receiver Adam Thielen added, “When you get that guy going, watch out.”
• The Vikings are tied for 12th in the NFL with a plus-1 turnover differential. Safety Anthony Harris said the defense isn’t necessarily focused on turnovers. “We just go out there thinking that we need to be good on first and second down and then get off the field on third down.”