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November 27th, 2017

Be thankful for a great Lions matchup

on Thursday, and a wonderful tradition

 

By KEITH GAVE Sports Director

 

Seriously, sports fans, does it get much better than sitting in front of the TV with a fire roaring and the smell of a roasting turkey in the oven wafting through the house as we watch the Lions along with a national TV audience?

 

(And for a close second, it’s listening to the game on WQON-FM, 100.3 as we drive over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house, eh?)

 

Thanksgiving and football – an American tradition if not a marriage made in heaven (and it might be). And we owe it to the Detroit Lions, who started it all in 1934 with a game against the Chicago Bears at the University of Detroit Stadium. Neither football nor the holiday has been quite the same since.

 

This year – as the Lions strive for five straight Thanksgiving Day wins – we should be salivating at the matchup. There’s a lot riding on this game, potentially a divisional title and maybe even a playoff berth for the Lions. They haven’t played such an important game since, well, since last season when a win in any of their final three games might have earned them a home playoff game. (The lost them all, sadly.)

 

Now the 8-2 Minnesota Vikings come to town, riding high on a six-game win streak. They haven’t lost since the Lions beat them on their own turf, 14-7, on Oct. 1. This game should be equally hard-fought, though not quite as low-scoring.

 

If ever there was a must-win game for Detroit, it is now. The playoff race in the NFC is crowded. Both Carolina (7-3) and Atlanta (6-4) are in the driver’s seat for wildcard spots, with Seattle (6-4), tied with Detroit. The Lions need wins just hoping to keep pace.

 

The Vikings looked impressive in their 24-7 rout of the Rams last week, and deserve the highest marks for overcoming season-ending injuries to their two most important offensive weapons, quarterback Sam Bradford and rookie running back Dalvin Cook. Quarterback Case Keenum, with limited passing acumen, doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He’s turned the ball over just five times in eight games. And the Vikings defense has been stellar as always, it seems.

 

That means Lions quarterback Matt Stafford will be challenged, yet again, to have a great game, which is getting increasingly difficult as evidence mounts week after week that the Lions simply are no threat at all to run the ball. Coach Jim Caldwell is sick of the questions from the media about it. He took a shot at one local reporter, pointing out that he’d asked virtually the same question five times within a few days.

 

The Vikings, meantime, deserve full marks for what they’ve accomplished so far. They’ve overcome season-ending injuries to arguably their most important offensive players — starting quarterback Sam Bradford and rookie running back Dalvin Cook — but have a deep and talented defense that ranks fourth in the league in points allowed. Keenum has filled in admirably for Bradford, so much so that Zimmer has resisted going back to Teddy Bridgewater as starter. Keenum is limited as a passer, but he has just five turnovers in eight games as a starter.

 

So Minnesota comes to Ford Field as three-point favorites, which sounds about right, all things considered.

 

But this is Thanksgiving Day, and more often than not the Lions figure out a way to make the turkey and all the trimmings taste just a little bit better, don’t they?

 

And by the way, this is the first time the Vikings and Lions have met on Thanksgiving since 1995 – when the NFL was trying hard to end Detroit’s dibs on this holiday game and spread the game around to other cities. We can thank Billy Ford Jr. for his forceful argument that led to a change of heart among fellow NFL owners.

 

Oh, and by the way, the Lions won that 1995 game, too, 44-38.

 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

 

 

Lions (6-4) vs. Minnesota Vikings (8-2)

12:30 p.m., Thursday.

at Ford Field.

TV/Radio: FOX; WQON-FM (100.3)

Line: Lions minus-3

 

Prediction: Stafford on one side and Detroit’s defensive secondary keep it close enough for Matt Prater to make the difference again: Lions 23, Vikings 20

 

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