NFL Preview - Detroit (7-8) at Minnesota (4-10-1)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - "Black Monday" looms for both Detroit's Jim Schwartz and Minnesota's Leslie Frazier.
They two embattled head coaches could be leading their respective teams for the final time on Sunday as the Vikings close Mall of America Field by hosting the disappointing Lions.
Minnesota has beaten Detroit more than any other opponent in Metrodome history, holding a 23-7 record against the Lions since the building opened in 1982.
The Vikings in fact have a winning mark against each of their division opponents at Mall of America Field, with a record of 20-11 against the Chicago Bears and a 16-15 mark against the Green Bay Packers. Things have turned sour recently under Frazier, however, and the team will be finishing up its second dismal campaign in three full seasons with the embattled mentor at the helm.
Sunday's contest will be the 250th regular-season game in the stadium and the 260th overall, including playoffs. The Vikings hold an impressive 167-92 overall mark in the dome. Frazier, though, is just 20-33-1 as the Vikes' head coach.
"For our players, it's important that they focus on the task," Frazier said when talking about his employment prospects after Sunday's game. "That's what I'm asking them to do, and I need to do the same thing. It's very, very important if you want to have a chance to win these games down the stretch that I stay focused on what's involved with leading our team, and I want them to follow. It's important I handle it the right way."
Minnesota will be moving to the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium for the next two seasons as their new home is being built.
The Lions' Schwartz also finds himself in a difficult spot. Many feel Detroit is the most talented team in the NFC North but the team imploded down the stretch and failed to take advantage of the extended absences of Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Chicago's Jay Cutler.
The Lions have dropped five of their last six, the latest of which, a 23-20 overtime setback to the New York Giants in Week 16, knocked them out of playoff contention for the second straight season.
Josh Brown's 45-yard field goal midway through the extra frame officially eliminated the fading Lions and his three field goals in all helped the Giants prevail despite mustering just two first downs and 57 total yards in the second half.
New York overcame its offensive woes by scoring 17 points off three Detroit turnovers, none bigger than Will Hill's 38-yard touchdown return off a Matt Stafford interception that tied the game at 20-20 with 4:57 left in regulation.
Stafford threw a pair of picks while putting up 222 yards on 25-of-42 passing in the loss, the fifth in six games for Detroit in which the Lions blew a fourth-quarter lead in each.
"This is very disappointing," said Schwartz. "It's hard to take when every game is close. That's the thing that makes it difficult."
Joique Bell was one bright spot in the Lions' latest frustrating defeat, tallying 154 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown that included a 10-catch, 63-yard effort.
The Vikings seemed to be heading in the right direction after finally giving up on Christian Ponder at quarterback and moving to veteran Matt Cassel but that came off the rails in Cincinnati last week as Andy Dalton torched one of the game's worst defenses in a 42-14 Bengals win.
Cassel was held to 114 yards passing, one score to Jarius Wright and three interceptions on 13-of-27 passing for the Vikings, who failed to maintain momentum from their 48-point performance against the Eagles the previous week.
"We really stunk it up today. This was a disappointing loss," offered Cassel.
Adrian Peterson returned after a one-game absence due to a foot injury and was limited to 45 yards on 11 carries. Rookie star Cordarrelle Patterson added a rushing touchdown in defeat.
The Lions opened the season with a 34-24 home win over the Vikings at Ford Field, but they have lost 14 of 15 in Minneapolis.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Lions have a dismal minus-15 turnover differential over the last six games, playing into the undisciplined tag the team has earned under Schwartz.
Stafford's inconsistency and continued poor mechanics have been at the forefront of the slump. He's thrown 11 of his 19 interceptions over the past five weeks and the current thinking is that Detroit needs a coach adept at handling quarterbacks to get the most out of the former No. 1 overall pick.
Minnesota doesn't have the secondary to take advantage of Stafford's mistakes, though. The Vikings give up am embarrassing 408.0 yards per game thanks in large part to the problems on the back end, a further black mark on Frazier's resume because he is a defensive coach who started his NFL coaching career handling defensive backs.
Many believe Frazier's reliance on the Tampa-2 scheme is an antiquated philosophy and one which simply can't succeed in today's NFL.
The only real reason to watch this game -- the brilliance of Lions' receiver Calvin Johnson and Peterson -- also probably won't be in play.
Peterson is hoping to play in the Metrodome finale but he's been severely limited with a sprained right foot and he's unlikely to stick around long even if he gives it a go.
Johnson, meanwhile, is battling with nagging knee and ankle issues and could be shelved.
"His knee was bothering him and his ankle was a problem," Schwartz said. "We were trying to use him in the red zone and on third downs, but he wasn't close to 100 percent."
This could and probably should serve as the swan song for both coaches. It's hard to justify what Frazier, a supposed defensive mind, has done with the Vikings' defense. On the other hand Schwartz deserves some credit for building an 0-16 team back into relevance but Stafford is regressing under his watch and the Lions are becoming yearly underachievers.
The final score here is irrelevant but give Minnesota the edge because they usually handle Detroit in the Gopher State.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 24, Lions 17
12/27 11:50:36 ET