The Detroit Lions find themselves in comfortable yet unfamiliar territory heading into their Week 18 showdown with the Minnesota Vikings. The Lions (11-5) have clinched a playoff berth, but are angry and irritated following a controversial loss last week against the Dallas Cowboys. The NFC North Champs chance to claim the second seed in the NFC playoffs is still on the line, albeit unlikely. The Vikings (7-9) have limped their way through the season that saw them start four different quarterbacks, but they also have an outside shot of sneaking into the playoffs.
The two NFC North rivals know each other well, and Detroit captured their first NFC title in Minnesota with their 30-24 victory in Week 16. The Vikings are battling injuries to key offensive and defensive players, but they are sure to give the Lions all they can handle in front of a roaring Ford Field crowd.
Instead of a normal game review, today I’ll be sharing with you storylines to keep an eye on throughout Sunday’s game. We start with Jared Goff’s longest-tenured teammate, wide receiver Josh Reynolds:
Josh Reynolds Receiving Incentives
The seventh-year receiver has spent the last three seasons with the Lions, and he has consistently been a reliable target for quarterback Jared Goff. Heading into Week 18, Reynolds is extremely close to reaching a big-time contract incentive tied to his performance.
In the 2023 season, the veteran receiver has hauled in 35 catches for 564 yards and five touchdowns. Reynolds needs just 36 yards to receive a $250,000 bonus for reaching 600 yards on the season. He also needs one touchdown for another $250,000 bonus that is triggered when he reaches six touchdowns. You can be sure that Goff will be looking his way and feeding Reynolds if the opportunity presents itself.
Two Running Back Milestones
Running backs David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs are nearing a historic milestone, attempting to become just the seventh duo in NFL history to have both rushed for 1,000 yards in a season. Gibbs, at 915 rushing yards on the season, needs 85 yards to reach 1,000 on the season. Montgomery, sitting at 975 yards, needs only 25 yards on Sunday to hit the 1,000 mark. They’ve combined for 21 rushing touchdowns on 378 carries.
At the beginning of the season, the duo stated their goal of reaching this exact milestone. And you can be sure that the veteran-laden offensive line is motivated to make it happen, too.
Snubbing Sun God
Lions star wide receiver, Amon-Ra St. Brown, certainly doesn’t need any more motivation to be great. Earlier this week, however, he got it. When the NFL’s Pro Bowl roster was released, St. Brown’s name was nowhere to be found. One of the most productive receivers in the NFL this season was named the first alternate on the NFC squad that opted for Rams rookie Puka Nacua and Bucs veteran Mike Evans ahead of him.
While playing in one fewer game than Nacua, St. Brown (1,371) trails by only 74 total yards. However, the Lions playmaker has 112 total receptions compared to Nacua’s 101, and nine touchdowns compared to Nacua’s five.
Mike Evans has the advantage over St. Brown in terms of total touchdowns. The Buc has hauled in 13 touchdowns compared to St. Brown’s 9. That’s where Evan’s case over St. Brown ends. In one less game, St. Brown has 36 more receptions than Evans (76) and 138 more receiving yards.
Don’t count out St. Brown to extend those numbers by having a monster game against a banged-up Vikings secondary.
Iffy Safety Situation
The much-anticipated return of C.J. “Ceedy Duce” Gardner-Johnson is set to take place against the Vikings. With the emergence of 3rd-year safety Ifeatu Melifonwu and the consistency of Kerby Joseph and rookie Brian Branch, the safety room is especially crowded for defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.
All four players have a unique skill set and the desire to play big minutes. It is a fascinating storyline to learn how Aaron Glenn plans to utilize this group, as all four have a case to be on the field. Duce, returning from a torn pectoral muscle suffered in Week 2, will be a piece of the rotation in his first game action as he prepares his body for a playoff run.
Banner Raised to the Rafters
Finally. The Lions have an NFC North banner hanging in their rafters. Sunday’s game versus the Vikings is the first time Detroit will get to witness the “2023 North Division Champions” banner at Ford Field.
All of these moments will be closely monitored throughout the game, and the crowd will certainly be engaged. You can bet, too, that the crowd will be sure to remind the referees early and often of the phantom illegal touching penalty called on the Lions in the final seconds against the Cowboys.
For more from our Detroit Lions beat writer, Matt Broder, check him out on Twitter here: @mattbro21
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Original Photo Credit: © Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK