Well it's hard to feel confident after starting off the season in such disappointing fashion. In any event, I'm taking the Lions. Here's why:
1. The Vikings are discombobulated on offense.
If you've watched the Vikings' first two games, you know what I mean. In week 1, Favre missed tons of open receivers against a mediocre Saints' defense. Then last week, he was simply awful, displaying legendarily poor decisionmaking and turning the ball over repeatedly.
Favre's public statements give me little confidence they'll get things turned around. He's old, he's not on the same page as his receivers, and their offensive line is a mess. I think Simmons was right on in his NFL preview this year; the Vikings had a magical season last year but are primed for a major regression, and are in fact showing such a regression.
The team they most remind me of? The 2009 Tennessee Titans. Those Titans were coming off a magical and unexpected season, had an elite running back, but also had an older QB who had enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance the year before. And they also started 0-2, yet everyone (including me) kept insisting they would turn it around. They didn't, at least not until Vince Young provided them a spark.
In my notes after the game in which Tennessee was annihilated week 3 by a bad Jacksonville team, I laid out some principles to look for in the future. In particular, focus on the veteran QB primed for a return to reality (Kerry Collins and Favre), the offseason loss of a key player (Haynesworth and Sidney Rice/Chester Taylor), and a prior fantastic regular season but brutal playoff loss (obviously true of both). In short, I think Minnesota is in real trouble, and won't get it together for quite some time.
2. The Lions are an improving club.
I love the Lions' defensive line. The arrival of Vanden Bosch and Suh have transformed this unit. It's true that Stafford is out again, but the Lions -- and particularly Jahvid Best -- have demonstrated an improving ability to put up points. They certainly did struggle to contain Vick last week, but I think they'll have a better chance against what is a pretty bad Vikings' offense. I think a good defensive line is the backbone for a good team, and I think the Lions' front-4 have a chance to be the story of this game.
But the real key is that this line is huge. I initially saw it and expected it to be around 6, and thought I might like the Lions even then. But +11.5 is a ton of points, especially with a bad 0-2 team who is probably taking this game for granted. Favre looks like he wants no part of playing, and I think the Vikings will act like it, which won't be good against a solid Lions squad that has suffered two narrow losses -- one of which inaugurated the "Calvin Johnson rule" -- in which they deserved better.
THE COUNTER-ARGUMENT: THE VIKINGS HAVE PLAYED 2 REALLY GOOD TEAMS SO FAR
It's true, the Vikings have suffered close losses to the Saints and the Dolphins, both of whom certainly look better than the Lions. But they've also scored only 19 points in that time, and after looking at the film of both losses, I think they demonstrated more about the Vikings' shortcomings than the strengths of the other team.
It's entirely possible that the Vikings get things turned around this week. If they do, I will likely be writing next week about the bounceback game for Favre (and mournfully analogizing it to that Sanchez game this week) and about how the Lions never ever win in the Metrodome.
But I just hate everything I've seen from the Vikings this year, and while it's possible -- even probable -- that the Lions will blow it against them, 11.5 is just too many points to be giving for what has looked like an old, slow, injured, out-of-sync and poorly coached team. Lions cover.