One of the great things about the NFL is that teams can turn their fortunes in a hurry. Being a division champion twice in a row has been a feat rarely accomplished.
In 2008, only two of the eight defending division champs repeated (Pittsburgh and San Diego). In 2009, there were three (the Vikings, San Diego and Arizona). In 2010, there were only two (New England and Indianapolis). Last year, the Patriots were the only division champ to successfully defends their crown.
Whether it is the result of injuries, free agent losses, a more difficult schedule the following year (playing the two first-place teams from the divisions within the conference that aren’t on the schedule the following year) or just bad luck, once a team reaches the pinnacle of its division – with the exception of teams like the Patriots or the Peyton Manning-led Colts – it’s difficult to repeat.
You don’t need to tell Vikings fans how quickly fortunes can change. In 2009, the Vikings had their best record (12-4) in more than a decade. Just two years later, they tied the franchise record for futility with a 3-13 record. Getting to the top is difficult. Staying at the top is an even more daunting challenge
But, with four games remaining in the 2012 season, seven of the 2011 division champions are in position to repeat, with the only exception being the Bountygate scandal-laden New Orleans Saints. The other seven defending division champs – New England, Baltimore, Houston, Denver, the New York Giants, Green Bay and San Francisco – all entered play this week in first place in their respective divisions.
For media types that offer up preseason predictions, it’s difficult because you have to factor in that there will be significant turnover at the top. From 2008-11, on average six of the eight divisions had new champions the following year. But, this year it’s very different. Three teams (New England, Denver and Atlanta) have already clinched their divisions and two others (Baltimore and San Francisco) are close to clinching.
There is still a lot of football to be played before the postseason begins, but, if things hold true to what has taken place in the first three months of the season, there could be an unprecedented amount of familiar teams making it back to the playoffs that were in the postseason tournament last year.
VIKINGS-BEARS BY THE NUMBERS
The Vikings have the 22nd-ranked offense in the NFL (3rd rushing, 32nd passing) and the 13th-ranked defense (14th rushing, 14th passing). The Bears have the 30th-ranked offense (10th rushing, 31st passing) and the 5th-ranked defense (10th rushing, 7th passing).
The Vikings are averaging 336 yards a game on offense (181 passing, 155 rushing). Chicago is averaging 304 yards a game (181 passing, 123 rushing).
Defensively, the Vikings are allowing 345 yards a game (230 passing, 115 rushing). The Bears are allowing 320 yards a game (216 passing, 104 rushing).
The Vikings are averaging 5.5 yards per rushing attempt, the highest average in the league.
The Vikings are averaging 6.0 yards per pass attempt, 31st in the league and better than only Arizona.
The Vikings have just seven interceptions this season on 431 opponent passes, which ranks 30th in the league. Chicago is third in interception percentage with 20 picks.
Chicago is tied for second in giveaway/takeaway at plus-14 (34 takeaways, 20 giveaways). Minnesota is tied for 22nd at minus-6 (15 takeaways, 21 giveaways).
Chicago’s 34 takeaways are the most of any team in the league.
The Vikings are tied for 20th in red zone offense, scoring touchdowns on 19 of 38 chances (50 percent). The Bears are 18th at 52.4 percent (18 touchdowns on 35 possessions).
Defensively, the Bears are fourth in red zone defense, allowing touchdowns on just 15 of 34 opportunities (44.1 percent). The Vikings are 22nd at 56.1 percent (23 touchdowns on 41 possessions).
The Vikings are 23rd in red zone offense, converting on 35.5 percent of third-down chances (55 of 155). The Bears are 12th at 40 percent (66 of 165). The league average is 38.5 percent.
Defensively, the Vikings are 31st on third downs, allowing conversions on 78 of 176 chances (44.3). Chicago is sixth at 34 percent (55 of 160).
Only Washington is worse in third-down defense than the Vikings.
The Vikings are first in the league in average starting position on offense at the 25.1-yard line – more than three yards better than the league average. Defensively, Chicago is first in the league in average starting position allowed – the 19.8-yard line.
Both Jay Cutler and Christian Ponder have just one 300-yard passing game this season. The Bears have allowed three 300-yard passing games, while Minnesota has surrendered two.
Brandon Marshall has six 100-yard receiving games and Percy Harvin has both of the Vikings’ 100-yard receiving games. Chicago has allowed four 100-yard receivers, while the Vikings have allowed two.
Adrian Peterson has seven 100-yard rushing games, including six consecutive games heading into Sunday’s game. Matt Forte has two 100-yard rushing games for the Bears. The Vikings have allowed four 100-yard rushers, while Chicago has given up just two, including one to Peterson two weeks ago.
Neither Cutler nor Ponder rank high among quarterbacks this season. Cutler is 27th in pass attempts (312), 26th in completions (191), 26th in passing yards (2,235), tied for 19th in touchdowns (15), tied for 19th in interceptions (11) and 21st in passer rating (84.3). Ponder is 18th in attempts (384), 16th in completions (240), 24th in yards (2,305), 32nd in yards per attempt (6.00), tied for 21st in touchdown passes (14), tied for 19th in interceptions (11) and 25th in passer rating (79.4).
While Cutler has struggled in many passing categories, he is first in fourth-quarter passer rating (134.9) – more than 23 rating points higher than Aaron Rodgers at No. 2 (111.8). Ponder is 24th with a 82.6 rating in the fourth quarter.
Cutler is seventh in third-down passer rating (92.8), while Ponder is 28th with a rating of 69.9.
Peterson leads the NFL with 1,446 rushing yards – a whopping 308 yards more than second-place Marshawn Lynch (1,138). Forte is 18th with 749 rushing yards.
At his current pace, Peterson will finish the season with 1,928 rushing yards.
Marshall is second in the league in receptions with 91, one behind league leader Wes Welker. Despite missing the last three games, Harvin is still 15th in receptions with 62.
Marshall is also second in receiving yards with 1,182, trailing only Calvin Johnson (1,428). Harvin is 33rd in receiving yards with 677 to lead the Vikings.
Marshall leads the NFL with 29 receptions on third down. Kyle Rudolph leads the Vikings with 16, which ties him for 22nd place.
Peterson and Rudolph are both tied for seventh place in scoring among non-kickers with 50 points (eight touchdowns and one 2-point conversion). Marshall is tied for 11th with 48 points (eight TDs).
Blair Walsh is tied for eighth in scoring among kickers with 96 points. Robbie Gould is 12th with 94 points.
Walsh is fourth in touchbacks with 41. Gould is sixth with 38 touchbacks.
Peterson leads the NFL in total yards from scrimmage with 1,641 (1,446 rushing, 195 receiving) – 161 yards more than second place Doug Martin. Marshall is 10th with 1,182 yards (all receiving).
Neither of the punters are having standout seasons. Chris Kluwe is 24th in punting average (44.5 yards) and 17th in net average (39.9). Chicago’s Adam Podlesh is 30th in average (42.2) and 20th in net average (39.4).
Marcus Sherels is 21st in the league in punt return average (8.1 yards). Devin Hester is 23rd with an 8.0-yard average.
No return man has more fair catches than Sherels (20 of 43 possible returns). Hester has had 32 possible returns and called just six fair catches.
Harvin leads the league in kickoff return average at 35.9 yards. It’s unclear whether his season total of 16 will be enough to qualify at the end of the season.
Injured Chicago cornerback Tim Jennings leads the league with eight interceptions. Nobody else has more than five and Jennings’ total is one more than the Vikings team total of seven.
The Bears have as many interception returns for touchdowns as the Vikings have interceptions.
Chad Greenway leads the NFL with 123 tackles, five more than second place Jerod Mayo of the Patriots.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.