KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Field Turf
TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
KEYS TO THE GAME
One big ingredient lacking during Chicago's five-game losing skid -- special teams impact plays. Devin Hester has been bothered by a sore ankle and the offense has struggled to punch it into the end zone when it does manage to sustain a drive. The Vikings are winless in the NFC North and susceptible to pass coverage breakdowns. Minus RB Adrian Peterson, struggling QB Christian Ponder must challenge the Bears' shaky safeties with TE Kyle Rudolph and top playmaker Percy Harvin.
Bears DE Julius Peppers had two sacks in the last meeting and owns seven in eight games vs. Minnesota.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
It's inevitable that there will be turnover in the 53-man roster from now until the 2012 season opener, but most players don't believe the team needs a complete overhaul despite missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
"There will be some guys gone obviously, and just like every year, there will be a lot of turnover, but I don't think we're very far away," middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "You've seen this year when we're healthy what we can do. We're pretty close to being one of the better teams in the NFL. We've just got to stay healthy and stay together and keep playing hard. The consensus in our locker room is that we're pretty close to being where we want to be."
Urlacher was selected to his eighth Pro Bowl this year, one more than outside linebacker Lance Briggs, who has been picked seven years in a row.
Briggs agrees with Urlacher that says rebuilding makes no sense.
"It wouldn't solve anything," Briggs said. "It's not going to solve anything if you get rid of all of the folks who put this team together. This year was unfortunate for us; for us all. Even though we didn't get in the playoffs, we are a championship-caliber team, and we'll get there, it's just not going to happen in the season of '11."
Even though Urlacher is 33, Briggs 31, Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman is 30, and defensive ends Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije are 31, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli still believes in the core group of players.
"We've got high expectations for them," Marinelli said. "We've just got to go out and execute; all those things. I believe in them. They're talented men, and I think they play very well together."
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has been sending mixed signals when it comes to the team's quarterback of the future.
But who can blame him? With Christian Ponder regressing and Joe Webb showing more promise than anyone would have expected, Frazier almost has to leave the door cracked for the possibility that Webb will compete for the job as early as next summer.
Frazier and the Vikings want to stay committed to Ponder. After all, he's the 12th overall draft pick this year. He's the celebrated, hand-picked choice to replace Brett Favre and put some long-term stability in a position that's seen a procession of aging, stopgap quarterbacks come through Minnesota.
But after Webb's outstanding performance in relief of an injured Ponder in Saturday's win at Washington, Frazier hesitated when asked if Webb had earned the right to compete for the starting job in 2012.
"That," Frazier said, "is something we'll have to take a real hard look at. You can't ignore him."
This week, Frazier said Ponder is the starting quarterback, barring injury, and that the coaches need to work harder to incorporate Webb's athleticism into the team's "Blazer" package. But Frazier once again left the door cracked for a possible competition next summer when asked if Ponder is the automatic starter because he's a first-round pick while Webb was a sixth-rounder a year ago.
"We'll talk about a lot of things when the season is over, but I think you always want to do whatever is best for your team, whatever gives your team the best chance to win," Frazier said. "Right now, Christian being our starting quarterback -- that's our belief. But you always want to try to figure out what gives your team the best place to win, period, and not let some other circumstances or events dictate who's in the starting lineup."
Three weeks ago, Webb came off the bench at Detroit after Ponder had turned the ball over four times. In 23 minutes, he ran for 109 yards and a touchdown, threw for 84 yards and a touchdown, and rallied the Vikings from a 31-14 deficit to within one yard of an upset.
At Washington on Saturday, Ponder suffered a concussion with the score tied 10-10. Webb came in and ran for 34 yards and a touchdown, passed for 84 yards and two touchdowns, and snapped a six-game losing streak with four consecutive scoring drives. He completed 4-of-5 passes and finished with a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
He also gave the Vikings a little more to think about when it comes to their quarterback of the future.
--LB Lance Briggs (ankle) didn't practice Wednesday but was limited Thursday and is expected to play on Sunday.
--WR Devin Hester (ankle) was a full participant in Thursday's practice after being limited on Wednesday and he is expected to play Sunday.
--TE Kellen Davis (ill) didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday but is expected to play Sunday.
--LB Brian Urlacher (bruised knee) did not practice Wednesday or Thursday but will play Sunday.
--RG Anthony Herrera returned to practice on a limited basis on Thursday. He missed Wednesday's practice because of a lower back injury. Frazier expects him to play on Sunday.
--RB Adrian Peterson, who tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee in Saturday's win over the Redskins, will have his surgery performed in Birmingham, Ala., by noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews on Friday. He'll return to Minnesota on Monday and is expected to do the bulk of his rehab at the Vikings' facility.
--SS Jamarca Sanford, who is on the injury report with a shoulder injury, practiced on Thursday. The team leader in interceptions with two, Sanford is the only member of the opening-day secondary that has stayed healthy or wasn't benched during the season.
--CB Asher Allen missed last week's game because of a concussion and is now also dealing with a shoulder injury. But he's been cleared to return from the concussion and the shoulder hasn't kept him from practicing on a full basis this week. He started the year as the dime back, but is now the best cover man of what's left of a depleted unit.
--QB Christian Ponder made it through all of Thursday's practice and has shown no signs of the concussion that knocked him out of Saturday's game in the third quarter. He needs to finish the season strong to help avoid a slew of doubts following him into an entire offseason.
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