Division Decision: Minnesota Vikings

As we get closer to training camp, it's time to take a look at the Chicago Bears and compare them to each of their three rivals in the NFC North. Can the Vikings be a legit Super Bowl contender this year? Bear Report breaks down both teams position by position to see who has the edge and where.

Quarterback

Now that the Bears have finally made a commitment to the game's most important position, Jay Cutler has a chance to be the first legitimate franchise quarterback in the Windy City since Hall of Famer Sid Luckman. It appears that Brett Favre is going to come out of retirement yet again to suit up in Minnesota, eliminating what had the makings of a lackluster battle between incumbent Tarvaris Jackson and newcomer Sage Rosenfels.

Favre is much more familiar with the offense Brad Childress likes to run as opposed to what he was asked to do last year with the Jets, but he's sucking on fumes these days while Cutler is in the prime of his career.

Big Edge: Bears

Running Back

Matt Forte is already one of the elite running and receiving tailbacks in the NFL and should make the first of what could be several Pro Bowls this season. But the best in the business is Adrian Peterson, who led the league in rushing this past year, offers a breath-taking combination of power and speed, and has made a habit out of destroying the Bears in four previous matchups.

While both teams are set at the top of the depth chart, the reality that the Vikings also have an accomplished runner in Chester Taylor off the bench strengthens what is an electrifying ground game.

Big Edge: Vikings


Berrian averaged 20.1 yards per catch last year.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Wide Receiver

If the Bears had decided two offseasons ago to pay Bernard Berrian as opposed to Lance Briggs, then they wouldn't be trying to pigeon-hole Devin Hester into being a No. 1 receiver when he's clearly more of a complementary weapon. Berrian gave Minnesota the big-play ability its passing game so desperately needed in 2008, plus another Bears castoff, Bobby Wade, has caught a total of 107 passes in two seasons with the rival Vikings.

Neither team features a loaded receiving corps by any stretch of the imagination, but Berrian is one of the better deep threats in the game right now and rookie Percy Harvin is a capable of a field position-flipping play every time he gets his hands on the ball.

Big Edge: Vikings

Tight End

Desmond Clark has caught at least 41 passes the last three seasons as the starting tight end in Chicago, but Greg Olsen is in the lineup just as much these days and a smart bet to lead the Bears in receptions since he's already developed a solid rapport with Cutler. Visanthe Shiancoe is one of the more underrated players in the league at his position, and fan favorite Jim Kleinsasser makes up for his lack of pass-catching skills with dynamite in-line blocking.

While Shiancoe averaged a terrific 14.2 yards per reception in 2008, Olsen can be both a wide receiver and a tight end and appears to be ready for a breakout campaign.

Slight Edge: Bears

Offensive Line

The Monsters of the Midway will likely feature three new starters up front, with future Hall of Famer Orlando Pace taking over at left tackle, '08 first rounder Chris Williams moving in at right tackle, and free-agent addition Frank Omiyale getting a shot at left guard. The Vikings will be hurt by the defection of Pro Bowler Matt Birk at center, but guard Steve Hutchinson and tackle Bryant McKinnie make the left side of Minny's O-line awfully tough to beat.

If rookie Phil Loadholt, who the Bears liked going into this past April's draft, can lock down the right tackle position for the Vikings, Peterson could be even more dangerous in the running game.

Major Edge: Vikings

Defensive Line

The key to this team getting back to playing dominant Bears defense is three-technique tackle Tommie Harris, who has battled injuries for two years and hasn't resembled the three-time Pro Bowler that he is for quite some time. Even if the Vikings lose D-tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams to a four-game suspension at some point, D-end Jared Allen is a one-man wrecking crew and pitched a tent in the Chicago backfield throughout both of last season's matchups.

While the Bears believe they have a great defensive line if they stay healthy and new position guru Rod Marinelli makes a difference, the Vikings already know they possess arguably the best front four in all of football.

Big Edge: Vikings

Linebacker

Briggs is coming off four straight trips to the Pro Bowl on the weak side, Brian Urlacher is a former Defensive Player of the Year and still a very good option in the middle, and Pisa Tinoisamoa will now be over on the strong side after leading the Rams in tackles last year. Chad Greenway and Ben Leber are both solid outside linebackers for Minny, but E.J. Henderson is a better Mike than some experts think and must stay healthy in 2009.

Not many 4-3 teams can compete with what Chicago features at all three linebacker positions these days, including the Vikings.

Big Edge: Bears


Winfield registered 95 tackles this past season.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Cornerback

It's been a while since the combination of Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher were playing opposite each other at the top of their respective game, with Tillman being forced to compete through various bumps and bruises and Vasher spending way too many Sundays in street clothes the last two years. Cedric Griffin and Antoine Winfield only combined for three interceptions this past season, but both of them are physical at the line of scrimmage and each recorded at least 91 tackles in 2008.

While there isn't a pure cover corner on either team right now, the Vikings know what they have at both positions – Vasher, on the other hand, is a wild card.

Slight Edge: Vikings

Safety

Both teams are charged with the impossible responsibility of replacing the captain of the secondary, with Mike Brown no longer in Chicago and Darren Sharper not asked back in Minnesota. The Bears feel pretty good about Kevin Payne at strong safety but not so sure about Craig Steltz at free safety, while the Vikings like 2008 second-round pick Tyrell Johnson at strong safety and can let former Bengal Madieu Williams take over full time at free safety.

Even though the Bears and Vikes are both in somewhat of a wait-and-see situation at safety, Minnesota has the depth chart fairly established while the Bears may do a little shifting before too long.

Slight Edge: Vikings

Special Teams

Robbie Gould has learned how to split the uprights even in the most brutal elements at Soldier Field, Brad Maynard pins the opponent back inside its own 20-yard line almost every time, and the return-man duo of Hester and Danieal Manning may be the most explosive in the game. The Vikings are in good shape with Ryan Longwell kicking and Chris Kluwe punting, but the coverage units are questionable and the returners don't scare anyone unless Peterson or Berrian is used in an emergency.

Everybody witnessed just how the wide the divide is between these clubs on special teams in Week 7 last year, when the Bears scored two touchdowns with the punting units on the field in a 48-41 victory.

Big Edge: Bears


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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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