Wk 10 Game Scout: Vikings at Bears

The first-place Packers have week off but there's a huge NFC North game set between Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings and Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears.

Minnesota Vikings (3-5) vs. Chicago Bears (5-3)

Kickoff: Noon, Sunday.

TV: Fox (Gus Johnson, Steve Tasker).

The Packers' perspective

Green Bay leads the NFC North at 6-3, with Chicago second at 5-3 and Minnesota third at 3-5. If the Bears win, Green Bay and Chicago will be tied for first place and Minnesota — Green Bay's opponent next week — would be in a deep, deep hole at three games off the pace. If the Vikings win, the Packers will have a one-game lead over the Bears and the Vikings will be 4-5 and riding some momentum with a two-game winning streak heading into next week's game at Mall of America Field.

Keys to the game

Vikings QB Brett Favre needs his receivers — probably including WR Sidney Rice — to respond in this must-win spot.

"When I'm out there on the field I want to play every snap I can play. I don't want to be limited," said Rice, who remains on the physically unable to perform list after hip surgery. "I want to be able to help the team as much as possible. That's another thing. I don't want to hurt the team in any way. We're in a critical position right now. We need all these wins. I don't want to just throw myself out there knowing I can only get 10 plays and we have another receiver down that could have helped the team out a lot more."

The trouble is, he's not sure who he'll have on the field or how effective they'll be. Rice hasn't played since the NFC championship game and fellow receiver Percy Harvin, who has performed at a Pro Bowl level, has been battling a migraine headache again. TE Visanthe Shiancoe (9-91-2 in two games vs. Chicago last season) can get behind the Bears' linebackers in the Cover-2. If Favre gets on a hot streak, the Bears should sweat knowing RB Adrian Peterson averages 122.2 yards per game in six games vs. Chicago. The Bears have become too reliant on QB Jay Cutler and the passing game behind a subpar front five. If the Bears forget about RBs Matt Forte and Chester Taylor, it plays into the hands of the Vikings' solid front seven.

Fast facts: Peterson has a rushing touchdown in six straight games vs. Chicago and had at least 20 rushing attempts in each of those games. ... QB Jay Cutler had four TD passes in the last meeting.

Inside the Bears

Jared Allen gets after Jay Cutler.
Tom Dahlin/Getty Images
Sunday's NFC North showdown at Soldier Field between the 5-3 Bears and the 3-5 Vikings features old gunslinger Brett Favre against young gunslinger Jay Cutler.

There will be some amazing passes thrown. But there will also be passes thrown into tight coverage, and maybe even a few thrown up for grabs or directly at the wrong team. After all, nobody had more interceptions last year than Cutler's 26. And nobody in the history of the NFL has thrown more interceptions than Favre's 330, a league-worst 13 of which have come this season.

Both players have struggled at times this season but were excellent last week. Cutler threw two touchdown passes and wasn't intercepted while completing 17-of-30 passes for 188 yards and a 97.6 passer rating, boosting him to 86.0 for the season, seventh best in the NFC. Favre led a furious rally to an overtime victory over the Cardinals with a career-best 446 passing yards, two touchdowns, two picks and a 101.9 passer rating. But at 75.7 for the season, he's just 13th in the NFC in passer rating.

Live by the pass, die by the pass.

"I think to be successful at this position you have to take risks," Cutler said. "There are going to be certain situations where you have to put the ball in tight spots, but they have to be calculated risks. You learn over time when to take those chances and when not to. But sometimes you get caught up in the game and you're going to try to pump one in there."

That's the downside of being blessed with a rocket arm, as the 28-year-old Cutler and the 41-year-old Favre have been. Sometimes it feels as if there's no opening so small or coverage so tight that you can't squeeze a fastball through it. According to Favre, he and Cutler share that same "river boat gambler" mentality.

"When you have a big arm, you feel like you can throw it through any coverage, any window and, at times, you do," Favre said. "I see that in him. He's a heck of a competitor; he's tough. Like I told him after those guys beat us last year (36-30 in overtime at Soldier Field), I thought he played outstanding. That should hush people up for a while.

"He's got that mentality of, 'Hey, I don't care what just happened. I'm focusing on the next play and the next throw, the next game, whatever.' That's a great quality to have."

Cutler shook his head and smiled when asked about Favre's 20-year career that includes his NFL-record current streak of 293 straight starts.

"I don't know what he's doing," Cutler said. "It's a lot of games, a lot of toll on your body. He's probably going to have to have some surgeries in the next 10 years to repair some stuff. But it's remarkable. Everyone knows what kind of precedent he's set, and it's going to be hard for anybody to touch that."

Cutler has no intention of challenging Favre's longevity.

"I don't plan on playing when I'm 41," he said. "Last year, he had a good year. This year, out of some situations they've been in, he's had to put some balls in some places normally he might not. I think he's calmed down a little bit from his younger days. He's still making some magical throws, especially the last couple weeks when they've been fighting for games."

Inside the Vikings

Percy Harvin's availability for last Sunday's game against Arizona was in doubt during the week because of a sprained left ankle.

Harvin not only ended up playing but set career highs with nine receptions for 126 yards in a 27-24 overtime victory over the Cardinals.

The Vikings can only hope Harvin bounces back as well from his latest bout with migraines this Sunday at Soldier Field. Harvin wasn't even at Winter Park on Wednesday and Thursday because of the headaches, instead visiting with doctors and then staying home. He did practice on Friday.

Harvin has dealt with migraines for much of his life, but after an extended issue with them in the preseason, doctors were hopeful they had solved a big part of the problem when they diagnosed him with sleep apnea.

Before Wednesday, Harvin hadn't missed a practice since Sept. 22 because of a migraine.

The Vikings can ill afford to lose their top receiver this season. Harvin has 40 receptions for 519 yards and three touchdowns.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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