The Minnesota Vikings have set themselves up for a chance to control where they finish in the NFC North – as division champs with a three-game run to close to season, a wild card or, in a worst-case scenario, out of the playoffs completely.
They face a Chicago Bears team that is 5-8 and hanging by a thread to remain relevant in the playoff chase. They are a team that is beatable and in the way of the Vikings’ ultimate goal. A desperate NFL team is always dangerous because anything is possible – fake field goals, fake punts, sell-out blitzes, gadget plays deep in the playbook, etc.
The Bears would like nothing more than to slash the tires on the Vikings’ playoff bus, so they won’t be as easy to dispatch as their record would indicate.
These are the 10 points of emphasis that will determine whether the Vikings come home with an upset win or continue the disappointing December that started last Sunday.
This Is Our House – After starting the season 4-0 at TCF Bank Stadium, the Vikings have laid successive eggs at home, losing to Green Bay and Seattle in decisive fashion in front of the home fans. Getting back on the winning track at The Bank is vital if the Vikings are looking to play another game there in January.
Road Warriors – The Bears have the best road record of any team in the NFL with a losing record. Their 5-8 mark isn’t the result of being a whipping boy on the road. Chicago is just 1-6 at Soldier Field, but is 4-2 on the road. They seem to play better in somebody else’s stadium, so keeping the crowd in it and making things difficult for the Bears offense will be a must.
Call Me Al – The Vikings have been gutted by Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. In his last four meetings with the Vikings, he has owned them. In their meeting on Dec. 1, 2013 at the Metrodome, he caught 12 passes for 249 yards and two TDs. In their meeting on Nov. 16, 2014, he caught 11 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown. Earlier this season, he caught 10 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown. Without many complementary weapons in the downfield passing game, keeping Jeffery from doing damage will be a priority for the Vikings.
The Gould Standard – For most of his career, once he had enough kicks to qualify for the all-time leader board, Chicago kicker Robbie Gould has been near the top of the all-time list. However, in the last two games, the Bears have had the chance to either win or extend the games with makeable field goals by Gould. He has missed them both and missed them badly. Kickers can get in a funk in the clutch and it would appear Gould is in one of those slumps. The Bears might re-think decisions when it comes to long field goals because of a lack of confidence in Gould. Any time a team thinks too much, it’s never good.
Who’s Your Daddy? – As a rookie in 2007, Adrian Peterson had his coming out party against the Bears, rushing 20 times for 224 yards and three touchdowns. He has maintained the dominance ever since. In 13 career games against them, he has rushed for 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns. He hasn’t slowed down over time. In his last five meetings, he has topped 100 yards rushing in each of them, with rushing attempts of 18, 31, 26, 35 and 20. If the game stays close, Peterson could easily top 25 carries as he tries to put the offense on his shoulders as he has done so many times this season.
Early Bird Special – The Bears have been outscored 314-272 this season, but that deficit has come early. In the first quarter of games, the Bears have been outscored 89-41. After the first quarter, Chicago has actually outscored its opponents 231-225. It will be incumbent on the Vikings to get out of the gate fast and do their damage early because the Bears get better as the game goes along.
Teddy Bear Time – In three starts against the Bears, Teddy Bridgewater has posted two wins, but his numbers have been pedestrian. He has managed games. He hasn’t been asked to throw more than 30 passes in any of them. He’s never completed more than 17 passes in any of them. His passing yards have been 158, 209 and 187. In each game, he has thrown one touchdown and one interception. It’s time Bridgewater quits being a game manager and starts being a game changer. He showed flashes of being able to manipulate defenses by taking advantage of coverage weaknesses by the Cardinals last week. As the games takes on more importance down the stretch, Bridgewater needs to continue picking up yards in big chunks to tilt field position instead of being Checkdown Charlie.
Don’t Let the Cutlery Carve You Up – There has been one simple measure as to who wins and loses Vikings-Bears games – how many touchdowns does Bears QB Jay Cutler throw? In his last 10 starts against the Vikings, Cutler has thrown two or more touchdowns in six of them. Chicago has a record of 6-0 in those games. In the four games he has one TD or none passing, Chicago is 1-3. His demeanor clearly changes when he is pressured and the Vikings will need to keep him from getting comfortable and airing things out or it could be a disappointing day for the Vikings. (Editor's note: In the video, we should have said Cutler has only thrown four interceptions in his NINE games.)
Stay the Course – With the exception of the Seattle game, the Vikings have allowed no team to score more than two touchdowns against them in any game this season. When they prevent teams from putting up seven points at a time, they are always going to be in games. The Vikings haven’t thrown Pick-6 passes. Their special teams haven’t allowed a return for a touchdown that changes momentum. They’ve told the defense to hold an opponent to two touchdowns or less and the team will take care of the rest. Continue the streak and the outcome has been good many more times than not.
Happy Returns Of the Day – The Bears’ special teams have been anything but special this season. Opponents are averaging almost 27 yards per kick return and have broken two kickoffs for touchdowns. In their first meeting this year, Marcus Sherels took a punt return back for a touchdown. Cutler and the offense have thrown three interceptions that have been returned for scores. For years, Chicago’s calling card has been making the big return, whether kickoff, punt or interception, that wins games. This season, the Bears have no returns for scores and have allowed seven. The Vikings have been opportunistic and a big return could be the difference in the game, as it was in their first meeting.