MATCHUPS TO WATCH: BEARS OFFENSE VS. VIKINGS DEFENSE
LT Orlando Pace vs. DE Jared Allen: Allen has had two huge games against the Packers' desperately-in-flux offensive line this year, registering a total of seven sacks against their variety of left tackles. He had nearly as much success last year against the Bears. In his two matchups with them, he registered 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Going against Pace would have been a great matchup ... about five years ago. Now it looks like Pace is on his last leg, and Allen is looking to retake the league lead for sacks.
C Olin Kreutz vs. DT Pat Williams: As Keith Jackson might say, "These two plain don't like each other." Kreutz and Williams have had some memorable battles over the years, with Williams getting the best of Kreutz lately since the big nose tackle is still playing at a Pro Bowl level while the veteran center is not. We all know Pace is going to have his hands full with Allen off the edge, so if Williams is also blowing up Kreutz in the middle, the Bears are going to have a long day offensively.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: VIKINGS OFFENSE VS. BEARS DEFENSE
RB Adrian Peterson vs. DT Anthony Adams In four games against the Bears, Peterson has 554 yards, eight touchdowns and a 6.2-yard average. Remember, those games happened without the Vikings having as many playmakers on the perimeter as they do now, so the Bears can't strictly concentrate on Peterson. Without the Bears missing their starting nose tackle and starting middle linebacker, it could be even more tempting for the Vikings to run up the middle and do it often. Peterson has been looking for a big breakout game this year and this matchup holds some promise for that, much like his 224-yard effort in 2007 against the Bears.
TE Visanthe Shiancoe vs. SLB Nick Roach and SS Al Afalava: The Vikings have so many weapons these days in the passing game, in addition to the best running back alive in Peterson, but Shiancoe has really benefitted from having Brett Favre under center. Chicago's Greg Olsen was supposed to be a Pro Bowler this year with Jay Cutler coming to town, but Shiancoe has been every bit as good and especially effective in the red zone. Shiancoe is a lot bigger and stronger than either Roach or Afalava, and Favre knows how to exploit a mismatch.
THE VIKINGS WIN IF ...
... they play like they have been so far all year. That includes Favre being the most efficient passer in the league, with 21 touchdowns and only three interceptions. If he is able to read the Bears defense as well as he has been with other defenses, he'll get the Vikings in the right play, execute it quickly and find the right zones to exploit in the running and passing game. The Vikings are healthier, more talented and playing better all around than the Bears. They simply need to play their game and they should be able to beat the Bears, especially in the Metrodome.
THE BEARS WIN IF ...
... they can get the best of Favre, just like they did the last few years of his tenure in Green Bay. Coach Lovie Smith has gotten some great defensive efforts from his club facing the future Hall of Famer, intercepting a fair amount of passes and not allowing him to make too many big plays down the field. Favre has been incredibly efficient throwing the ball this season and looks to be as good as ever, so the Bears need to turn back the clock and force a handful of mistakes because they are outmanned from a talent perspective.
THE VIKINGS LOSE IF ...
... the Bears turn back the clock on the Vikings, get turnovers and big plays. Back when the Bears defense was creating interceptions and scoring defensively, they were a tough matchup for the Vikings. Back when the Bears were causing the Vikings' special teams to buckle at the knees, they had a great chance against Minnesota. Now the Vikings are much better in their passing game and their special teams are an asset, not a liability. The Vikings appear to have the more dangerous returner in Percy Harvin and have been covering kicks and punts much better this year.
THE BEARS LOSE IF ...
... their offensive line gets dismantled and Cutler spends half the game scrambling for his life. Since their ground game has been atrocious all year long, and that most likely won't change Sunday at the Metrodome, the Bears have become totally dependent on their ability to make plays in the passing game with an average array of talent on the outside. Cutler has the tools to pick apart a Minnesota secondary that is average at best, but not if he's hearing footsteps on three- and five-step drops.
Tim Yotter: The Vikings will have a couple of key injuries to sort out by game time. Pro Bowl CB Antoine Winfield is expected to play, but it's not 100 percent certain. Starting guard Anthony Herrera is doubtful after suffering a concussion last week and Artis Hicks would likely start in his place. And Peterson was ill on Friday and didn't practice. The expectation would be that he'll recover enough to play on Sunday. Either way, Chester Taylor is a capable backup and the Vikings wouldn't likely lose a lot if Peterson couldn't go. As long as the Vikings take care of the ball – and Peterson vs. Charles Tillman's fumble-inducing ways warrants watching – they should be the better team. – VIKINGS 31, BEARS 16.
John Crist: The Bears have won a grand total of one game since their bye all the way back in Week 5, and that was a 30-6 yawner over an atrocious Browns team at Soldier Field. Now they're preparing to play arguably the best team in the NFL, despite the fact that New Orleans and Indianapolis are still undefeated, at a noisy and hostile environment. Not once have they slowed down Peterson in four tries, and there is no reason to assume that trend will change any time soon – VIKINGS 30, BEARS 20.