NFC North Divisional Football. What's better? The 3-5 Minnesota Vikings come into Chicago to face the 5-3 Bears. The Vikings are looking to keep their playoff hopes alive, and the Bears can put themselves back atop the division with a win on Sunday. We've seen reports of unrest in the locker room in Minny, and we've seen reports saying the exact opposite. Who knows what's going on there?
To that end, we've enlisted the fine help of Ted Glover, assistant Editor at SBNation Minnesota, and a member of the staff over at Daily Norseman. If you're interested, I answered their questions over here. A great many thanks to Ted, and we look forward to a great rivalry weekend.
1. Generally speaking, a lot of the Bears fanbase thinks their coach is not suited for a head coach job. Over the past few weeks, Brad Childress seems to be making epic strides to out-Lovie everyone. What's the latest on the coaching situation up there?
It's tenuous, but I don't think it's a week to week thing like it was going into the Arizona game. Chilly really angered the fans and the owner with the way he handled the release of Randy Moss, and had the Vikings not pulled out that OT win against the Cardinals I think he would've been gone. To Chilly's credit, he's really turned this franchise around and gotten the VIkings to the edge of the Super Bowl, so the expectations are a trip to Dallas. It's been a really weird season so far, some of it out of his control, but some he bears all the responsibility for, namely the Moss situation and the Favre courtship. I can see a scenario where if he doesn't go as far in the playoffs this year as he did last year, he'll be gone, but there's still a lot of football to be played.
2. Earlier in the season, Jared Allen's powers seemed to have gone the way of Samson's, out with the hair, out with the good. Last week against Arizona, he brought the mullet magic back in a big way. Would you attribute it more to lackluster play on his part, or teams game-planning for him much better than the past 3 years?
A little of both. Allen has taken himself out of a lot of plays because of his upfield rush, but teams have game planned him as well. Allen's biggest asset is his first step and get off speed, and if the opposing tackle can get him stood up and use his speed against him, he can be directed upfield and Allen loses that play. That said, he had a good game against the Cardinals, and before he got his sacks late he was putting some decent perimeter pressure on Derek Anderson.
3. Favre is showing flashes of his Harvey Dent self, good and bad. Does he have enough of the good left to make us forget about the early picks? If it comes down to missing the playoffs by one game, will the blame finger go directly to his early mistakes, or is there someone else to look at?
Yeah, he does. He threw for 446 yards and other than a couple of ugly throws, looked as good as he has all year. If the Vikings miss the playoffs, it will be for a myriad of reasons. Will Favre shoulder some of the blame? Sure he will, but there will be plenty of blame to spread around. When Favre has been good the defense has broken down at critical times. When the offense and defense get it done, special teams gives up a big play or a score. If they are all holding their own, the coaching and play calling leave you scratching your head. No, if they miss the playoffs, it will be a true team effort.
4.Chester Taylor is obviously now a Bear, and Toby Gerhart has 63 yards this season. Are the Vikings worse off for this, or is Gerhart showing enough flash in his all-around game to make a worthy successor to AP?
Yes and yes. Taylor's loss was a body blow for the offense. Not so much for his running ability, which is very good, but Taylor was indispensable as a pass blocker and as a pass receiver. Gerhart's really in a tough spot. Whatever he does, it will be compared to either Adrian Peterson, which is heinously unfair, or Taylor, which is just really, really unfair. Gerhart is his own player, and a rookie. His numbers have been as unimpressive as 3rd grade art, but he's getting better each week, and he is coming into his own as a pass blocker. You can see the improvement week to week, and in the long run Gerhart will be fine. But not having Taylor this season has been a bigger negative impact than a lot of people thought.
5. What are the biggest strengths and weaknesses on both offense and defense for you guys, and what are some key match-ups to watch for this weekend?
Offense: Adrian Peterson is the alpha and omega for this offense, but it looks like Percy Harvin is emerging as a legitimate #1 receiver. The weak link has been Favre's inconsistent play, but it looks like that might have been worked out, at least for a week. Opponents have had success so far this year when they've stopped Adrian Peterson and put the ball in Favre's hands. The Cardinals did that last week, but Favre played well.
Defense: The strength of the unit so far has been the linebacking corps. Chad Greenway, EJ Henderson, and Ben Leber have all been playing at a high level, and the defensive line has been good but inconsistent. The weaknees is the secondary, and specifically the safety positions. Madieu WIlliams has been pretty average the last two years, and Hasain Abdullah became the starter over last year's regular Tyrell Johnson. It's a defense that struggles in forcing turnovers or getting off the field on third down when they really need to, but they put in a good effort last week, so we'll see where they go from here.
*Bonus Question--Predict the score, and we'll send you a peppermint.
I'm going with the Vikings in a close one, 23-16. The Vikes have to win this game, or their post season chances drop to about 1 in 30. They'll be 1-2 in the division with losses to both the Bears and Packers. This team showed a lot of heart and fight in coming back from the brink last week, b ut this is an outdoor game on grass, the achilles heel for the Vikings. They haven't won on the road all year, but if they're going to the playoffs, they need to start. It might as well be Sunday.
Again, many thanks to Ted for helping us out.