This is the biggest game the Bears have had in a while. It’s been so long since they were even in the division race, let alone playing to keep sole possession of first place.
Yet here we are, and this is a game that proves that the rebuild is over and this team is ready to compete. Just how competitive they are will hopefully be answered Sunday night on the shore of Lake Michigan.
The Bears have a young quarterback still finding his way in the NFL, with supporters pointing to his recent performances to say he’s turned a corner, while the detractors comb over the advanced stats and every missed throw to say that he’s still not ready for prime time.
But in prime time they will be, and they are hosting the defending NFC North champion Vikings. The Vikings have a new quarterback themselves in Kirk Cousins, one that fans of the purple are hoping can take them to new heights as well.
It was a rocky start for them, opening up with a 1-2-1 record, but they’ve been playing better as of late, winning four of five heading into their bye week. Their defense even looked like its old self against the Lions and even the Saints, although the latter still put up 30.
What exactly are the Bears up against?
SB Nation site: Daily Norseman
Game day/TV/Time: Sunday, NBC, 7:20 CT
Bears all-time record against: 52-60-2
Historical match ups: It’s been unusual for both of these teams to both be good at the same time. Going back through old box scores, the last meeting I can find where both teams came in, later than September, with winning records, was Week 12 in 2012.
The 7-3 Bears hosted the 6-4 Vikings at Soldier Field. Adrian Peterson ran for 108 yards, Christian Ponder threw for 159 yards and a touchdown.
After Matt Forte left the game in the third quarter, Michael Bush came in to close out the 28-10 win as he scored twice. Jay Cutler threw for 188 yards, one touchdown and an interception. A late Ponder fumble, followed by the Vikings turning it over on downs on their next possession was enough to keep them from threatening.
Last meeting: A 23-10 Vikings win in Week 17 in Minneapolis.
It was the final game of the John Fox era, perhaps it was fitting then that the Bears mustered zero offensive touchdowns. The only times the Bears scored were on a Bryce Callahan punt return and a field goal by Mike Nugent.
Offense: The Vikings come in with the 14th best offense in terms of points scored and 12th in terms of yards.
They have the 12th best passing offense but rank 28th in rushing yards.
Led by Kirk Cousins (71.3 comp./2,685 yds./17 TD/5 INT), the Vikings have a potent passing game with targets Adam Thielen (78 rec./947 yds./7 TD), Stefon Diggs (58/587/4), TE Kyle Rudolph (34/349/2) and Laquon Treadwell (27/253/1).
Thielen has over 100 yards in all but one game this season, plus a touchdown in six straight games going into their bye week.
While the Vikings have struggled in the running game, they are led by Latavius Murray (92 att./417 yds./5 TD). Dalvin Cook (46/187/0) got going in their last game, going off for 89 yards yards on 10 carries against the Lions struggling run defense. Was it the opponent, or is Cook finally healthy and getting going? In his previous three games this season, he hadn’t rushed for more than 40 yards.
While Murray hasn’t exactly been blowing teams away (just one 100-yard game), he has scored a touchdown in four straight games.
The Vikings offensive line has been middle-of-the-pack, allowing 24 sacks, which is tied for 16th. While Cousins has avoided interceptions, he does have six lost fumbles, most in the league according to TeamRankings.com.
Defense: The Vikings defense, which was the best in the league a year ago, has turned itself around from some rough outings and comes in ranked 11th in terms of points allowed and fifth in yards allowed.
Their passing defense is 12th, while their rushing defense is third. They have allowed the third fewest passing touchdowns (12) and sixth fewest rushing touchdowns (5).
Mike Zimmer’s unit is led by DE Danielle Hunter (11.5 sacks/13 TFL/15 QB hits), S Harrison Smith (3 INTs/5 PDs/1 FF/3 sacks) and MLB Eric Kendricks (58 tackles/2 TFL/4 PDs).
Elsewhere, they have Sheldon Richardson (1.5 sacks/2 TFL/12 QB hits), Stephen Weatherly (3 sacks/4 TFL/8 QB hits), Xavier Rhodes (1 INT/5 PDs) and Trae Waynes (1 INT/7 PDs).
This is a tough unit, but they have struggled with high-powered offenses such as the Saints and Rams. Even though they beat the Eagles, Philly had 364 yards of offense and Minnesota squeaked out a one-point win.
Injury report: The Vikings listed nine players on their Wednesday injury report:
Did not participate: LB Anthony Barr (hamstring), TE David Morgan (knee), SS Andrew Sendejo (groin)
Limited: G Tom Compton (knee), G Mike Remmers (lower back), CB Xavier Rhodes (foot), WR Adam Thielen (back, calf)
Full: WR Stefon Diggs (rib), DT Linval Joseph (ankle/shoulder)
Key match ups: This is going to be a game full of match ups. One of the big ones for me is the Bears offensive line against the Vikings defensive line, specifically Hunter against Bobby Massie.
How can Bears pass catchers get open against Waynes, Rhodes, Barr and Kendricks? That is going to go a long way in deciding this game. Mitchell Trubisky has to take care of the football and he can’t get picked off by Harrison Smith again. This is another big test for the young QB.
For the defense, they can’t let Dalvin Cook get going. Shut down the Vikings running game, which hasn’t been good, but neither was Miami’s.
This is a huge test for the secondary, Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara will have their hands full with Thielen and Diggs. Those are dangerous weapons with a lot of speed and physicality.
Cousins has been taking care of the football, but the Bears defense has to force him into mistakes. The Vikings offensive line has had its issues and when he is pressured, and like I said earlier, Cousins has lost six fumbles.
What to watch for: This is the biggest game of the season so far and could go a long way in deciding the division. Winning this game makes the short turnaround to the Thanksgiving game against Detroit mean just that much less and will go a long way in establishing them as one of the NFL’s truly great teams.
This could also be a game that could change minds about Trubisky. This is the biggest game at Soldier Field in six years. There’s plenty to watch for.
Key stats: I keep harping on it, but despite having just four interceptions, Cousins has lost six fumbles.
Under Mike Zimmer, the Vikings are 2-2 off their bye, including a Week 11 loss at Soldier Field to the Bears in 2014
Cousins is 2-0 all-time against the Bears, completing 70 percent of his passes for 570 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT
The Bears and Vikings defenses rank back-to-back in pass (Bears 13th, Vikings 12th) and rush (Bears 2nd, Vikings 3rd) numbers
The Bears have allowed 29 fewer points than the Vikings have
The Vikings are 2-8 in their last 10 at Soldier Field, but have won two of the last two in Chicago
The pick: This game is going to be tough, and I think it’s going to be close too, but the thing I keep coming back to is that the knock on the Bears are they haven’t beaten a winning team. Well, the Vikings haven’t either. I am nervous about this game and my doubt is creeping in, but I think the Bears win. Now, if you want to see if I think they can cover the spread, click here to read my breakdown on Sports Bet Collective. My pick is free when you sign up for an account.
Do you think the Bears will win Sunday?