For the first time since I took over writing these game previews a couple of years ago, I don’t have to write a short eulogy on the season and include phrases like ‘last Bears game until September’ or ‘enjoy it because a long offseason will start Monday.’
That’s right, there will be a postseason run to talk about. The stress level will be higher and there will be no guarantee of a next week, but this will be fun.
But there is still the matter of Sunday’s game to talk about. The Vikings are playing for their own playoff life and the Bears have seeding implications at play.
There’s a lot of will-they, won’t-they talk surrounding the Bears as far as how hard the team will play, or how much the starters will play. It’s tough to say, but it sounds like there’s a good chance that we’ll see the starters for at least a half of the game.
SB Nation site: Daily Norseman
Game day/time/TV: Sunday, 3:25 p.m. CT, FOX
Last week: 27-9 win over Detroit
Bears all-time record against: 53-60-2 (including postseason)
Historical match ups: The last time the Bears won in Minnesota, it was also the last game of the season.
Back in Week 17 of 2011, Josh McCown started for the injured Jay Cutler and the ineffective Caleb Hanie. Just weeks after patrolling the sideline of a high school as a coach, he led the Bears from down 10-0 early to hit Roy Williams for a touchdown.
A Charles Tillman pick six and a Robbie Gould field goal were all the Bears needed to eek out a 17-13 win.
Last meeting: Just over a month ago, on Sunday Night Football, fans were talking about the Bears finally having their shot at a winning football team and a shot to establish themselves as a true contending playoff team. They beat the Vikings 25-20, but it wasn’t even that close.
The Vikings scored twice after the Bears were already up 22-6 to get it close.
Offense: Minnesota enters Week 17 with 16th ranked offense in terms of points and 17th in terms of yards.
Their passing offense ranks 10th in passing yards and fifth in attempts, led by Kirk Cousins (70.7 pct. cmp./4,166 yds./29 TD/10 INT) throwing to dangerous weapons like Adam Thielen (110 rec./1,335 yds./9 TD), Stefon Diggs (94/974/8) and Aldrick Robinson (17/231/5).
They account for 22 of Cousins’ 29 TD passes, the others belong to TE Kyle Rudolph (60/615/4), WR Laquon Treadwell (34/295/1) and RB Dalvin Cook (36/284/2).
Speaking of Cook, he is arguably their best offensive weapon, but certainly their most versatile. The Vikings rank 30th in rushing yards, 27th in rushing TDs and 26th in attempts, but Cook is an effective back when he’s healthy.
His numbers (122 att./576 yds./2 TD) work out to 4.7 yards per carry and his 5.4 yards per touch are a testament to his versatile game.
He actually is second on the team in rushing to Latavius Murray (138/560/6) but that’s mostly due to missing five games.
Defense: The Vikings defense is fierce, every bit as good as the Bears. They come in ranked seventh in points allowed and third in yards allowed.
They rank third in pass yards allowed, first in touchdown passes allowed but are 16th in interceptions.
Their rushing defense ranks 11th in yards allowed and sixth in touchdowns allowed.
Overall they rank 15th in terms of turnovers with 20, so average, which is surprising with the playmakers thay have and their unit ranks overall.
Up front they boast Danielle Hunter (14.5 sacks/21 TFL/19 QBH), Everson Griffin (5.5 sk./5 TFL/13 QBH), Sheldon Richardson (4.5 sk./6 TFL/16 QBH) and their version of Eddie Goldman in Linval Joseph (1 sk/4 TFL/3QBH/1 FF).
Their linebackers are good too with Anthony Barr (3 sk./2 PD/1 FF/8 TFL) and Eric Kendricks (108 tkl/3 TFL/2 INT/7 PD/1 FF) making plays all over the place.
The secondary is no slouch either with S Harrison Smith (3 INT/6 PD/1 FF/8 TFL), Trae Waynes (8 PD/1 INT), Xavier Rhodes (7 PD/1 INT), Mackensie Alexander (9 PD/4 sk./7 TFL) and Anthony Harris (3 INT/6 PD) all making plays.
They have 16 players with at least half a sack, a testament to the amount of different looks and blitzes they like to throw at their opponents.
Injury report: The Vikings listed eight players on their Wednesday injury report:
Full participation: LB Anthony Barr (shoulder), TE David Morgan (knee)
Limited: FB C.J. Ham (elbow), DT Linval Joseph (knee), LB Eric Kendricks (hamstring), G Mike Remmers (low back), CB Xavier Rhodes (groin), Marcus Sherels (foot)
Key match ups: The front seven against Mitch Trubisky looms large here, will Trubisky be able to recognize where the pressure will come from while keeping his eyes downfield and find where the open receiver is?
Picking apart the tough secondary of the Vikings will be difficult, Trubisky struggled during the first meeting, throwing two picks and leading the offense to just one touchdown. What did he learn from that game?
On defense, I think the match up is the Bears’ front four getting pressure on Kirk Cousins is the biggest key. Sure, I think that shutting down Dalvin Cook is important because he has the speed and the skillset to burn the defense, but Cousins makes the whole thing work.
Cousins’ struggles against winning teams and big moments is well documented. If the Bears can rattle him, like they did in the first game, then he should turn the ball over.
What to watch for: Playoff seeding; will the Bears truly go all out to keep a division rival out of the postseason or will they simply just do enough to put up a fight in the first half and then cruise in the second?
There are some really intriguing things at play.
Key stats: Cousins’ pass attempts have dropped a bit since the team fired John DeFilippo, going from 37.4 attempts per game to 24.5
The Vikings have also gotten Murray and Cook a combined 29.5 rushing attempts per game since changing coordinators.
The Vikings are 0-4-1 when they lose the turnover margin, they’ve only won the turn over margin four times
Kirk Cousins is number two in the NFL with three pick sixes thrown, just one behind Josh Rosen
Cousins is also tied for fourth with nine fumbles this year
The pick: Vikings 28, Bears 23 - Ultimately, I don’t think many Bears starters will finish this game and I think the Vikings pull it out in the end to make the playoffs. To see my analysis of the game against the spread and the total, click here to read my piece on Sports Bet Collective.
What do you think the Bears need to do to win Sunday? Will they try?