The end of a Bears season is always sad, especially if you’re a football junkie. Even when the team is bad or just extremely frustrating like they are this year, it’s still fun to look forward to game day on Sunday and go through whatever Bears-watching ritual you may have.
I still love the Bears, even if I am frustrated with them and angry that they’re missing the playoffs for the eighth time in the past ten years. So I will be sad when there are no more Bears game to watch, although I always look forward to the NFL playoffs, it all just sucks when it isn’t you’re favorite team.
So when Sunday’s game ends, it will be bittersweet; sweet because this awful, disappointing, terrible season will be over, but bitter because we’ll have to wait nine months to again watch our favorite team.
Sunday’s game isn’t a foregone conclusion, although with Minnesota being locked into their seed and playoff position, they don’t have much to play for.
SB Nation site: Daily Norseman
Record: 10-5, second in the NFC North
Game day, time/TV: Sunday, noon CT, FOX (with Dick Stockton and Mark Schlereth so get ready for names you’ve never heard before)
Bears all-time record against: 54-60-2 regular season, 1-0 postseason
Historical meetings: It’s nearly the 10th anniversary of the Bears-Vikings Monday Night Football overtime thriller, so let’s relive that one, shall we?
I was at the game with my now-wife, her first Bears game.
The 5-9 Bears were hosting the 11-3 Vikings, who were rolling with quarterback Brett Favre.
The Bears were feisty though and took a 16-0 halftime lead on three Robbie Gould field goals and a Jay Cutler to Greg Olsen touchdown catch.
The Vikings came back in the second half though with two Adrian Peterson touchdowns and a field goal to tie at 23. With 4:55 to go, Cutler hit Earl Bennett for a 20-yard score, but then Brett Favre started doing his vintage thing as he drove the Vikings down the field and hit Sidney Rice on fourth down with 16 seconds to go to send the game to overtime.
In overtime, Gould missed a potential game-winning kick but then the Bears forced a Vikings punt with back-to-back sacks. The Bears then had to punt back to Minnesota.
However, on the second play of their next drive, Hunter Hillenmeyer forced Adrian Peterson to fumble, which was recovered by Nick Roach. On the Bears’ first offensive play, Cutler hit a wide open Devin Aromashodu for 39-yard walk-off touchdown. Bears 36, Vikings 30.
Last meeting: Back in week four, it seemed like the Bears might have derailed the Vikings’ season in a 16-6 win. It truly seemed the two teams’ seasons were heading in opposite directions from where they each are now.
The Bears sacked Kirk Cousins six times and held Dalvin Cook to 35 rushing yards (2.5 yards per carry). Chase Daniel relieved the injured Mitchell Trubisky, who exited on Chicago’s first drive and was good enough, throwing a touchdown to Tarik Cohen.
Injury report: The Vikings listed six players on their Wednesday injury report:
Full participation: CB Xavier Rhodes (knee), DT Shamar Stephen (ankle), S Jayron Kearse (foot)
Limited participation: RB Dalvin Cook (shoulder), RB Alexander Mattison (ankle)
Did not participate: LB Eric Kendricks (quadriceps)
Offense: The Vikings come into the game ranked seventh in points and 13th in yards.
Their passing offense ranks 20th while their rushing offense ranks seventh.
Their $84 million man has played very well in offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski’s system with Kirk Cousins (69.1 pct. cmp./3,603 yds./26 TD/6 INT) playing some of the best football of his career. That is in terms of touchdown and interception percentages and quarterback rating.
By leaning on the strong ground game, led by Dalvin Cook (250 att./1,135 yds./13 TD), they’ve been able to limit Cousins’ mistakes, but also his opportunities. His yards per game is the lowest since he’s been a full-time starter, as well as his passing attempts.
Cook might not play at all Sunday, as the team tries to get him 100 percent for the playoffs, so then it will be Alexander Mattison (100/462/1) but he’s nursing his own injury. It could then be Mike Boone (32/125/2) and Ameer Abdullah (17/93/0) who get the totes.
I would expect Cousins to start the game, but perhaps not finish it Sunday, so if that’s the case, the Bears may see a fair share of Sean Mannion, who has just one career start, a week 17 game for the Rams against the 49ers.
The receiving weapons for the Vikings include Stefon Diggs (63 rec./1,130 yds./6 TD), Adam Thielen (30/418/6) who is working back from an injury of his own, TEs Kyle Rudolph (39/367/6) and Irv Smith (35/300/2) and Cook (53/519/0).
Back ups with a shot to play include Bisi Johnson (28/260/3), Alexander Hollins (no 2019 stats) and Laquon Treadwell (9/184/1).
Defense: Any Mike Zimmer team is going to have a tough defense and that’s no different this year as the Vikings come in ranked sixth in points allowed and 14th in yards allowed.
Their passing defense ranks 16th and their rushing defense ranks 14th.
I would think that players with any nagging injuries, such as Erik Kendricks (110 tkl/2 FF/2 FR/12 PD/4 TFL) will miss this game, but who knows, Mike Zimmer wouldn’t say Tuesday.
S Harrison Smith (85 tkl/1 sk/3 INT/11 PD/3 FF) is headed to his fifth straight Pro Bowl and DE Danielle Hunter (14.5 sk/3 FF/15 TFL/22 QB hits) his second straight.
They also have playmakers in DE Everson Griffen (8 sk/11 TFL/24 QB hits/1 INT), S Anthony Harris (6 INT/11 PD/60 tkl), LB Anthony Barr (79 tkl/1.5 sk/4 PD/1 INT/1 FF) and CB Trae Waynes (1 INT/2 FF/8 PD).
Elsewhere in the secondary are Xavier Rhodes (63 tkl/6 PD) and Mackensie Alexander (1 INT/5 PD/33 tkl).
Key match ups: The Vikings, as seen during their Monday Night Football game, have a weakness on their offensive line. Although they rank 25th in sacks allowed, they struggled against the Packers and in the first match up against Chicago.
Chuck Pagano will have to look at what works against them, what blitzes they struggle with picking up and that stuff.
If the Vikings only give their starters a little bit of work, things will be easier, but Chicago will be more unfamiliar with the players lining up across from them.
The key to slowing down the Vikings is to pressure their QB and not allow their running game to get going. The Bears did both of those extremely well back in week four and have to hope to do it again.
For the offense it’s going to have to get something going from David Montgomery. If they can take some pressure off of Mitchell Trubisky and get the play action going, the Vikings won’t be able to tee off or get super aggressive.
What to watch for: It’s the final game of the year, even if this team has been infuriating to watch, you won’t get to watch them for over nine months. Look for signs from some of the younger guys and guys with expiring deals to get a feel for who is deserving of another contract or a bigger role in 2020.
Key stats: The Bears have gone 11-8 against Minnesota in the 2010s
The Vikings have just one home loss this season, Monday against Green Bay
The Vikings have the second best red zone defense in the league, allowing opponents to score touchdowns just 46.5 percent of the time
Matt Nagy hasn’t lost the Vikings yet, going 3-0.
Cousins has protected the football better, with a career low six interceptions since he became a starter, but he’s still fumbled 10 times this year, but lost just three.
Dalvin Cook accounts for 30.9 percent of the Vikings’ scrimmage yards and 29.5 percent of their offensive touchdowns. Without him they had their lowest offensive output since their week four game against the Bears.
What do the Bears need to do to get a victory Sunday? Can they do it without the benefit of playing the Vikings’ back ups?