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Another cold ending: Bears-Vikings Week 18 game preview

The Bears travel to frigid Minneapolis to play the string out on a lost season against another team on the brink of change

Tennessee Titans v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Here we go, back again, back to freezing cold Minneapolis.

For the fifth time in six years the Chicago Bears finish out the season against the Vikings in Minnesota, much to the chagrin of the Bears beat reporters.

It’s also a somewhat short turnaround for Chicago, who just played the Minnesota Vikings at home three weeks ago on Monday Night Football.

And the more things change, the more they stay the same. That game eliminated the Bears officially from postseason contention and now the Vikings come home having been eliminated against the Packers at Lambeau.

The Vikings are also dealing with a COVID outbreak and as of this writing have several players on the list, so Sunday status is going to be up in the air, so forgive me if I mention a player who ends up not playing or vice versa.

Mike Zimmer is remaining committed to playing starters, but he could very well be on his way out just like his Chicago counterpart.

Nothing to play for but pride, can the Bears show up one last time or will they go out with a whimper?

The betting line reflects the fact that neither of these teams has anything to play for. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Vikings are 3.5 point favorites. This is a one-point swing in Minnesota’s favor following the news that they are getting Kirk Cousins back.

Minnesota Vikings

SB Nation site: Daily Norseman

Record: 7-9, second in the NFC North

Last week: 37-10 loss to Green Bay

Game day, time, TV: Sunday, noon CT, FOX

Bears all-time record against: 62-57-2, including postseason

Historical meetings: Let’s rewind 10 years to a different season finale in Minnesota.

The 7-8 Bears when to Minneapolis with Lovie Smith to face the 3-12 Vikings led by Leslie Frasier.

The Bears quarterback that day was Josh McCown, who had been signed in late November following an injury to Jay Cutler.

McCown was starting his second straight game in place of Caleb Hanie.

The Bears fell behind early as Ryan Longwell and Percy Harvin put the Vikings up 10-0 on scoring drives set up by two Chicago fumbles. In the second quarter, McCown found Roy Williams for a 22-yard score.

On the ensuing drive, Charles Tillman picked off Christian Ponder and returned it for a 22-yard pick six.

Joe Webb took over for Ponder on the next drive and the Vikings struggled the rest of the game. Webb got them in field goal range once, but it was blocked by Julius Peppers and then again right before halftime to make it 14-13 Bears at halftime.

In the fourth quarter Robbie Gould nailed a field goal to make it 17-13 and that was all the scoring the teams had in them. The Bears squeaked out to 8-8 with a 17-13 win.

Last meeting: Back on Dec. 20 in week 15, the Vikings beat the Bears 17-9.

Kirk Cousins threw 24 times for just 87 yards, despite Chicago literally starting a preseason defensive backfield.

That game will forever piss me off because of that Cousins stat, as well as Justin Fields throwing for 285 yards and a touchdown and no picks, but Chicago couldn’t find the endzone until the very last play of the game.

Injury report: The Vikings listed 10 players on their Wednesday injury report.

Limited participation

  • T Brian O’Neill (not injury related)
  • CB Cameron Dantzler (calf)
  • LB Nick Virgil (not injury related)
  • QB Kirk Cousins (not injury related)
  • RB Kene Nwangwu (hamstring)
  • CB Mackenzie Alexander (ankle)

Did not participate

  • CB Kris Boyd (ribs)
  • DT Michael Pierce (illness)
  • TE Luke Stocker (elbow)
  • G Wyatt Davis (illness)

Offense: The Vikings offense ranks 14th in points and 12th in yards.

Their passing offense ranks 11th and rushing 15th.

QB Kirk Cousins (66.4 cmp pct/3,971 yds/30 TD/7 INT) has thrown three more touchdowns and two more interceptions since their last meeting and he is returning from a bout with COVID.

On the other end of Cousins’ passes are Justin Jefferson (103 rec/1,509 yds/9 TD), Adam Thielen (67/726/10), Tyler Conklin (59/587/3) and K.J. Osborn (49/634/6).

Dalvin Cook (235 att/1080 yds/6 TD) is doing most of the work on the ground, with Alexander Mattison (129/473/3) helping out.

Cook missed the Rams game and only carried nine times last Sunday in their blowout loss to Green Bay last week. He has not scored a touchdown since the Vikings played the Steelers, the week before the first game against the Bears.

Defense: The Vikings defense ranks 25th in points and 31st in yards allowed.

Their passing defense ranks 26th in yards allowed and 27th in rushing.

After leading the leagues in sacks for part of the season, they’ve dropped to fifth now with 44.

Despite not having Danielle Hunter or Everson Griffen, they are getting it done with Armon Watts (5 sk/2 FF/3 TFL), D.J. Wonnum (6 sk/4 PD/1 FF/5 TFL), Eric Kendricks (5 sk/143 tkls/2 INT/8TFL), Harrison Smith (3 sk/1 FF/1 INT/3 TFL/108 tkls), Xavier Woods (3 INT/1 sk/10 PD) and Sheldon Richardson (4 PD/1 FF/2.5 sk/6 TFL).

The Vikings rank sixth in third down defense, allowing opponents to convert just 36.7 percent of their third downs.

Key match ups: In their last meeting, it was basically all the Bears’ offense shooting itself in the foot and then Dalvin Cook being able to gain just enough yards to eke it out for Minnesota.

The Bears should have a couple more reinforcements this time around with Akiem Hicks back.

The secondary is still going to have their hands full with Justin Jefferson downfield and Adam Thielen matched up against Jaylon Johnson and Artie Burns.

Notably, the Vikings placed three starting offensive linemen on the COVID list Monday, so if any or all of those guys can’t go that’s favorable match ups for Trevis Gipson, Robert Quinn, Hicks and Khyris Tonga.

On offense, the Bears should find some running room with David Montgomery, but Justin Fields had some luck late going downfield in the first game, so hopefully he can get it going sooner this time.

In the first meeting, really, if the Bears hadn’t gifted the Vikings the ball at midfield with two fumbles on back-to-back drives, the Vikings would’ve had to try harder than salting the game away with Dalvin Cook and 87 Kirk Cousins passing yards.

Key stats

  • The Bears have held two of their last three opponents to less than 100 net yards passing (-10 to the Giants, 61 to the Vikings)
  • The Vikings have surrendered the eighth most rushing yards to opposing quarterbacks
  • Minnesota is tied with several other teams with 28 passing touchdowns allowed, third most in the league
  • Teams have converted a league-high four 2-point conversion passes against the Vikings
  • Minnesota’s defense has allowed the most yards to wide receivers of any team in the league and the third-most touchdowns
  • The Bears have the highest sack percentage in the league, although they are slightly behind the Steelers and Rams in total sacks

With a win Sunday, Matt Nagy’s .538 win percentage would be the third-highest in the post-George Halas (1963) era and be tied with Dick Jauron in wins with 35. His one losing season would be the fewest by a fired head coach in team history (Jack Pardee quit in 1977 to become Washington’s coach and Luke Johnsos and Hunk Anderson were interim coaches during WWII)

In what could be their last games, which head coach will go out with a win?