Most pundits thought the Chicago Bears would be an improved football team this year, pushing towards .500. Most pundits thought the Minnesota Vikings would regress this year, falling back towards .500. I don’t think most NFL experts thought both these teams would be sitting at 1-4 after five games of the season but here we are.
This is a huge game for these two teams. The winner moves to 2-4 and keeps their season alive. But the loser that falls to 1-5, any hope to remain relevant this season is going to be a challenge moving forward. To help preview this critical game for both teams, we sat down with Christopher Gates from our sister site, The Daily Norseman, to get some answers.
1. I think just about everyone expected the Vikings to regress from their record last season, but I don’t think anyone expected this much. What has gone wrong with Minnesota this year?
The biggest issue with this team so far is that they really, really seem to enjoy handing the football over to the other team. They’ve already lost as many fumbles through five games as they lost all of last season, and they’ve shown a propensity for shooting themselves in the foot at the worst possible time with four turnovers in the red zone so far. When they’re not actively sabotaging themselves, they’ve been capable of some pretty good football, but the errors have been so frequent that it’s canceled out a lot of the positives we’ve seen so far. I think everyone understood that the Vikings were living a pretty charmed existence in 2022 and that some sort of regression was coming, but as you said, I don’t think anyone saw this much regression coming all at one time.
2. With the Vikings at 1-4 and Justin Jefferson on the injured list, it certainly seems like the Kirk Cousins era in Minnesota is coming to an end. What are the odds the Vikings convince Cousins to waive his no trade clause and fully embrace tanking for a rookie quarterback?
I’ve been of the belief that 2023 was going to be the end of the Kirk Cousins era for the Vikings. The moves that the front office made this offseason seemed to point everything in that direction, including not giving Cousins an extension, and the team’s current record feels like it’s given that idea some momentum. That said, I’d be pretty stunned if Cousins were to waive his no-trade clause for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t know if he’d waive the no-trade clause absent an extension from the team that he was going to, and I don’t know how many teams have that sort of cap space or a need at quarterback at this point. Second, if he’s heading to free agency again, there’s really no incentive for him to agree to change teams in midseason, go learn a new offense, and then get thrown out there for 6-7 weeks. Players generally need a really, really good reason to waive a no-trade clause, and I just don’t see any potential suitors for Cousins providing enough of those good reasons to get him to pull the trigger on it.
That said, I don’t know if the Vikings are necessarily going to have to “tank” for a quarterback because they’re just not very good in the first place.
3. With Justin Jefferson out, how do you suspect the Vikings offense can perform against a shaky Chicago Bears defense?
I think you’re going to see a shift to more two-tight end personnel with T.J. Hockenson and Josh Oliver rather than the three-wide sets the Vikings have come to prefer in the Kevin O’Connell era. Jefferson is one of those players that defenses have to do different things to account for, and obviously nobody on the roster can replace that at this point. I would expect rookie Jordan Addison to start getting more snaps, and he should have been getting more all along anyway, but now that he and K.J. Osborn are WR1 and WR2 (in whatever order you’d put them at this point), he’s going to get more opportunities. But the Vikings have two highly-paid players at the tight end position, and Jefferson’s absence will likely be the genesis for having them on the field together more frequently.
4. The Chicago Bears offense has been humming the last two games (34 points per game) thanks to the improved play from Justin Fields. How do you expect the Vikings defense to defend the Bears offense and can they do it well?
I would expect them to do what they’ve done in the first five weeks so far, which is blitz the hell out of the opposing quarterback and see if he and the offensive line can handle it. Brian Flores has called more blitzes than any other defensive coordinator in the league this year, which is a stark contrast to the soft shell defense that was employed by Ed Donatell last season. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but with the Bears’ offense starting to heat up a bit, I would expect them to try to get to Justin Fields quickly and force him to get rid of the ball sooner than he might like. With pretty much every running back on the Bears’ roster seemingly injured, I don’t think the Vikings will abandon run defense entirely, but I do think there will be a significantly larger emphasis on stopping the passing attack instead.
5. Is there a particular player prop on DraftKings that you like from a Vikings perspective? Who would be a good anytime touchdown scorer to roll the dice on?
The Vikings have scored zero rushing touchdowns through the first five games of this season. With the Vikings likely accentuating the run game more going forward in Justin Jefferson’s absence, this seems like as good a time as any for Alexander Mattison to finally find paydirt. He had a couple of touchdowns in the season finale in Chicago last year, and now that he’s officially the lead back in Minnesota I’m guessing he’ll get some opportunities in this one to get the ball into the end zone.
It should make for an interesting game on Sunday afternoon. Despite the game being in Chicago and Justin Jefferson being out, the Minnesota Vikings are still a 2.5 point favorite in the game.
If the Bears offense continues to play like it has, it’s going to be tough for Cousins and the Vikings to keep pace with them, but if Chicago regresses at all back to the first three weeks of the season, the Vikings will almost certainly be the better team on Sunday.
And as always, if you want to place a little wager on the game, DraftKings Sportsbook has you covered.