Here we are Vikings fans…week 17. After losing Dalvin Cook and Sam Bradford for the season, I’m not sure many would have suspected the team to be 12-3 and one game away from locking up the #2 seed in the NFC. Minnesota doesn’t have to rely on any other teams this week. They hold the key to their own destiny in the playoffs. A win against the Bears and we lock up the #2 seed.
The Chicago Bears obviously have nothing to play for as of right now. An injury tainted season has limited the team from reaching its full potential and they’re currently sitting at 5-10, likely finishing last in the NFC North for the second consecutive season. Nonetheless, …this game is a terrific test for rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky. This is the last chance we get to see the rookie for 9 months and he’s facing the #1 defense in the league, loaded with Pro Bowl quality players. Trubisky has played great this season, given the circumstances. He’s going through game by game without guys like WR Cameron Meredith, WR Kevin White, TE Zach Miller, and G Kyle Long who have all been placed on injured reserve this season. Not an ideal situation for a rookie QB.
Questions have been raised about whether or not Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer will be playing his starters or not this week. The Vikings haven’t locked up the #2 seed yet, so yes…the Vikings starters will play this week. Hopefully, the team can generate a sustainable lead so that the starters can rest. Like Coach Zimmer has already stated, if the Vikings win this week, it’s actually like winning two games in one. A win secures a 1st round bye in the NFC playoffs, which means the team will get two full weeks of rest. The injury report doesn’t tell the whole story because some guys are playing through injuries, but we do have guys like TE Kyle Rudolph, CB Xavier Rhodes, and C Pat Elflein who could really use an extra week of rest right now.
Here’s the NFC Playoff Picture with one week left to play:
- Philadelphia Eagles: 13-2 (Clinched)
- Minnesota Vikings: 12-3
- Los Angeles Rams: 11-4
- New Orleans Saints: 11-4
- Carolina Panthers: 11-4
- Atlanta Falcons: 9-6
In the Hunt: Seattle Seahawks: 9-6
Chicago Bears Offensive & Defensive Ranks
Total Offense: 30th Total Defense: 8th
Passing: 31st (176 YPG) Pass Defense: 8th
Rushing: 11th Rush Defense: 9th
Offensive Line: 18th Pass Rush Rank: 8th
3 Keys to Victory
- Make Chicago one-dimensional: The biggest key to victory won’t change from the previous time we played Chicago this season. The Bears have an excellent rushing attack and the biggest key to stonewalling their offense is preventing Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen from heating up. The Bears lost their best offensive lineman in Kyle Long a few weeks ago to a season-ending injury so the run game will surely take a hit. The Bears know the Vikings have an excellent rush defense so I don’t expect much from Jordan Howard in this game. Chicago will do what they can to get Tarik Cohen going early and often. Lots of shotgun sets and designed screens. Cohen’s speed, quickness, and shiftiness indoors is definitely something to keep your eye on.
- Stop playing conservatively on offense: Pat Shurmur will get no pat on the back from me. Don’t get me wrong he’s been great this season…at times. The Vikings offense is vastly improved from 2016, but I still feel a conservative offense has prevented them from reaching their peak potential. This is an offense Minnesota has run dating all the way back to Norv Turner’s first day with the Vikings. When the Vikings gain leads the offense plays tends to play conservatively. It usually looks something like a run on 1stdown; a run on 2nd down and a 2-3 yard dump off/screen on 3rd down. A conservative offense is supposed to limit turnovers… which is fine, but in a high-powered NFC class, this is something you can’t afford to do come playoffs. When you get a two-touchdown lead, you step on the Tigers neck and finish the job. Is this something the Vikings need to do this week? Not necessarily. But I think it’s great practice against an inferior Bears team.
- Fire up the Jet: Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon has had some of his best games against the Bears. In fact, nearly half of his career touchdowns have come against the Bears. The Bears have a stout run defense led by NT Akiem Hicks, so I don’t expect Latavius Murray to see the field as much as he has been. The Bears have also lost both starting outside linebackers (Leonard Floyd & Pernell McPhee) to season-ending injuries. Jerick McKinnon should have an easier time getting to the outside with those two guys out and I expect Pat Shurmur to split McKinnon out to create some mismatches. #21 should have another big game this week.
Scouting the Opponent with Jacob Infante
Jacob Infante of the “Windy City Gridiron” and “Draft Breakdown” was kind enough to answer some questions again for me, regarding the game this week as well as some insight on the Chicago Bears’ future with rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky and current Head Coach John Fox. You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @jacobinfante24.
- The Bears have had a numerous amount of injuries this season. Which one, do you believe had the biggest impact on the season? “That’s a tough question because there have been several injuries that have had a sizeable impact on the Bears. If I were to choose one, though, it would probably have to be Cameron Meredith’s torn ACL. He was the only player on the roster that remotely resembled a No. 1 wide receiver, so losing him so early in the season was crushing. It made a weak group of wideouts even weaker.”
- What’s the feeling like amongst Bears fans, regarding Head Coach John Fox? Does he deserve another chance considering how many injuries the team had this season? Or is it time to move on? “John Fox is gone, there’s no questioning that. He has had three years, which is a fair amount of time to evaluate a head coach’s tenure, to turn the Bears around and failed. It’s best for the future of the team to move on from him.”
- What do you expect from QB Mitchell Trubisky in season #2? “Truthfully, a lot of that depends on outside factors. The Bears need to bring in a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator, and some new talented wide receivers for Mitchell Trubisky to throw to. All of those things absolutely have to happen this offseason. If all of those things come to fruition, then I can see Trubisky having a much better season with a lot more opportunity to throw the ball. I expect him to work on his footwork, as that has been a bit of an issue so far this season.”
- Give me one matchup you’re looking forward to watching in this regular season finale? “I’m looking forward to seeing Kyle Fuller go up against Adam Thielen. Fuller is coming off of the best game of his career, allowing no receptions, having 6 pass deflections, and an interception. It will be interesting to see if he can keep up his stellar play against Thielen, who has been as consistent as they come this year for Minnesota.”
- Give me one Vikings prediction, one Bears prediction, and a final score prediction.
Jacob’s Vikings Prediction: I think Teddy Bridgewater will play the entirety of the second half. His contract is up at the end of this season, and the jury is still out on whether or not he can play well after his devastating knee injury back in August of last year. Minnesota should give him a chance to prove his worth.
Jacob’s Bears prediction: I expect that Jordan Howard will be held to less than 40 rushing yards. He did well against the Vikings back in October, but he has shown a tendency to disappear against top rushing defenses. It’s not always his fault, sure, but it’s not an encouraging statistic. Add in the fact that I see the Bears trailing early in this game, and I don’t see him having a great outing.
Jacob’s final score prediction: Six of Chicago’s 10 losses have come by 8 points or less. The Vikings probably won’t play their starters a whole lot, but I still expect this trend to continue. Vikings-21 Bears-13
Final Thoughts and Game Notes
It’s no secret that the Vikings struggle to get wins in Chicago. Likewise, the same trend is starting to occur for the Bears in Minnesota. The Bears haven’t won a game in Minnesota since 2011. I expect this trend to continue on for another year this week. Chicago has too many injuries and high-quality playoff teams like the Vikings don’t lose to inferior opponents with high stakes on the line (#2 seed in the NFC). Like Jacob already mentioned; the Bears have played a fair majority of close games this season and that’s due in part to a really good defense to keep their games close. I think if the Vikings have a lead of 10+ points entering the 3rd quarter, you’ll see Teddy Bridgewater and the Minnesota backups enter the field to finish off the regular season.
My Vikings prediction: Teddy Bridgewater scores a touchdown.
My Bears prediction: Tarik Cohen has 100+ all-purpose yards and a touchdown.
My final score prediction: Vikings-26 Bears-13
- The Vikings clinch the #2 seed in the NFC with a win/Falcons win/or Saints win.
- With one week left to play the Vikings currently have the #1 ranked defense in the NFL.
- Vikings QB Case Keenum needs 195 passing yards to pass Gary Cuozzo for 16th most passing yards in franchise history.
- RB Jerick McKinnon needs 16 receiving yards to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards for his career.
- TE Kyle Rudolph needs 28 receiving yards to pass Bill Brown for 12th most receiving yards in team history.
- WR Stefon Diggs needs 6 receptions to reach 200 for his career. If he does it this week, he’ll be the quickest Viking to ever do it (42 career games).
- Head Coach Mike Zimmer (38-25) needs a win on Sunday to tie Brad Childress (39-35) for 4th most wins in franchise history.
For all the latest Vikings news, stats, analysis, and breakdowns you can follow me on Twitter at @Purple_Post. #SKOL