The Vikings and Bears will play against each other for the 97th time in their series history on Sunday at Mall of America Field, a place where the Vikings have won 14 of their last 20 games against Chicago and 11 of their last 13 overall. In an odd scheduling scenario, the Vikings will be playing Chicago for the 1st time this season after having already finished their season series with Detroit and Green Bay.
Sunday’s game represents an opportunity for the Vikings to move one step closer to securing a playoff bid and it also serves as an elimination game for the Bears. Minnesota comes in with a 9-1 record and an eye on improving playoff position, while the Bears enter with a disappointing 4-6 record and hopes of just staying alive.
The predominant storyline in this matchup all week will be the QB position, where Brett Favre is having an MVP-caliber season with the Vikings and Jay Cutler, acquired by the Bears from the Broncos via a blockbuster trade, is having a disappointing season under center in the Windy City.
When Cutler’s relationship with the Broncos soured, he was rumored to be traded to several destinations, Minnesota included. Ultimately, it was the Bears who were willing to trade away what Denver was requiring for Cutler’s services. The Vikings, meanwhile, continued on through their offseason and eventually landed Favre during the preseason. Cutler is struggling in Chicago and has thrown 18 INTs already; Favre has a 21-3 TD-INT ratio and has the Vikings on pace for their 2nd consecutive NFC North title.
But there are also other angles on this game; here are a few to consider:
– Vikings CB Antoine Winfield is poised to return from a foot injury he suffered in Week 6. His return will strengthen a Vikings defense that continues to improve against both the run and the pass. After holding the Seahawks to just 4 yards rushing last week, the Vikings defense now ranks 3rd against the run.
– Vikings WR Bernard Berrian enjoyed playing his former team last season and with Favre under center he has a chance to improve his already impressive numbers against Chicago. Drafted by the Bears in 2004, Berrian bolted Chicago during the 2008 offseason and signed a free agent contract in Minnesota. In 2 games against his former team last season, Berrian quickly reminded the Bears of why he commanded so much attention as a free agent. His line in those 2 games last year: 10 receptions for 203 yards and 2 TDs.
– A crucial matchup in this game will be the Vikings defensive line against the Bears offensive line. Chicago has had trouble protecting Cutler this season, which has led to offensive inefficiency and plenty of INTs. The Vikings, meanwhile, lead the league in sacks with 36 and are benefiting from not only a talented 4-some of starting linemen but also a deep rotation of reserves.
– Injuries have added up for the Bears. Middle LB Brian Urlacher was lost for the season in Week 1 to a wrist injury and fellow starting LB Pisa Tinoisamoa is also out with an injury. That leaves the talented Lance Briggs to man the LB corps.
– Along with the line of scrimmage, another area of big advantage for the Vikings in this week’s matchup is in the red zone. Offensively, Chicago is 27th in red zone TD efficiency (42.5%) while the Vikings score TDs 59.5% of the time they reach the red zone (7th in the NFL). Defensively, the Bears are 30th in red zone scoring while the Vikings rank 2nd. In the last 2 games the Bears have played in prime time, the broadcast team has hammered on the struggles Cutler has had with red zone passing/INTs. Chicago is tied for the 2nd-most red zone giveaways with 6, and 5 of those giveaways have been INTs.
– A QBs best friend is a good running game because it keeps the defense off-balance and it usually results in manageable 2nd and 3rd down situations. A great example of this relationship is the Vikings, where RB Adrian Peterson is 3rd in the NFL in rushing and that has allowed Favre to take advantage of mismatches in the passing game. The Bears have not enjoyed that advantage. Chicago ranks 28th in the NFL in rushing offense, in spite of the presence of the talented Matt Forte, and they are last in the NFL in 1st down rushing, averaging just 2.83 yards per carry. That has put Cutler in compromising situations, likely a factor in his high INT total.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Antoine Winfield
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