A pair of appropriate coincidences will be in play on Monday night as the Vikings host the Chicago Bears. Monday night will be the Vikings last home game of the 50th season in franchise history and it’s against the same team they faced in the first regular season game in franchise history. In addition to that, the Vikings will play a home game in the outdoors for the first time in 29 years to the day of their last outdoor home game – the last game at Met Stadium on December 20, 1981 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The collapse of the roof at Mall of America Field has forced the NFL and the Vikings to move Monday night’s game to TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota. As a result, the Vikings and Bears will be forced to deal with the elements – temperatures are expected to be right around 10 degrees with a windchill making it feel sub-zero.
While the temperatures will be well below freezing for Monday night’s game, the playoff race has heated up for the Bears. They enter the game coming off an embarrassing loss at home to the New England Patriots. In a snowstorm, the Patriots pasted Chicago by a 36-7 count. But the Bears still have a nice 9-4 record, are 1 game ahead of the Green Bay Packers and may be able to put even more distance in the NFC North standings depending on how Green Bay fares on Sunday at New England. The Patriots are heavy favorites in that game and if things fall the way they should, Chicago will have a chance to put the nail in the coffin of the 2010 NFC North race.
In order to do that, though, the Bears will have to march into TCF Bank Stadium and earn a victory. While the Vikings won’t have the benefit of their usual home stadium – Mall of America Field – they will still have the advantage of their home fans. I anticipate a packed house at TCF Stadium and a giddy crowd that will be excited to see outdoor football again, on the same night the team will recognize 50 years of great history by honoring the 50 Greatest Vikings.
The heart and soul of this year’s Bears team is their defense, which is the 3rd-ranked scoring defense and 8th-ranked defense overall. Chicago tends to give up a few yards through the air – they’re ranked 18th in pass defense – but they are dominant against the run, yielding just 87.9 yards per game, ranked 2nd in the league. DE Julius Peppers anchors a defensive line that is playing well, but the key to this defense is the LBs. When middle LB Brian Urlacher and OLB Lance Briggs are on the field together, this defense is really good. And they’ve been on the field together a lot this year. Urlacher is the steady hand that guides this group and Briggs is a legitimate playmaking LB that is equally good against the run and the pass.
Offensively, the Bears are a bit unimpressive to be honest. They had trouble protecting QB Jay Cutler earlier in the year, but offensive line coach Mike Tice has gotten that fixed. Also, Chicago has gone away from a wide array of offensive sets and formations and they’ve become more of a “meat and potatoes” group. The running game is paced by Matt Forte, with Chester Taylor as the complementary back, and the passing game features speedy WRs such as Devin Hester and Johnny Knox. TE Greg Olsen has also become more of a factor this year and he’s able to use his size to be a reliable target on 3rd downs and in the red zone.
Ultimately, though, this offense boils down to Cutler. If he plays well or even just okay, the Bears can win with a great performance by their defense. If Cutler struggles, though, Chicago can fall apart at the seams. A season ago, Cutler had an atrocious 27-26 TD/INT ratio. This year it’s a little better – 17/12 – but the former 1st-round pick has still shown a tendency to get wild. He had a 4-INT game at home against Washington in Week 7 and he’s had 2 other multi-INT games in the past 5 weeks. And while the offensive line has fixed some protection issues, Cutler was sacked twice last week in the loss to New England and 8 times in the 2 weeks prior to that game.
It all sets up for an interesting game on Monday night, as the Vikings play an outdoor game for the first time in 29 years in front of some of the greatest Vikings to ever lace ‘em up. And it’s all on Monday Night Football
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