The Chicago Bears have only one win since November 4th, a 1-3 stretch that has cost them a comfortable lead in the division. Fortunately, the one team they did beat during that span––the Minnesota Vikings––are next on their schedule, and could provide a well-timed remedy.
The teams met just two weeks ago, Chicago winning comfortably in Jay Cutler's return to the lineup. But after a disconcerting loss to the Seahawks last weekend, questions are popping up around the Windy City once again. A win here would serve them well with the media, and also set up an NFC North-deciding matchup with the Packers in Week 15.
But a win this week is far from a sure thing.
The Vikings have faltered since opening 4-1, losing five of seven, and currently sit at an even 6-6. But still, they've shown flashes of competitiveness. In the uber-parity-stricken NFC, they still have plenty of incentive to perform. They're also 5-1 at home this season, the lone loss coming on a short week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Let's take a closer look at how it might play out:
When: Sunday, Dec. 9th, 1:00 p.m. EST
Where: Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis, Minn.
TV: FOX (check local listings)
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Spread: Chicago -3 (via VegasInsider.com – LVH)
This is a matchup between two of the league's coldest teams––at least in terms of wagering purposes. The Bears are 2-5 ATS in their last seven games, while the Vikings are 1-5-1.
So unless the Bears win by exactly three this weekend, something's gotta give.
Chicago has actually covered, and outright won, its last three road games that Jay Cutler has started. The capricious quarterback has shown newfound poise away from home this year––a big reason for the Bears' early-season success.
And even though the Vikes have been good at home, I can't shake the images in my head of the beatdown they received in Chicago.
Take the Bears to cover.
Over/Under: 39.0 (via VegasInsider.com – LVH)
According to Football Outsiders, Chicago has the 28th-ranked weighted offense DVOA in the league. That puts them behind the likes of Cleveland, Tennessee and Oakland. Minnesota's offense is nothing to write home about, either: They rank 20th in the same metric.
Throw in the fact that Chicago also has Football Outsiders' top-ranked defense, and you start to understand how Minnesota only put up ten points in their first meeting.
The absence of Brian Urlacher and Tim Jennings scares me a bit, but the Bears defense is tenacious enough to compensate. This'll be an old-school, low-scoring, NFC North football game.
Bet the under.
Chicago Bears Injury Report (via USA Today – as of 12/6/12)
|T Gabe Carimi||Hamstring||Questionable|
|DT Stephen Paea||Foot||Questionable|
|G Chris Spencer||Knee||Questionable|
|WR Devin Hester||Concussion||Questionable|
|DT Matt Toeaina||Calf||Questionable|
|WR Earl Bennett||Concussion||Doubtful|
|CB Tim Jennings||Shoulder||Doubtful|
|LB Brian Urlacher||Hamstring||Out Indefinitely|
Minnesota Vikings Injury Report (via USA Today – as of 12/6/12)
|CB Antoine Winfield||Knee||Probable|
|TE Kyle Rudolph||Shoulder||Probable|
|LB Jasper Brinkley||Shoulder||Questionable|
|T Phil Loadholt||Knee||Questionable|
Fantasy Big Plays
Chicago Bears: WR Brandon Marshall
The Vikings did a good job keeping Marshall from hitting second gear in the teams' first meeting. Even though he hauled in 12 passes, he "only" had 92 yards. That marked the first and only time this season he's averaged less than ten yards per reception.
But in the passing-friendly, element-free confines of the Metrodome, Marshall could be in for an even better game this weekend.
The Bears have only played indoors once this season, all the way back in Week 4 against Dallas. In that game––against a much more talented secondary (at least on paper)––Marshall had eight catches, 138 yards and a touchdown.
Those numbers should give an indication of his stat line this weekend.
Minnesota Vikings: RB Adrian Peterson
After a devastating knee injury, Peterson's return to form this year has been nothing short of miraculous. If he can lead the Vikings past the Bears and into the NFC playoffs, divine intervention might actually be the best explanation.
He acclimated himself well in the teams' first meeting, racking up 108 yards on 18 carries. And that was with Brian Urlacher in the lineup.
The absence of the Bears' defensive captain leaves a massive hole in the middle of the defense––one that Peterson is tailor-made to exploit. It's not the boldest prediction I've ever made, but look for the league's best back to have another massive game.
Key to Victory
Neither QB inspired awe in their Week 12 meeting, but Cutler at least gave his team a chance. Christian Ponder, on the other hand, finished with 159 yards on 43 pass attempts.
That's a measly 3.7 yards per pass.
Let's call it how we see it: Both teams stink at throwing the football. In fact, if you measure by yards per game, they are literally the two worst passing offenses in the NFL.
Inside the passing-friendly confines of a dome, this one could come back to which quarterback plays less badly. Or, more specifically, which one doesn't throw their team out of the football game (something both of them, particularly Cutler, have a proclivity for doing now and again).
If one QB steps up, manages the game, and makes smart decisions––especially on third down––it could be the difference between winning and losing.
Both teams are in desperate need of a victory.
Minnesota can kiss the postseason goodbye if it drops to 6-7––especially considering how tough their remaining schedule is. Chicago, meanwhile, could find themselves tied with Seattle by the end of the day. That's a harrowing thought with Dallas and red-hot Washington breathing down their neck.
In the end, I think Cutler outplays Ponder, the Bears' D outplays Minnesota's D, and J'Marcus Webb outplays Matt Kalil.
(Alright...I was kidding about that last one. But you see where I'm going).
Predicted Score: Chicago 24, Minnesota 13