The 6-5 Chicago Bears will roll into Minnesota needing a win to stay relevant in the NFC playoff discussion. The Vikings, out of contention at 2-8-1, now look for moral victories, and a win over a division rival would be just that. Below, check out five things you need to know about this NFC North matchup.
1. Vegas Says Bears by 2.5
Contrary to what records may indicate, oddsmakers predict this is going to be a close matchup—or at least they predict the betting public will see it that way. The early line favors the Bears by just 2.5 points on the road against the Vikings, via Vegas Insider.
The slim margin is probably not a surprise to most, though, as the Bears have been incapable of stopping the run in recent weeks and the Vikings boast the NFL’s most feared running back, Adrian Peterson.
In their previous matchup, Week 2 in Chicago, the Bears were favored by six. They didn't cover that mark, but they did pull off the win—in dramatic fashion. With 11 ticks left on the clock, Jay Cutler hit Martellus Bennett in the end zone for the go-ahead score.
2. Key Matchup: Adrian Peterson vs. Bears Run Defense
Watching film, Adrian Peterson is probably thinking Christmas came early. Over their past five games, the Bears have given up 197 rushing yards per game at 5.9 yards per carry.
Peterson ranks second in the NFL with 997 rushing yards on the season, but he’s still waiting for his breakout game. Only four times has he topped 100 yards this year. On Sunday, make no mistake, he won’t be gunning for 100. His sights will be on 200 or 250. Maybe even 300.
Don't doubt that Peterson isn't eyeing the single-game rushing record. This is a man who is no stranger to lofty goals. Before the season began, per TwinCities.com's Chris Tomasson, he said he was shooting for 2,500 yards. He has also said, per ESPN's Calvin Watkins, he hopes Emmitt Smith’s all-time record will one day be his. With his team out of playoff contention, Peterson might be thinking a career day against Chicago could salvage his season.
Of course the Bears know this. And defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will plan accordingly. He’ll stress it in practice, and come game time, he’ll go to battle with an eight-man front.
In other words, what they’ve already been doing. And that’s the problem.
The Bears know they have a major issue stopping the run. They just can’t seem to fix it. If their woes continue Sunday, it’s going to be a long day for the orange and blue.
3. Cutler Is Out
According to John Breech of CBS Sports, Jay Cutler won’t play Week 13. Breech wrote:
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is expected to miss his third game in a row on Sunday. Coach Marc Trestman announced on Monday that Cutler is unlikley to play this weekend against the Vikings. Cutler hasn't played since suffering a high-ankle sprain in a Week 10 loss to the Lions.
Cutler’s absence means the Bears will again put the ball in the hands of more-than-capable backup Josh McCown, who is 2-1 in his three starts this season. Going up against a weak passing defense, look for Marc Trestman to continue to call on McCown to put the ball in the air early and often.
4. Key Matchup: DE Brian Robison vs. RT Jordan Mills
Rookie right tackle Jordan Mills is going to have his hands full on Sunday facing off against defensive end Brian Robison. Against the St. Louis Rams, Mills gave up six QB pressures on 55 dropbacks. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), on the year he’s given up more pressures than any other offensive tackle in the league.
Robison, in the meantime, has disrupted opposing quarterbacks 65 times, second only to the Rams’ Robert Quinn—yeah, the guy who leapfrogged to the top of the list after camping out in the Bears backfield in Week 12.
Unlikely to stop Peterson on Sunday, the Bears are going to need their passing offense to click if they want to leave Minnesota with a win. McCown has been ninja-like avoiding pressure in the pocket thus far, but at some point, with enough pressure, he’s going to get rattled. Mills has to do his best to ensure it doesn’t happen against Minnesota.
5. Key Matchup: Bears Wide Receivers vs. Minnesota Secondary
The Bears have a decided advantage in the passing game on Sunday. Based on yardage (1,805), Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are the league’s most prolific receiving duo.
They’re facing the league’s fourth-worst pass defense; Minnesota gives up 282 yards per game. Without one starting cornerback (Josh Robinson—out 3-5 weeks with a broken sternum), look for Marshall and Jeffery to torch whoever Minnesota throws at them. From their cornerbacks to their safeties, the Vikings don’t have a lockdown cover man on the roster, so it should be a big day for the Bears through the air.