As the Chicago Bears (5-3) come off a big win against Buffalo last week, they have arguably their biggest game since week three of this season when they defeated Green Bay at home. The Minnesota Vikings (3-5) rallied for a big win against Arizona at home last week. That win potentially saved their season and has given them every reason to believe they can still make a run at the playoffs.
With a win, both teams could improve their playoff chances by a respective margin. The Bears can take the NFC North division lead by taking down the Vikings. Meanwhile, Minnesota can put its name back into the NFC playoff race.
Both teams have had their struggles this season. As one of the favorites to win the NFC and the Super Bowl, the Vikings have struggled early. Amidst the Brett Favre allegations, rumors that the players want coach Childress fired, and the release of fan favorite Randy Moss, the Vikings have held their own. This team looked dead in the water after a loss to the New England Patriots in week eight. Now the team finds themselves just a win away from being in the NFC playoff race.
The Bears, on the other hand, have seen their share of highs and lows. After a promising 3-0 start and giving the fan base something to be excited about, the Bears laid an egg by losing three of their next four games. Then came the criticism for their quarterback and coaching staff. Chicago needs to be happy they survived the Buffalo Bills last week. If they were to lose that game, all hell would have broken loose in Chicago.
Who will win the NFC North Showdown
Sunday's game is going to be a tale of two quarterbacks. Which signal caller can lead their team to victory and which one will be on the losing end?
Jay Cutler comes into the game with a bit of confidence, as he played fairly well against Buffalo. He showed off his mobility as a quarterback, running for a few first downs as the pocket held up. Cutler isn't the only one riding some confidence this week. The Bears offensive line only allowed one sack against Buffalo, and hopes to have turned the disaster they were earlier in the year into a decent enough line to protect Cutler.
In his brief time in Chicago, Cutler has showed us both how good he can be, and how badly he can struggle. Against the Vikings at home on Monday Night Football last season, Cutler led the Bears to an overtime win. He connected with Devin Aromashodu in overtime to electrify th Soldier Field crowd and send them home happy.
He now has a chance to win back some faith from the fans. He just needs to play smart and take his chances downfield. Don't force anything and play a solid game. It will all come together, and so will first place in the NFC North.
Chicago needs to establish a steady run game early on to take some pressure off Cutler. Easier said than done though, as Minnesota boasts the league's seventh ranked rush defense.
With Minnesota's defensive line having the ability to cause problems, I don't expect the Bears to "come off the bus running". Using screens, play-action, and draws can help them keep Minnesota off balance.
The Bears have shown an impressive defensive line as well. Feeding off Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije has shown he can be the playmaker opposite Peppers that the Bears need.
Chicago needs to get good push up front from their line, and make the Minnesota offense get off track early.
The Bears defense faces a familiar foe on Sunday as Brett Favre comes back to Chicago.
Favre has struggled all season long. Last week, he rediscovered some of that magic he had early in his career, leading the Vikings back from two touchdowns down to win in overtime.
The Bears defense will need to be quick on their heels and pressure Favre early, much like they did at home against Favre last season. Don't let Favre establish a rhythm, or he will make you pay.
Chicago's defense has played well all season long, and Sunday will be another big test. Minnesota has an offense led by All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson, who has a history of burning the Bears on the ground. In six games against Chicago, Peterson has ran for eleven touchdowns.
There's no doubt in my mind the Bears defense knows what Peterson is capable of; they just have to stop him.
A matchup to look out for is going to be the Bears linebackers against Visanthe Shiancoe, who could pose a major matchup problem for the Bears defense. Urlacher will be on him most of the game, which will be an exciting matchup to follow.
The Vikings receivers don't match up well and won't pose a big threat to the Bears secondary, but Chicago still needs to bring their A game and seal up the Vikings passing game.
The Bears simply need to play well and smart in order to win this game. Good things will come, and the Bears just need those good things to come on Sunday. This is a big game for the Bears and I expect them to rise to the occasion. A chance for first place in the NFC North is something you can't let go by.
Three Keys to the Game
Tackle, tackle, tackle... The Bears will have their hands full with Adrian Peterson. Numerous times Peterson has ran all over the Bears defense and some of it was due to poor tackling. Make sure you have him wrapped up and bring him down.
Chester Taylor could be secret weapon X. Yes, Chester Taylor needs to get the ball more often. Whether it's the passing game or run game, Taylor can be a weapon that the Bears need to utilize. Let's see it against Minnesota.
Feed off of the home crowd. There's no doubt that Soldier Field will be rocking. The Bears need to feed off of that energy and play a hell of a game. Don't let Minnesota suck the life out of the place.
Prediction: Bears 19, Vikings 13