The Bears versus Vikings matchup on Monday night will be a chilly one, as the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium hosts the first outdoor Vikings game in 30 years.
But there’s much, much more to this game than just its setting. OK, maybe there’s not, but here are 10 things I came up with, anyway.
Mr. Webb, Please Step Forward
With Brett Favre and Tavaris Jackson on the mend, rookie Joe Webb will get his first career start against the Bears. Webb, a sixth-round pick from UAB, has thrown all of five passes in the NFL, so how will Leslie Frazier tailor the game plan to suit his quarterback’s inexperience?
Will the Vikings simply lean on Adrian Peterson? Or will Webb, who is suffering from a minor hamstring injury, be entrusted to make plays through the frigid air and against the Bears’ so-so pass defense?
Exactly Who Would Replace Webb?
As of Sunday, Webb was listed as probable for Monday night, but seeing that their quarterbacks have been dropping like flies lately, a backup plan should be in place. But with Favre and Jackson physically unable to play, who becomes that plan?
None other than Patrick Ramsey, who the Vikings signed last week as an insurance policy. If Webb’s gimpy hamstring doesn’t hold up well in the cold weather, how soon will the Vikings turn to Ramsey, who hasn’t taken an NFL snap since 2008?
Is This a Must-Win for the Bears?
Yes. With Green Bay losing at New England on Sunday, the Bears have a bit of breathing room but not much. Though the NFC North standings would remain unchanged from last week, a Bears loss in Minnesota not only keeps hopes in Green Bay alive, it lowers Chicago’s record in conference games to 7-4, which could ultimately spell doom if the bottom falls out and the Bears are left fighting New York for the No. 6 seed.
A win on Monday night likely erases such a scenario. Then, not only does the season finale in Green Bay look a little less harrowing, but the Bears will remain within striking distance of Philadelphia for the NFC’s No. 2 seed.
Football In Minnesota Returns Outdoors
It’s been 29 years to the date since the Vikings last played a home game outdoors. On Dec. 20, 1981, Minnesota dropped a 10-6 decision to the Chiefs to close out old Metropolitan Stadium, which served as the home of the Vikings for 21 seasons before giving way to the Metrodome.
After being spectators in climate-controlled luxury for nearly three decades, how will the Minnesota faithful respond to the conditions? Some of the old-school, Bud Grant diehards probably relish watching football the way it was meant to be played. But what about some of these new-age “fans” that attend the game only to spend all four quarters talking on their iPhones and sipping Cosmopolitans?
How Much of Adrian Peterson Will Be Available?
As of Saturday, Peterson was listed as “questionable,” which in NFL terms means there’s a 50/50 chance he’ll play. The eighth-leading rusher in the league, Peterson was limited in practice during the week with a multitude of minor injuries, including a sore ankle and a thigh bruise.
At this point, the best the Vikings can do is spoil the Bears’ playoff chances, which should be enough to get Peterson on the field. But how effective will he be, especially when those joints and muscles begin to tighten up in the cold weather?
Can Cutler Recover?
Statistically speaking, Jay Cutler had his worst outing of the season last week against New England, completing only 46 percent of his passes for 152 yards and two interceptions. In order to get out of Minnesota with a win, the Bears will need the Cutler that showed up during the team’s five-game winning streak.
Over that span, Cutler completed 65 percent of his passes and threw for 1.062 yards, 10 touchdowns and only three picks.
How Annoying Will Ron Jaworski Be by the Second Quarter?
Not that Mike Tirico is a pleasure to listen to, but Jaworski is on a whole other level. If it was my call, I’d let Jon Gruden split play-by-play and color commentary duties amongst himself.
The only bad thing about Monday’s night game moving outdoors is that it will turn some kind of nostalgia switch inside Jaworski’s brain. If you bother, go ahead and count prior to the end of the first quarter how many times he includes the phrase “football the way it oughta be” or “good, ‘ol-fashioned football in the cold.” It will be enough to make you wish Dennis Miller was back on MNF.
“What, No Booze?”
Yeah, life’s rough, particularly when you’re shivering your backside off and can’t even get a little Jack Daniels to help free up some blood flow. What’s a begrudgingly sober Vikings fan to do on Monday night at TCF Bank Stadium?
Well, creativity is key. And when I say “creativity,” I mean partaking in adult beverages during the pregame festivities. Or, if you’re feeling frisky enough to risk getting tossed out of the game, you can take advantage of local liquor stores, which seem to meeting increased demand head-on by ordering an inordinate amount of those mini bottles you find on airplanes.
Will the Field Even Be Playable?
According to Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, no, it won’t. But who’s gonna listen to a guy who will spend a majority of his team’s 65 or so snaps bundled up on the sideline?
After Minnesota conducted a walkthrough of the playing surface on Sunday, Kluwe took to Twitter to express his disdain, writing that the field was “as hard as concrete” and that the safety-obsessed NFL is “beyond hypocritical” in expecting the Vikings and Bears to play under such conditions.
Here’s to hoping Kluwe isn’t forced to make a tackle on a return and stubs his toe in the process.
Is This Brett Favre’s Final Home Game as a Viking?
Your guess is as good as mine. Soon after the Vikings finish the season out with consecutive road games, Favre is scheduled to undergo surgery on his ankle and shoulder, so he’ll have plenty of time to flip-flop decisions on his future before training camp arrives.
But, making the safe assumption Favre returns for a 21st season, who will he play for in 2011?
The Vikings could very well draft a quarterback in the early rounds of the draft, and at some point they have to give youth a shot under center, whether that player is Tavaris Jackson, Joe Webb or someone else. If not Minnesota, then a number of teams could use his services.