Who has edge in Bears-Vikings rematch?
The 8-6-1 Vikings will claim the final wild-card spot in the playoffs with a victory at home over the 11-4 Bears.
They could lose and still get in, if the 8-7 Eagles lose at Washington or tie. Coach Mike Zimmer’s team could move up to the No. 5 seed with a win over the Bears and a Seahawks loss to the Cardinals.
The Bears are guaranteed to be no lower than the No. 3 seed but can move up to No. 2 and a first-round bye if they defeat the Vikings and the Rams lose at home to the 4-11 49ers.
Six weeks ago, in a Sunday night meeting, the Bears solidified their spot atop the NFC North with a 25-20 victory over the Vikings at Soldier Field.
The Vikings were a popular Super Bowl pick heading into the season, but they won just once in four September games. They currently have a modest two-game win streak but before that lost four of six, although all four losses were against playoff teams. In their latest victory, the Vikings started slowly against the Lions but coasted to a 27-9 decision.
The Bears have won eight of their last nine games but, not counting the victory over the Vikings on Nov. 18, only one of those wins was against a playoff team. They struggled last week in Santa Clara, Calif., but managed to hold off the 49ers, 14-9, thanks to another stellar performance by the defense.
Like the Bears, the Vikings have struggled at times offensively, but their defense is No. 3 in total yards allowed, one spot ahead of the Bears. The Vikings are No. 4 in total yards allowed per play, while the Bears are No. 2.
Bears rushing offense vs. Vikings run defense
Bears coach Matt Nagy has been criticized for not running the ball enough, but the fact is the Bears have run the ball 107 more times than their opponents (431-324). The problem is that they haven’t run very effectively, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry if you subtract QB Mitch Trubisky’s 405 yards on 65 attempts (6.2-yard average).
The Vikings are stout up front with DTs Sheldon Richardson and Linval Joseph. MLB Eric Kendricks, who signed a five-year, $50-million contract extension in the off-season, is the leading tackler with 108, but he missed Week 16 with a hamstring injury. He was replaced last week by Eric Wilson, who had nine tackles, including three for negative yardage.
Bears passing offense vs. Vikings pass defense
Trubisky was unimpressive in the first meeting (61.9 passer rating), when he suffered a right shoulder injury on a late hit from Vikings S Harrison Smith, which caused him to miss the next two games. But Trubisky has played well in the past two weeks as a game manager, throwing three TD passes and no interceptions, completing 45 of 57 passes (79.0 percent) for 481 yards. WR Allen Robinson has been the Bears’ top weapon recently, and he had six catches for 85 yards last week but was dinged up when he made a diving 43-yard reception, although he finished the game. Rookie WR Anthony Miller re-emerged last week with a four-yard TD catch, his team-best seventh on just 33 receptions.
The Vikings are No. 3 in passing yards allowed and No. 4 in average gain allowed per pass. The Vikings lead the NFL in sack percentage, and DE Danielle Hunter is tied for third in the NFL with 14.5 sacks. Getting DE Everson Griffen back has given the Vikings a deeper and more talented D-line rotation, and he’s second on the team with 5.5 sacks.
Smith leads the team with three interceptions to go with his three sacks, and he’s second with 78 tackles. SLB Anthony Barr started slowly because of a hamstring injury but was voted to his fourth straight Pro Bowl and has been used more as a pass rusher (three sacks) recently than in coverage.
Vikings rushing offense game vs. Bears run defense
Since returning from a hamstring injury, Dalvin Cook has provided a more explosive element in the run game, averaging 4.7 yards per carry, but the Vikings remain 30th in rushing yards with just 95.3 per game. Latavius Murray was solid but unspectacular filling in for Cook, averaging 4.1 yards per carry.
A big part of the Bears’ defensive success has been the ability to shut down the run game and make opposing offenses one-dimensional. They’ve held an opponent under 100 rushing yards 11 times and won 10 of those games, including the first Vikings game, when they permitted just 22 yards on the ground and 1.8 yards per rush.
DL Akiem Hicks and NT Eddie Goldman are difficult to move at the point of attack, and rookie Roquan Smith and veteran Danny Trevathan (combined 215 tackles) form arguably the best ILB tandem in the NFL, especially vs. the run.
Vikings passing offense vs. Bears pass defense
TE Kyle Rudolph is coming off a career day vs. the Lions (nine catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns) and gives QB Kirk Cousins a reliable third option behind WRs Adam Thielen (110 catches, 1,335 yards, a 12.1-yard average and nine touchdowns) and Stefon Diggs (94, 974, 10.4, 8). Rudolph had been an afterthought in recent games, but he has produced another solid season (60, 615, 10.3, 4) and remains a red-zone threat. The September pickup of WR Aldrick Robinson has given the Vikings another deep threat. On just 23 targets and 17 catches, Robinson has five touchdowns. The Vikings are 10th in passing yards and Cousins’ 100.8 passer rating is eighth in the league.
The Bears lead the NFL with 27 interceptions, and CB Kyle Fuller is tied for the NFL lead with seven. Six different Bears have at least two interceptions, and four players – S Eddie Jackson, CB Prince Amukamara, OLB Khalil Mack and OLB Leonard Floyd – have pick-6s. Jackson has scored twice on interceptions and once on a fumble recovery, but he’s likely to be questionable after suffering a sprained ankle in Week 15 and sitting out last week. It was Jackson’s pick-6 that sealed the Bears’ victory in the first meeting. The Bears sacked 49ers QB Nick Mullens just once last week but hurried him on multiple occasions, and DE Akiem Hicks batted down three passes. Mack has 12.5 sacks and six forced fumbles.
PK Cody Parkey missed a 37-yard FG attempt last week and has made just 22 of 29 (75.9 percent) this year while also missing two extra-point attempts. Tarik Cohen made the Pro Bowl on the strength of his 13.3-yard punt-return average, which is fourth in the NFL.
Marcus Sherels is fifth in the league with a 12.0-yard punt-return average. The Vikings are No. 7 in kickoff-return average and have gotten a boost from Ameer Abdullah after rookie Mike Hughes went on I.R. The once-great Dan Bailey is no longer very good, having missed nine times on 29 FG attempts.
Zimmer’s defense hasn’t been the problem with the Vikings’ disappointing season, but his seat will heat up if they fall flat this week.
The Bears have exceeded all expectations under Matt Nagy, who has had them prepared for almost every scenario this season. It remains to be seen how he will handle Sunday’s situation.
Sunday’s overall edge
The assumption is that the Bears will play all their healthy starters, unless or until the Rams, who kick off at the same time, build a big lead over the 49ers, since an L.A. win would give the Bears no chance to improve their seeding.