Points on the Purple: Vikings already in playoff mode
LIMBECK: Well Captain Purple, are you psyched for the NFL playoffs? It’s actually the final week of the regular season, but for the Vikings, they are basically in playoff mode. At least that’s the mindset the team needs to have as it hosts the Chicago Bears on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. It’s pretty simple for the Vikings, beat the Bears and they make the playoffs as a wide card. Lose and they almost certainly end the season with their tales between their legs.
FELDMAN: Which Vikings team will show up, Helmet Hair? The one that blasted a Miami team that still had playoff aspirations two weeks ago? The one that looked stale and couldn’t get a first down for more than a quarter at Detroit last week? Or the team that showed up in the second half and put the Purple in position to make the playoffs again? Our favorite club plays much better at home, so that — and the fact that they could still get into the postseason with a loss — bodes well for the Vikings.
LIMBECK: The Vikings could also earn a playoff berth if the Philadelphia Eagles lose or tie. But the Eagles are playing quarterback-depleted Washington. Although that is a division rivalry game, the Eagles are unlikely to lose. The Vikings are also facing a division rival in the Bears. But a big advantage for the Vikings here has to be the fact that they are playing at home. The Vikings have played much better at home, where they are 5-2. The Vikings have also won six straight at home against the Bears. What are the keys for the Vikings in this contest?
FELDMAN: It starts, as always, on defense. The Vikings have allowed just two quarterbacks to top 200 passing yards in the past nine games and one of them, Arizona’s Josh Rosen, barely topped it (208 yards). That means, if the Vikings can keep the Bears running game in check, the Vikings’ offense could deliver a playoff spot if it takes care of the ball. That means Kirk Cousins making smart decisions and Dan Bailey making his kicks. I’ll hold my breath on both of those things.
LIMBECK: The Bears are 11-4 and still have a shot at a No. 2 seed in the NFC, which is huge. The top two teams get a first-round bye. The Bears need a win and a loss by the Los Angeles Rams. If the Bears see the Rams get off to a good start, Chicago coach Matt Nagy could be tempted to pull some of his starters. And a good start by the Vikings could also play into that decision by the Chicago coaching staff.
FELDMAN: Chicago certainly isn’t worried about helping Philadelphia get into the playoffs, and if the U.S. Bank Stadium crowd is into the game and the Vikings start strong, it could change the Bears’ game plan in a hurry. That said, the Vikings HAVE to start strong. It can’t be chaos on offense like it was a week ago in Detroit. The Vikings can get away with a bad 25 minutes against the Lions. They won’t be able to get away with that if they make the playoffs. And they may not be able to get away with it this weekend, either.
LIMBECK: The Vikings have a few injuries, especially on defense. But good Kirk Cousins definitely needs to show up for this game. The Bears, with their elite defense, have been very opportunistic. The offense thrives on a short field after the defense forces a turnover. Cousins can not afford multiple turnovers in this game. In fact, one might be too many. The Vikings haven’t been great at forcing turnovers, but Bears QB Mitch Trubisky is bound to throw a dangerous pass or two, so the Minnesota defense should have a chance to make a big play.
FELDMAN: Fortunately for the Vikings, the players who are behind the injured players on the depth chart have improved dramatically in the second half of the season. Mackenzie Alexander has been — statistically — one of the best players on the team in recent weeks, and linebacker Eric Wilson has not only been solid, he has made big plays in key situations. Minnesota’s pass rush is the key, though. Pressure Trubisky from the get-go and it will lead to success, and likely a playoff spot.
LIMBECK: The Bears defense has given up yardage and points, especially on the road. Unless they have some help, I don’t think it’s likely the Bears offense will put up many points. This time the win-and-in Vikings get the job done: Vikings 19, Bears 13.
FELDMAN: Agreed. The Rams will start strong against the Niners and the Bears won’t have any reason to risk injuries. They’ll look ahead to next week when the Vikings will head to Solider Field for the second time this season. As for this weekend, Minnesota’s offense will protect the ball well enough to win, and the defense will be its usual self at home: Vikings 23, Bears 17.