The Vikings enter this game with a 6-7 record, putting them a half-game back of the New Orleans Saints in the race for the No. 7 seed in the NFC. Of course, Washington and Philadelphia also have 6-7 records, and they play against each other on Tuesday night. The Bears are just 4-9 and likely don’t have a shot at making the playoffs, but you can bet they’d be happy to play spoiler against the Vikings.
Will Minnesota stay in the thick of the playoff race, or will the Bears deal a blow to their rival’s playoff hopes? We’ll find out soon enough. For now, let’s break down the matchup.
How to watch
When the Vikings have the ball
I was all ready to spend a significant portion of this section breaking down the matchup between two second-year stars.
Vikings wideout Justin Jefferson has solidified his status as one of the NFL‘s very best receivers, following up his record-setting rookie campaign with an even better sophomore season. He has 85 catches for 1,288 yards and eight touchdowns already this season, and leads all qualified skill players in yards per touch.
Meanwhile, Bears corner Jaylon Johnson is having a breakout year, using his size and length to stymie opposing wideouts all season. He went toe to toe with Davante Adams for much of last week’s game and lived to tell the story, and he would presumably have defended Jefferson on Monday night. But Johnson was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Sunday, so he will not play in this game. Chicago’s other cornerbacks leave much to be desired, opening things up for Jefferson to put together another terrific performance in a season full of them.
The Bears will have to count on their pass rush to put significant pressure on Kirk Cousins, such that he cannot get the ball down the field to Jefferson at all. Robert Quinn is having a monster season and has been on fire lately, with 7.5 sacks over the last four games. He primarily rushes off the right side of the defensive line, which will put him across from rookie tackle Christian Darrisaw, who is set to return for the Vikings in this game. That means Trevis Gipson will spend much of the night rushing across from Brian O’Neill.
Both players will have to be sure to keep their contain angles, as the Vikings love to run bootleg action off of their run game, setting Cousins up to deliver the ball to intermediate and deep areas of the field with rushers nowhere near him. Keeping him boxed into the pocket on those plays (as opposed to getting outside and having a clearer view of the receiver coming across the field) is important, as it makes the throw just a bit more difficult.
Minnesota will surely want to establish its ground game, especially after Dalvin Cook went off against the Steelers last week. Cook seems healthy following his shoulder injury, and his backup Alexander Mattison will miss this game on the COVID list. Chicago has not done a particularly good job stopping the run this season, but the Bears do have a strong interior defensive line that could conceivably win the matchup with Minnesota’s guards and center. If they can keep Cook bottled up, it would free them to get more aggressive trying to generate pressure on Cousins.
When the Bears have the ball
Justin Fields has not yet had much in the way of success throwing the ball.
Even last week against the Packers, his two touchdown passes came on a jet sweep touch pass and a choice route from a wide receiver out of the backfield, and they traveled a combined 3 yards downfield. Of the 100 yards the two plays gained combined, 97 of them came after the catch. And those two plays accounted for 100 of Fields’ 224 yards passing. That means he was otherwise 16 of 31 for 124 yards and two interceptions. Not great.
The Vikings have enough talent up front to overwhelm a Bears offensive line that has been sieve-like all season, and Mike Zimmer has enough creativity to frustrate Fields if and when they get into third-down situations. Fields is at his best as a downfield thrower, but he needs to have enough time to let his receivers get open beyond the sticks, and the offensive line often does not hold up for long enough to allow that to happen.
The Vikings may be better equipped than other opponents to deal with Fields in the run game as well, primarily due to the speed and athleticism of their linebackers. Eric Kendricks, Nick Vigil, and Anthony Barr are fast enough to not get outrun too badly to the perimeter. The best way to attack the Vikings’ defense with the run has actually been right up the middle. That might make this a game to lean on David Montgomery, but it’ll also mean that the interior of Chicago’s offensive line will have to step up and play at a high level. Given how this season has gone, that’s not necessarily something I think we can count on.
Latest Odds: Chicago Bears +6.5
Prediction: Vikings 23, Bears 13