Three Things to watch, Prediction: Bears-Vikings
|Sunday, December 20, 2020, 9:00 AM- -|
With just three weeks left of the NFL regular season, the Chicago Bears are sitting at 6-7 and are on the outside looking in when it comes to the postseason picture. Despite that, Chicago occupies the No. 9 spot and is just one game behind Arizona for that final spot, so this team has an excellent chance to get in if they can take care of business.
Taking care of business will be crucial this week as the Bears face-off with the 6-7 Vikings, who are also on the outside looking in. Unlike the Bears, Minnesota has a win in hand against Chicago; therefore, they occupy the NFC's eight seed. Should Minnesota win, they would eliminate the Bears from playoff contention as the best they could do is 8-8.
For the Bears to make the postseason, they need to win outright and hope for some help along the way from Arizona. With games against Minnesota and Jacksonville the next two weeks, Chicago has a chance to put them in a great position, but that week 17 matchup with Green bay will loom large.
Without getting ahead of ourselves too much, here are three things to look for ahead of week 15.
Can Mitch keep it up: Since returning as the team's starting quarterback three weeks ago, Mitch Trubisky has looked great. If you watch him play, he may be playing the best football of his career right now, and the offense has looked much better. For Chicago to have any chance to make the postseason, that type of play needs to continue.
Trubisky is also riding a four-game winning streak against this Vikings team and is 4-2 against them as a starter, with his lone losses coming as a rookie in 2017. This is one of the teams that he tends to play very well against. Given the inconsistencies and the struggles the Vikings defense has had most of the season, Bill Lazor needs to get Trubisky out of the pocket and go after the Vikings' secondary.
I asked #Bears OC Bill Lazor about his and the staff’s rapport with Mitch Trubisky and about Trubisky’s assertiveness with his input in game plans and play calls. I thought he had a very interesting answer. pic.twitter.com/Oq9LJcrxPd— Adam Jahns (@adamjahns) December 17, 2020
Force the Vikings into kicking situations: We all know how good the Bears defense is, but up until last week, they went through a bit of a downturn. Despite the way things looked earlier this season, the Vikings boast one of the league's best offenses led by the NFC's leading rusher in Dalvin Cook and one of the best wide receiver duos.
There is no doubt this team can score points, but the last time these teams met, the Vikings managed to edge out a 19-13 win in a defensive battle. I tend to expect a similar game this week as both teams will be playing for their playoff lives. Despite how good the Bears defense is, Minnesota should be able to move the ball.
That is fine if Chicago can keep them out of the endzone and force Zimmer into field goal situations. Dan Bailey is not having a good season, and his last two weeks have seen him miss seven kicks. He single-handedly cost the Vikings a potential win against Tampa Bay, and his confidence level can't be great. The Bears need to put the game on his foot because if he misses another kick early, Minnesota is in trouble.
#Bears— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) December 14, 2020
CHI defense = 7 sacks vs. HOU
Get to a 4-Man rush here (Roquan Smith off the edge) — with Khalil Mack slanting inside.
Schemed pressure to create the 1-on-1 for Mack vs. the guard. @NFLMatchup pic.twitter.com/d43ELTUJ4y
Stop the Cook and Jefferson Combo: As mentioned above, the Vikings offense is led by the NFC's leading rusher in Cook, but they also have the best rookie WR in Justin Jefferson. For the most part, the Bears have done an exceptional job against Cook, even though he nearly topped 100 yards in the team's first meeting.
Many of those yards came in the fourth quarter after Akiem Hicks left with an injury, but Chicago did keep Cook out of the endzone, which is a tough enough task to do. On the other hand, Jefferson had a great first game against Chicago and tested both Jaylen Johnson and Kyle Fuller at times. He is undoubtedly proving to be the steal of this year's draft and has put himself in the rookie of the year conversation.
He is the one that opens things up in the passing game and seemingly does everything right. While Adam Thielen may be tied for the NFL lead in touchdown catches, Jefferson is their home run threat that gets everyone else involved. Chicago needs to do a better job of containing him this time to force Kirk Cousins to go to other options.
Most rushing yards after contact:— PFF (@PFF) December 19, 2020
1. Derrick Henry - 1,124
2. Dalvin Cook - 936
3. James Robinson - 729
4. Ronald Jones - 653 pic.twitter.com/fmtc37ycX3
Teams have done that well in recent weeks, but the Vikings have seen players like Irv Smith Jr, Chad Beebe, Bisi Johnson, and Tyler Conklin all step up when Jefferson's numbers aren't there. It will be curious to see what Chuck Pagano has in store this week to stop those two.
Prediction: No one expected the Bears to be in their situation, but here they are. With three weeks left to play and a 6-7 record, the playoffs started last week for Chicago as every game becomes a must-win. Phase one of that process saw Chicago impress 36-7, but this Vikings team is much better than Houston.
After starting the exact opposite of Chicago at 1-5, Minnesota has gone 5-2 in their seven games since. At one time may have been playing the best football in the NFC. The last three or four games have seen the Vikings struggle, and for some odd reason, they have struggled at home this year, going 3-4 through the first seven games.
With no fans in the seats, you can see the difference that makes the Vikings don't have the home-field advantage they typically would with a situation like this. I expect an extremely close and competitive game that will come down to special teams. Quite frankly, Bailey would be the once kicker I would have trusted a few years ago, but not this year.
I expect Cairo Santos and the Bears defense to come through late, with Bailey missing a kick in the final seconds to give Chicago a 23-20 win. That win would move them to 7-7 and could ultimately end Minnesota's postseason hopes.