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Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
When and Where: Sunday, Dec. 30, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn., 4:25 p.m. EST.
There will be plenty of scoreboard watching for the NFC North champion Chicago Bears, who need a victory over the Minnesota Vikings and some unlikely help from the San Francisco 49ers to claim a bye into the divisional round of the playoffs.
The Vikings have a far simpler playoff scenario: Win and they’re in as one of the two NFC wild cards. A loss, however, would turn Minnesota into scoreboard watchers as well as its fate would then be determined by the Washington-Philadelphia game.
Bears set for first playoff appearance since 2010
At worst, the Bears (11-4) will be the No. 3 seed for the playoffs by virtue of winning the NFC North for the first time in eight years. Chicago, though, could claim the No. 2 seed and a bye into the divisional round with a victory and a loss by the Los Angeles Rams to the 49ers since it holds the tiebreaker over Los Angeles by virtue of a 15-6 victory in Week 14.
Though a 49ers upset seems unlikely as they have won four games all season and lost 39-10 to the Rams in Week 7, the Bears struggled to put them away in San Francisco last weekend before emerging with a 14-9 victory.
Mitchell Trubisky was sharp and efficient, completing 25 of 29 passes for 246 yards and a touchdown as Chicago kept moving the chains and held the ball for more than 35 minutes.
Trubisky and first-year coach Matt Nagy have worked wonders in turning around a team that had finished last in the North the previous four season and had eight wins combined in the last two. In his first full season as starter, Trubisky has thrown for 3,060 yards and 24 TDs, and he could finish in the top five in single-season passing yards in club history with 215 in this game.
His 24 TD tosses are already tied for fifth most and five off the franchise record set by Erik Kramer in 1995. Still, the personal accolades will take a back seat to being healthy for the playoffs — Nagy said he would be more than willing to pull his starters at halftime if it is clear the Rams are well on their way to victory over the 49ers.
“We’ll have a plan and process to get an idea of what we need to do,” Nagy told the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday. “But where it gets real easy is if you just play your guys to win. It would have to be something that somebody comes to me and says, ‘Hey, listen, it’s a complete blowout (by the Rams).’ And then you still have decisions to make as well.
“We’re going there to win the game. Regardless of who is in the game, we’re going to win the game.”
Trubisky has also made an impact with his scrambling ability, rushing for 405 yards and augmenting a ground game that has gotten a combined 1,246 from Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen.
Despite missing two games due to ankle injury, Khalil Mack‘s 12.5 sacks are the most by any player in franchise history since Richard Dent had 17 in Chicago’s Super Bowl-winning 1985 season.
Depending on results, there is the possibility they could face the Vikings in a rematch in the wild-card round next weekend in Chicago.
The Bears, who recorded a 25-20 home win over Minnesota in Week 11 as Eddie Jackson had a key pick-six in the fourth quarter, have not swept the Vikings since 2011 and have lost six straight in the Twin Cities since a 17-13 win at the Metrodome to close out the 2011 season.
Vikes have simple postseason scenario: Win and In
Minnesota (8-6-1) has the inside track to the second wild-card spot in the NFC as it enters the season finale with a one-half game lead over Philadelphia and one-half game behind already-qualified Seattle.
A victory would ensure the Vikings are in the playoffs, and a victory coupled with a Seattle loss to Arizona would give them the top wild-card slot and a first-round trip to NFC East champion Dallas.
A loss, however, means Minnesota would need the Washington Redskins to defeat the reigning Super Bowl champion Eagles to qualify for the playoffs for the second straight year.
“It is going to be a heightened sense of urgency. For us, playoffs have already started,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said at his Wednesday press conference. “We know that we have to win this game in order to get into them.
“There has to be heightened sense of energy and focus and study time,” he added. “You have to make sure that your bodies are rested and understand it is going to be a physical football game on Sunday.”
Minnesota put itself in a favorable position to reach the postseason with a 27-9 victory at Detroit last season. The Vikings shook off an early 9-0 deficit as Kirk Cousins threw touchdown passes to Stefan Diggs and Kyle Rudolph in the final 1:32 of the first half, the latter coming on a Hail Mary to his tight end as time expired.
Cousins added a second scoring toss to Rudolph early in the fourth quarter and finished with 253 yards on 21-of-28 passing. Yet this game will be viewed as a referendum on Cousins’ season following his $84 million, 3-year contract signed in March — a staggering amount of money for a quarterback who has not made a playoff appearance since 2015 and failed in a similar situation in Washington’s season finale in 2016.
“It’s not complicated,” Cousins told the Pioneer Press on Wednesday. “I want to win. We want to win. We understand what’s at stake. There’s no magic formula. There’s no button you can push, or hours you can put in to suddenly snap your fingers and guarantee a win. You do all you can, give everything you have.”
Cousins has matched a career high with 29 touchdown passes and has topped 4,000 yards for the fourth straight season. Diggs, who has already set career highs in receptions and yards and tied a personal best with eight TD catches, is six catches shy of 100 and 26 yards shy of 1,000.
Adam Thielen has already set career highs in all three categories but needs 13 receptions to break Cris Carter’s franchise mark of 122 set in 1994 that he matched the following season.
The Vikings have won three straight home games since a 30-20 loss to New Orleans in Week 8. They have scored at least 24 points in each win while allowing less than 17.
The Vikings are:
- 2-8 ATS in their last 10 games vs. above-.500 teams.
- 1-4 ATS in their last five games after allowing 15 or fewer points in the previous game.
- 1-4 ATS in their last five games vs. the Bears.
- The under is 21-7 in their last 28 games vs. NFC North opponents.
- The under is 10-4 in their last 14 games vs. the Bears.
- The under is 7-1 in their last eight home games vs. teams with an above-.500 road record.
The Bears are:
- 11-5 ATS in their last 16 games as underdogs between 3.5-10 points.
- 6-0 ATS in their last six games vs. NFC North teams.
- 6-1 ATS in their last seven games following a straight up win.
- The under is 8-1 in their last nine December games.
- The under is 8-2 in their last 10 games after scoring 15 or fewer points in the previous game.
- The under is 5-2 in their last seven road games vs. the Vikings