Bears, Vikings wrap up regular season with different goals in mind
When the Minnesota Vikings play host to the Chicago Bears this Sunday, this Week 17 matchup has different meanings for both teams. For the Vikings (10-5), it's about having momentum going into the playoffs. They are officially entrenched as the NFC's sixth seed after losing the NFC North title to the Packers last week. For the Bears (7-8), they want to end the season on a winning note.
A win would give them an 8-8 record for this season. And while their playoff hopes were dashed a couple of weeks ago, having consecutive non-losing seasons for the first time since 2012-13 is something to hang their hat on considering the issues that the Bears have had this season. As one of the NFL's original franchises, the 100th season was supposed to be the one where the Bears were Super Bowl contenders again. That obviously didn't go as planned, but the Bears would like to head into the offseason with a victory.
This will be the last home game of the year for the Vikings since they will spend this postseason on the road. So leaving Minneapolis with a win is a must. The Bears, however, will start evaluating what they have — or don't have — for 2020.
Chicago at Minnesota
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 29 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Vikings -1
Three Things to Watch
1. Evaluating the Bears' roster for 2020
This game will essentially start that process for the Bears. And they'll have to take a look at both sides of the ball considering the tenuous season that they've had. Bears fans have been livid about some of the individual performances this year. This is the game where Mitchell Trubisky (62.6 percent completion rate, 2,931 passing yards, 192 rushing yards, 19 total touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 34 sacks) can make a statement and try to relieve some doubt about whether or not he can be the franchise player that this team needs. Perhaps this will be the game where the Bears finally figure out the best way to make use of the skill set of rookie running back David Montgomery (961 total yards, 6 TDs).
Tight ends J.P. Holtz and Jesper Horsted (178 combined receiving yards) will get their chances to prove that they deserve another opportunity next season. The Bears' patchwork offensive line needs to have a strong game, kicker Eddy Pineiro (19-of-24 field goals, 26-of-28 PATs) needs to convert his chances in order to renew faith in him, the Bears also need to take a closer look at the depth that they have on defense with the injuries and inconsistency that they've dealt with this season. Of course, head coach Matt Nagy and his coaching staff will also be under the microscope. The Bears need to use this game to get a head start on next season.
2. Injury concerns for the Vikings
Running back Dalvin Cook (shoulder) and linebacker Eric Kendricks (quadriceps) won't play on Sunday, while running back Alexander Mattison (ankle) is listed as questionable. Cook and Mattison are responsible for 1,597 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, while Kendricks leads this team with 110 tackles. Recovery for these players will be key as no team wants to head into the postseason, especially as a wild-card team, missing some of their top players. The absence of these players was certainly felt in last week's loss to Green Bay, as the Vikings only posted 57 rushing yards while allowing the Packers' offense to gain 383 yards.
With the Vikings' postseason standing already set, there's no need to rush them back into action for this game. Getting them completely healthy for the playoffs is the best course of action.
3. Head-to-head history
The Bears won the first regular-season meeting between these teams in Week 4 by a score of 16-6 thanks to a dominant performance by their defense. The Bears have actually won each of the last three meetings by a combined score of 65-36. This winning streak came after the Bears posted a 2-6 record in the eight previous meetings. But the Vikings still lead this overall series 60-55-2.
Despite the Bears' recent success in this rivalry, they come into this game with too many question marks. They are not the same team that defeated Minnesota back in September, and they looked lifeless in last week's loss to the Chiefs. In that game, the Bears tied their lowest scoring output of the season (3 points) and only posted 234 yards of offense, while their defense gave up 350 total yards and 25 first downs on 5.6 yards per play. Even if the Vikings are shorthanded again, I see them defeating a Bears team that's allowed 71 points in their last three games combined.
Prediction: Vikings 24, Bears 17
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.