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Chicago Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings Preview and Prediction

Author:
Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson

The Minnesota Vikings (8-5) looked like one of the NFL's best teams before losing three of their last four games. But the Vikings still hold a two-game lead on a postseason spot and trail Green Bay by one game for the top spot in the NFC North .

The Chicago Bears (5-8) are facing elimination following back-to-back losses of their own. The two teams will meet in a crucial NFC North playoff matchup on Sunday in Minneapolis.

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Chicago at Minnesota

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)

TV: FOX

Spread: Minnesota -5.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Vikings' health concerns on defense

Mike Zimmer has built a reliable defense in Minnesota, but it may be without several players on Sunday. The Vikings had four players out during their 23-20 loss in Arizona last week: linebacker Anthony Barr (groin/hand), nose tackle Linval Joseph (foot), and safeties Andrew Sendejo (knee) and Harrison Smith (hamstring).

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Johnson returned to practice on Thursday but Smith and Barr — along with defensive end Everson Griffen — are still out according to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. Smith is one of the NFL's top safeties while Griffin (8.5) and Barr (4.0) lead the Vikings in sacks.

2. Adrian Peterson needs to take over

Minnesota needs another strong performance from Peterson, who entered Week 15 leading the league with 1,251 rushing yards. Peterson saw an increase in carries last week and had 69 yards and a touchdown, helping the Vikings stay in their game against the NFC West-leading Cardinals.

Peterson has a chance to make history in his final three games, including winning his third rushing title, posting one of the best seasons in NFL history by a 30-year-old running back and becoming the second back in history to surpass 1,500 yards in a season under age 25 and over 30.

3. Bears down on kicking woes, Jeffery injuries

The Bears face a two-game losing skid after usually reliable kicker Robbie Gould missed a game-tying 50-yard field goal with 1:40 remaining during a 24-21 loss to the Redskins last week. Gould also missed a 36-yarder in the final seconds of regulation during Chicago's 26-20 overtime loss to San Francisco on Dec. 6.

But Gould may find his magic against the Vikings, against whom he went 2-for-3 during the teams' previous matchup in November, including a season-best from 55 yards out.

The playing status of star wide receiver Alshon Jeffery also is somewhat uncertain after he missed practice Thursday because of illness and a nagging calf injury. But head coach John Fox and quarterback Jay Cutler hinted that Jeffery — who missed five games with hamstring and groin injuries, as well as all four preseason games due to a calf injury — would be ready for Sunday's game, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.

Final Analysis

Minnesota should return to form against a struggling Bears team. Teddy Bridgewater should excel as a game manager while Adrian Peterson takes over the offense. Even with injuries, the Vikings' defense should force quarterback Jay Cutler to make mistakes in the passing attack.

Prediction: Vikings 28, Bears 20

— Written by Jason Hall, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and works for Fox Sports Florida. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhallFSN.