NFC North rivals battle in the Windy City
The NFC North takes a huge spotlight in Week 4, and it will conclude with this "Black and Blue" divisional matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears. Both teams are 2-1 but took different paths to get to this point. The Vikings began the season by running over, through, and around the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1, fell short against the Green Bay Packers in Week 2, but got back in the win column by dominating the Oakland Raiders last week. After a sluggish performance against the Green Bay Packers on opening night, the Bears have since won two straight against Denver and Washington by a combined score of 47-29.
The Packers fell at home to the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night. And depending on what happens between the Detroit Lions and the Kansas City Chiefs earlier Sunday, the winner of this game could claim at least a share of first place in the NFC North.
Minnesota at Chicago
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 29 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Bears -1.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The resurgent Chicago Bears
Things certainly didn't look good after the opening night loss to Green Bay. The defense did everything they could to keep the Bears competitive, but the offense came out flat, couldn't get the ball moving, and thus couldn't score a touchdown. Since then Matt Nagy's offense has slowly been getting into a rhythm, the defense is starting to impose its will, and Eddy Pineiro's done his part with five field goals, including the game-winner at Denver. Over the last two games, Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has completed 70 percent of his passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns. He still has room for improvement when it comes to decision-making (has two INTs on the season), pocket presence (been sacked eight times), and accuracy (65 percent completion rate).
Rookie running back David Montgomery has essentially taken over as the feature back (37 carries, 147 yards, 4.0 ypc, TD) while the Bears could use more production from Pro Bowler Tarik Cohen. Wide receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel have been productive (combined for 313 receiving yards, Gabriel has 3 TD catches), but the tight end position is still a work in progress (13 combined receptions for 86 yards from Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker).
On defense, the Bears got back to their havoc-causing ways last week by creating five turnovers (three INTs, two fumbles) and scoring a touchdown (INT return by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix) in the win over the Redskins. Chicago currently ranks third in sacks (11) and interceptions (four), and are once again doing a good job against the run (68.7 ypg, fifth).
The Vikings' game plan will probably focus on slowing down the Bears' pass rush and make Trubisky beat them with his arm.
2. The Vikings are the total package
Even with Kirk Cousins at quarterback, Minnesota has focused on one thing this season – running the ball. After two injury-plagued campaigns, Dalvin Cook is leading the NFL in rushing with 375 yards and he has four touchdowns. The change in offensive approach and additions along the offensive line have paid off in a big way as Cook is averaging a robust 6.6 yards per carry and already has four runs of 20-plus yards.
Cousins (502 yds., 3 TDs, 2 INTs) hasn't had to throw the ball much because of the success running the ball, but he still has game-changing weapons in wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, along with reliable tight end Kyle Rudolph. Cousins also has been sacked just twice in the first three games.
The Vikings' defense also is off to another strong start, holding teams to under 16 points per game and among the league leaders with 10 sacks. Minnesota also has generated four takeaways in three games, three of those being interceptions.
Cook will undoubtedly be the focus of the Bears on defense, as slowing him down will force Cousins to throw more and then Chicago will try and use its pressure to rattle him into some mistakes.
Both teams have concerns in this department. Minnesota starting right guard Josh Kline (concussion) and reserve linebacker Kentrell Brothers (wrist/hamstring) have been ruled out and cornerback Mackensie Alexander (elbow) is listed as questionable.
Chicago's injured list features more names. Defensive end Bilal Nichols (hand) and wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (concussion) will not play while Akiem Hicks (knee), tight end Trey Burton (groin), and left guard Kyle Long (hip) are questionable. Hicks and Long did not take part in practice on Friday while Burton was limited. Hicks and Long will probably end up being game-time decisions while Burton should be fine unless something happens during warm-ups.
Kicker Eddy Pineiro is dealing with a pinched nerve in his knee, which happened during a workout in the weight room last week. He was able to play through it and went 1-for-2 on field goals (made from 38 yards out, missed from 34) and was a perfect 4-for-4 on PATs but he did not handle kickoffs out of caution. Pineiro hasn't practiced this week but the expectation is he will be out there when called upon on Sunday.
Running back Mike Davis returned to practice on Friday after being away from the team to be with his family after the passing of his father. Davis does not have an injury designation and neither does All-Pro safety Eddie Jackson, who missed some practice time due to an elbow injury. Right tackle Bobby Massie also is expected to return after missing the Monday night game due to illness.
The Bears and Vikings are even (3-3) against one another since 2016, but two of those wins for the Bears have come at Soldier Field. Minnesota has gone 3-5-1 in their last nine road games. The Bears are 7-3 in their last 10 home games, outscoring those visitors 243-166. Home-field advantage will help propel the Bears to victory in a tightly-contested, hard-hitting game.
Prediction: Bears 24, Vikings 23
— 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.