While there is little doubt about who will finish first in the NFC North, second place is still up in the air. If the season ended today, the Minnesota Vikings would be the NFC’s second Wild Card. Based on the way the NFC East and West are shaping up, it’s quite possible that the North’s runner-up will be playoff bound.
But if the 2-4 Chicago Bears are to have any chance of grabbing that spot, they need to string together some wins, starting next weekend at home against their hated division rival.
After an 0-3 start, Chicago was on its way to climbing back to .500 heading into their bye week before suffering a setback against the previously winless Lions. The Bears had plenty of opportunities to win that game, but scored just three touchdowns on eight red zone trips. Now 0-4 in conference play, including 0-2 in the division, the Bears will need a win against the Vikes to keep fans and players focused on this season instead of next year’s draft.
Minnesota is sitting at 3-2 heading into this weekend, with every win coming at home. But for a team that many liked to make the leap this season, the Vikings have been frustrating to watch on offense. Ranked 31st in yards per game, and 29th in points per game, the Vikes need second-year QB Teddy Bridgewater to bust out of his sophomore slump. He enters this weekend with an identical completion percentage to his rookie season, but is averaging fewer yards per attempt; he also has five turnovers through his first five games while tossing just three TDs.
As we all know, the man across the field is no better at protecting the football. Jay Cutler has a turnover in every game he’s played, but he also has the Bears offense moving at a decent clip. In Cutler’s five starts this year, Chicago has averaged 376 yards and 24 points per game (which would put Chicago top-ten in the league if not for an ill-fated Jimmy Clausen start in Seattle).
The Bears are finding offensive success by leaning on league-leading rusher Matt Forte. Minnesota is solid against both the pass and the run, but on the road, they’ve yielded 144 rushing yards to Denver and 203 to San Francisco. And being on the road has mattered a ton in this rivalry; the Bears have won seven straight games over the Vikings at Soldier Field.
If that’s not enough of a reason to like the Bears next weekend, John Fox is 10-3 as a head coach coming off the bye week. Depending on how Minny fares in Week 7, Chicago could even be underdogs for this matchup, but give them a look regardless.
Straight-up pick: Bears.
(Photo Credit: Joe Bielawa (Originally uploaded to Flickr)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/].)