The Vikings have seven games to play, including four against division opponents. The first of those division games comes this week, as the Vikings prepare to travel to Chicago for a date with the Bears at Soldier Field in Week 11. Here are five storylines to watch in the build up to this week's NFC North battle.
1. First place in the NFC North on the line
This week's matchup was originally slated for a noon CT kickoff, but the NFL's flex scheduling mechanism was triggered and now the showdown is set for prime time on NBC's Sunday Night Football. The switch is for good reason because the winner of Sunday night's game will be in command of the NFC North with six games to go.
2. New faces on each side spice up division rivalry
These two teams meet twice annually and Sunday night's game marks the 115th in the rivalry. This year, though, new faces on each side have spiced things up a bit. It starts at the top for the Bears, who are guided by first-year head coach Matt Nagy, a young and well-respected coach with an offensive background forged over seasons spent with Andy Reid in Kansas City and Philadelphia. Also new to the Bears are tight end Trey Burton and receivers Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson. These three players have added speed and talent to the offense, which features second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Perhaps the Bears most significant addition was on defense, where Khalil Mack has come into the mix and dominated. In seven games played, Mack has 7.0 sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception. The Vikings have a couple new faces for this matchup, too. Sheldon Richardson was added to the defense this past offseason and running back Dalvin Cook will play his first game against the Bears after he missed both of last year's matchups with a knee injury.
3. Trubisky's mobility will be a focal point for Vikings defense
The Bears added three nice weapons in the passing game in Burton, Gabriel and Robinson and they have a nice one-two punch in the backfield with running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. As big a key as any of those individuals, though, will be Trubisky. His ability to affect the game as a passer and a runner makes him a dynamic threat. Chicago designs runs for their quarterback and then Trubisky also bails the offense out frequently with scrambles. On 3rd downs alone, for example, Trubisky has 16 runs for 99 yards, generating 11 conversions on the 16 attempts. Of those 16 runs, 11 were scrambles, generating 83 yards and a touchdowns. So just when the defense has everything covered up and can pressure the quarterback, Trubisky has the ability to escape and extend plays and drives by making plays with his legs. Pass-rushing discipline and the ability to contain the quarterback within the pocket will be important tactics for the Vikings on Sunday.
4. Are Vikings healthier after the bye?
The Vikings carried significant momentum into their bye week, having won four of five games to move their record to 5-3-1 after the opening the season with only one win in the first four weeks. The Vikings also had significant injuries heading into the bye, though, so the off week actually came at an opportune time. Riley Reiff and Xavier Rhodes were each playing through injuries before the bye, Dalvin Cook was just coming off an injury and players such as Anthony Barr, Tom Compton, Stefon Diggs and Andrew Sendejo were all missing games due to injury. It's unknown as of Wednesday which of those players would be healthy enough to practice and then play this week, but there's no question the off week increased each of their chances of returning.
5. Offensive lines under the microscope with game-wrecking defensive lines revved up
No team in the NFL has more sacks than the Vikings (31), and the Bears aren't far behind with 30. The Vikings defensive front has been bolstered by the return of Everson Griffen while Danielle Hunter and Linval Joseph continue to terrorize offenses on a consistent basis. The Bears defense features a stacked front that includes Leonard Floyd, Eddie Goldman, Akiem Hicks and Mack, who've combined for 12.0 sacks. This week's contest features a tough matchup for each team's offensive lines.