The Vikings have built momentum by winning their last two games and look to continue surging this week in Chicago where they will take on the Bears at Soldier Field. The Vikings are 4-2, have won four of their last five games and are looking to win at Soldier Field for the first time since 2007. A victory would preserve an undefeated record within the division and mark the first time the Vikings have won back-to-back road divisional games since 1998.
Here are five Vikings-Bears storylines we'll be chasing this week in the buildup to Week 8...
1. Vikings draft class keeps stepping upEarly results are impressive for the Vikings 2015 draft class, and the group will look to keep rolling as they make their first visit to Soldier Field. LB Eric Kendricks, a second-round pick, has a sack in each of his three starts this season. His 4.0 sacks are tied for the most among all rookies and are second among all ILBs behind only Green Bay's Clay Matthews. WR Stefon Diggs, a fifth-round pick, leads the Vikings in receiving yards (324) despite playing in just three games. Since debuting in Week 4, Diggs has recorded 8 catches of 20+ yards (tied for League lead) and with 19 receptions for 324 yards he joins only Anquan Boldin (23-378) as players with that many catches and yards in their first three games. Other rookies have stepped up, as well, with Danielle Hunter logging a start in place of Everson Griffen in Week 6 and Trae Waynes standing out on the punt team and rotating into the lineup with veteran Terence Newman.
2. Will the Bears put the football in Adrian's hands or Teddy's?Teams have been overplaying the run in an attempt to prevent Adrian Peterson from running wild. Results have been mixed in that strategy, with Peterson's per-carry average lower than usual but with Peterson also ranking fourth in the NFL with 530 rushing yards and with him being able to break off long runs of 43, 48 and 75 yards recently. Teddy Bridgewater and the passing game made the Detroit Lions pay for overplaying the run last week, throwing for 316 yards and 2 TDs. The Bears have certainly taken it all in and will have a strategy for Sunday.
3. Vikings red zone offense needs to heat upWell, something's got to give. The Vikings have the NFL's 26th-ranked red zone offense, scoring a TD on 42.1% of their trips to the +20. They were 1 of 4 (25%) in the red zone against the Lions a week ago and are 2 of 7 (28.6%) since their Week 4 bye. The Bears, on the other hand, have the 23rd-ranked red zone defense, surrendering a TD 61.9% of the time their opponent reaches the +20.
4. Blair Walsh is heating upMuch-maligned for his performance last season and in the preseason this year, Vikings K Blair Walsh appears to be back on track. He is 8 of 8 on FG tries in his last two games, including 2 of 2 from 50+ against Detroit. Combining PATs and FGs, Walsh is 24 of 28 (85.7%) on the season and he also has 20 touchbacks (7 in the past two games). The last five Vikings-Bears matchups and six of the 12 games the Vikings and Bears have each played this season have been decided by one possession, so it's fair to guess that special teams and the kicking phase will loom large in Sunday's matchup.
5. Trend favors Bears, Fox off a byeSometimes coaches like to use statistics from the past to help motivate or at least capture the attention of current players. All week last week the Vikings locker room heard about how the franchise hadn't won a road division game since 2012. This week, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has a couple of options to use from the "meaningless statistics" department. First, it's been 17 years since the Vikings won back-to-back road games within the division. Secondly, the Bears seem fully equipped to author a winning performance this week because they are coming off their bye. In the last five seasons, the Bears are 4-1 coming out of their bye and John Fox-coached teams are 5-0. The Bears lone loss off a bye in the last five years came last season to Green Bay, while Fox has not lost coming off his bye since 2007 while guiding the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos during that time.