Both coming off three-point losses and both having lost two consecutive games, the Vikings and Bears will renew their twice-annual rivalry on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium as part of the NFL's Week 15 slate of games.
Here are five Vikings-Bears storylines we'll be chasing this week in the buildup to Week 15...
1. Bridgewater, passing attack prepping for an encore performance
QB Teddy Bridgewater put up outstanding numbers last week in Arizona and was clutch through the air the last time he faced the Bears. An encore performance would be key for the Vikings if they are to end their two-game losing streak and improve their home record to 5-2 this season. Bridgewater threw for a career-high 335 yards with 1 TD and 0 INTs on 25 of 36 passing against the Cardinals 4th-ranked defense last Thursday night. Solid pass protection and big gains after the catch were important to the performance, as Bridgewater had time on most of his throws and connected on gains of 22 yards six times. Bridgewater also attacked through the air the last time the Vikings played the Bears. He threw for fewer yards in the Vikings Week 8 win at Soldier Field, but he had 106 passing yards in the Vikings final two drives, which helped lead to 10 points and a comeback victory.
2. Zimmer looks to instill "chip on shoulder" attitude in his team
Outcome aside, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer took solace in the fact that his team played with a "chip on its shoulder" attitude last Thursday night in Arizona. The Vikings were heavy underdogs in the game, largely because they played without four defensive starters and had six rookies in the starting lineup. Yet the Vikings played with physicality and aggression, and had positioned themselves to win or tie the game with less than a minute to go. Now in the final three-game stretch of the regular season, Zimmer will look to instill that same attitude in his team the rest of the way.
3. Vikings defensive starters still on the mend
Don't be surprised to see plenty of rookies and lineup shuffling once again on Sunday. While Zimmer gave an optimistic report on his four injured defensive starters last Friday after the Cardinals game, there's no guarantee any of them will be back in time to play Sunday. Zimmer said S Andrew Sendejo appeared most likely to make it to Sunday, but fellow S Harrison Smith as well as LB Anthony Barr and DT Linval Joseph are still on the mend.
4. What's the Vikings plan at safety?
With no Sendejo or Smith last Thursday night, the Vikings started undrafted rookie Anthony Harris and Terence Newman at safety. The combo played relatively well and helped the Vikings defense hold the Cardinals offense below many of its season-long averages. With Sendejo likely back but Smith's status uncertain and with both Harris and Newman performing well at safety, it will be interesting to see what the Vikings defensive coaching staff decides to do at safety. Will they go with Harris and Sendejo as starters? Or will they play the veteran Newman at safety along with Sendejo and keep Trae Waynes in the starting lineup at CB? Or will they go back to Robert Blanton, a former starter at safety?
5. Bears look to spoil Vikings postseason plans
The Bears weren't mathmatically eliminated from playoff contention with their loss to the Redskins last week, but their chances took a dramatic hit. Regardless, don't think for a second they've lost motivation to win on Sunday in Minnesota. There are clinching scenarios for the Vikings this week plus the Vikings need to win to avoid feeling the squeeze over the final two weeks with several teams still in the hunt behind them, so the Bears have an opportunity to spoil, at least for a week, the Vikings postseason plans.