There's no denying the importance of Minnesota's Monday Night Football game at Chicago.
The Vikings started off behind the 8-ball but now are sitting at 3-5 and need every win they can get. Not to mention, a win at Soldier Field would mark Minnesota's third straight division victory.
But ESPN's Seth Walder pointed out that this NFC North matchup holds even more weight for the Vikings, who are hoping to claw themselves back into the playoff picture. It's possible, Walder said, for Minnesota to make a postseason appearance – but a lot rides on Monday's game. He wrote:
After crashing pretty hard to start the season, Minnesota is maybe back in this thing? [Football Power Index], which really never lost faith in the 3-5 Vikings to begin with, doesn't think it's a reach.
Let's start with whether they'll sweep the Bears. If Minnesota can win [Monday] in Chicago and then again while hosting the Bears in December, you're looking at almost a 50/50 shot (47 percent) of getting into the playoffs. Those are Minnesota's two highest-leverage games of the season, which makes sense – both teams are vying for Wild Card spots. A loss in either of those games drops the Vikings chances to 16 percent.
Walder said an eight-win season probably "won't cut it" for the Vikings in the NFC, even with the expansion to a seventh seed this season. According to FPI, the Vikings would have just a 10-percent chance at the playoffs with a .500 record.
At nine wins, though, that number jumps way up, but it depends heavily on whom the losses are against. If the losses come at the hands of unideal opponents – say the Bears and Bucs – the Vikings would have a 59-percent chance of reaching the postseason. But if they lose two games instead to non-Wild Card contenders like the Cowboys and Lions, the Vikings would fly all the way up to 87 percent.
The long story short, the Vikings need to win nine games and make sure to beat the Bears twice along the way.
Jefferson tabbed as 'midseason surprise' by PFF
Although Justin Jefferson hasn't gotten as many targets over the past two games thanks to Minnesota's dominating run game, the rookie receiver has thoroughly impressed through the first half of his debut season.
Analytics site Pro Football Focus recently tabbed each NFL team's biggest "midseason surprise," and Ben Linsey highlighted Jefferson's stellar outings thus far. While it seems a bit of a stretch to call it a "surprise" from the former LSU standout, here's what Linsey had to say:
Everyone thought that this rookie wide receiver class was going to impress, but it would have been difficult to peg the kind of success that Jefferson has had early in his NFL career. Not only has he been one of the league's top big-play threats among rookies, but he's right up there with the top receivers of any age. His 321 receiving yards on passes 20 or more yards downfield are fewer than only DK Metcalf, and his 18.4 yards per reception are the most of any wide receiver with 25 or more receptions this season. That has led to a 90.1 PFF receiving grade that stands out as a top-five mark in the NFL. The Vikings ability to replace Stefon Diggs was a major question coming into the year, but Jefferson is off to a fantastic start in that effort.
For the Bears, whom the Vikings will see in just a few days, Linsey said that Akiem Hicks' decreased performance in the run game has been a surprise. Hopefully, this works in Minnesota's favor on Monday night.
Hicks has been one of the most dominant interior defensive linemen against the run for years. From 2016 to 2019, his 91.5 run-defense grade fell behind only Damon Harrison, Aaron Donald and Kawann Short at the position. That number is all the way down to 57.7 through the Bears first nine games of the 2020 season. He's on pace for one of the better seasons of his career as a pass-rusher, with 32 pressures, but the dominant presence against the run that we've come to expect from Hicks just hasn't been there thus far.