Final Thoughts: Playoffs begin a week early for the Vikings

Sunday afternoon’s regular season finale is not a true “must win” game for the Vikings. Must win means finality hits if victory is not achieved, and the Vikings can still qualify for the postseason even with a loss to Chicago if the Philadelphia Eagles also lose.

But for all intents and purposes, Sunday’s regular season finale is a must win for the Vikings. The Eagles are heavy favorites against the Washington Redskins this week because they’ve displayed the grit of a champion the past two games and they face a Redskins team that has already been eliminated from playoff contention. The regular season is about over, but everything is still right in front of the Vikings.

There’s a lot on the line for the Bears, too. A victory for them paired with a Los Angeles Rams loss to the San Francisco 49ers will result in Chicago earning the NFC’s No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. So while a Rams loss is equally, if not more, improbable than an Eagles loss, it’s still a possibility and the Bears will pour everything they can into this week’s game to be in position to take advantage of the opportunity.

It all comes out to Sunday’s Vikings-Bears game being a classic NFC North showdown. A battle between last year’s division champion and this year’s division champion. A battle between rivals who’ve split the series since 2007. And a battle between teams who will face off for a third time if the Vikings come out on top this time.

The Vikings and Bears boast perhaps the two best defensive front sevens in the NFL. The Vikings are No. 3 in total defense and the Bears are No. 4. The Bears are No. 3 in scoring defense and the Vikings are No. 7. The Vikings are No. 1 in 3rd down defense and the Bears are No. 4. Both teams have quarterbacks looking to prove they can win the big games, both teams have loads of talent at running back and both teams are a bit banged up on defense.

Both teams are good. Both teams have a lot on the line. Both teams are ready.

The playoffs start now.

Experience from first game will help Wilson

The Vikings have ruled out middle linebacker Eric Kendricks for Sunday’s game. Kendricks, the Vikings leading tackler with 120 and the only defender on the team with more than 100 tackles, will miss his second consecutive game after injuring his hamstring late in the Miami game. Seeing increased snaps in Kendricks’ stead will be Eric Wilson, who played well last week in Detroit with seven tackles and 1.0 sack.

“He played a lot against Chicago when [Anthony] Barr didn’t play the first time,” Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said on Friday. “Eric is a good football player and we expect him to do a great job.”

Wilson played 57 snaps in the Week 11 game at Chicago, finishing with the same stat line he produced in Detroit last week – seven tackles and 1.0 sack. The experience last week coupled with a full game’s experience against this week’s opponent will help Wilson as he fills in for Kendricks once again this week.

Mailbag

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family, Mike. Looking forward to the playoffs, starting with Sunday’s play-in game. I am confident in our “Mr. Hyde” defense. Do you think we can keep Dr. Jekyll on offense and special teams? Skol!

-- Bill Dunn

I have confidence the Vikings will show up and play well on Sunday. The defense has been playing lights out for nearly three months now, the special teams is coming off of two excellent games against Miami and Detroit and the offense seems to have some pep in its step under interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski. The Vikings have won 13 of their last 16 games inside U.S. Bank Stadium and on Sunday the building is going to be rocking. I’m looking forward to being there!

Mailbag II

I listen every week to the Wobcast and today I wanted to thank you for your ‘rant’ regarding our QB. I too am so tired of all the negativity, mostly from the national media, surrounding Kirk. It was such a relief to finally hear someone spell out the success he has had using actual facts from his game play. Thank you for making my day and adding to my optimism!! #WinandIn! #NomoreLs! #IStandWithKirk! Skol!

-- Lisa Halim

Dublin, CA

My pleasure, Lisa. It’s truly not ceremonious bloviating. I truly feel Cousins has had a good season for the Vikings. It’s easy to compare this season to last season and accuse Cousins and the 2018 Vikings of coming up short. But let’s also remember the 2018 Vikings played a 1st place schedule, which included a short week at the Los Angeles Rams followed by a trip to Philadelphia and then back-to-back December games at New England and at Seattle. So the level of difficulty was much higher this season. What matters more than all of that, though, is making the playoffs and having success in the playoffs. If the 2018 Vikings can do that, then the comparisons to 2017 will go away and this team will be independently judged on its performance this season.

Quotable

Why is the Bears defense so good? Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer explains it right here, and he does so without using boring clichés or hyperbole.

“I think they do a really, really good job on the back end of playing complementary coverages where it’s hard to recognize exactly what you’re getting all the time. Sometimes it’s two strong and quarters weak. Sometimes it’s quarters, sometimes it’s three weak, sometimes it’s two man, sometimes it’s 11, one robber. But I think they do a really nice job. It’s hard to tell pre-snap what they’re doing. That part, and they got good cover guys. The two corners [Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara] are good corners. The two safeties [Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos Jr.] are good safeties. That part is really good schematically. The front guys, they just kind of maul you.” – Mike Zimmer

Tweet of the Week

Stat of the Week

A win on Sunday would be Mike Zimmer’s seventh in 10 games against Chicago and it would be the Vikings seventh consecutive win over Chicago in Minnesota.

Broadcast Information

National TV: FOX

Play-by-Play: Joe Buck

Analyst: Troy Aikman

Sideline: Erin Andrews

National Radio: ESPN Radio

Play-by-play: Jason Benetti

Analyst: Bill Polian

Sideline: Dianna Russini

Local Radio: KFAN-FM 100.3/KTLK-AM 1130

Play-by-Play: Paul Allen

Analyst: Pete Bercich

Sideline: Greg Coleman, Ben Leber

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