Final Thoughts: Vikings and Bears will gain familiarity down the stretch

Sunday night’s game marks the first contest of 2018 between the Vikings and Bears. While these two teams have yet to cross paths this season, they’re about to get pretty familiar with one another very quickly. They will battle this weekend at Soldier Field, with the winner taking sole possession of first place in the division. That means the loser of this game will move forward attempting to win each week while also scoreboard watching to see if the other teams slips up and gives ground.

The Vikings and Bears will also battle in the final week of the regular season. It’s hard to imagine that game not meaning something profound for one, if not both, of the teams. That makes two games against each other in the span of seven weeks for the Vikings and Bears, and there’s a chance the playoff picture shapes up in such a way that the two division rivals face off in the Wild Card round.

In fact, the Vikings and Bears would meet at Soldier Field in the first round if the season ended today. Now that we’ve put the cart squarely in front of the horse, let’s refocus a bit and remember the NFL is a week-to-week League. A lot can and will happen between now and the end of the regular season, when the winner of the NFC North will be determined and the fate of the Vikings and Bears will be decided. The Green Bay Packers are not out of the picture and the Detroit Lions will have influence, too, with three more division games left on their schedule.

Suffice it to say for now, though, that what happens on Sunday night at Soldier Field will set the tone for the NFC North over the final six weeks of the season. Buckle up!

Mailbag

How can we expect our offensive line to play down the stretch? Any specifics to be optimistic about?

-- Julien Rocha

Southern California

I expect the offensive line to play its best football coming down the stretch and that expectation is based on two primary factors – health and synergy. The bye week should’ve been important for Tom Compton and Riley Reiff, both of whom had injuries going into the break. Their return to the lineup plus Brian O’Neill’s experience gained the past couple games as a starter should set the table for the Minnesota Moving Company to start generating synergy and, optimally, start striding for its peak as the regular season winds down and the postseason enters into focus.

Matchup of the Week: Whoever is in front of Khalil Mack

One sure thing about Khalil Mack is that he makes an impact every time he plays. In seven games this season, Mack has 7.0 sacks, four forced fumbles and one interception. One uncertain thing about Mack is where he is on the field. Mack has the skill and versatility to line up on either side of the defense, which adds a level of difficulty to the already seemingly impossible task of blocking him. Last week against Detroit and in Week 7 against the Patriots, Mack was almost exclusively lined up on the defense’s right side. But against Miami in Week 6 he was exclusively on the defense’s left side in the first half and then switched back and forth in the second half. Against Tampa Bay in Week 4 and Arizona in Week 3, Mack switched back and forth. Against Seattle in Week 2 and Green Bay in Week 1, Mack was lined up primarily on the defense’s left side. Confusing, huh? Suffice it to say, it’s unknown what Chicago’s strategy with Mack will be on Sunday night against the Vikings, but identifying where No. 52 is will be a high priority for quarterback Kirk Cousins and the Vikings offense line before every snap.

Stat of the Week

The Vikings defense has allowed only two runs of 15+ yards this season, the fewest in the NFL.

Broadcast Information

National TV: NBC

Play-by-Play: Al Michaels

Analyst: Cris Collinsworth

Sideline: Michele Tafoya

National Radio: Westwood One

Play-by-play: Kevin Kugler

Analyst: Jason Taylor

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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