The Vikings and Bears will meet in the regular season finale today at U.S. Bank Stadium. There is much on the line for the 12-3 Vikings as they look to secure the NFC's second seed and enter the postseason in good form.
Here are a few final thoughts from the week that was.
Bears will be physical up front
A division champion and 2 seed going against a 5-10 team in the season's final week may appear to be a drastic mismatch on paper. But don't expect the Bears defense to go quietly into the New Year's Eve night. This is a group playing well right now, as they enter Week 17 with the No. 8 total defense, No. 8 passing defense, No. 9 rushing defense and No. 10 scoring defense. The Bears are allowing 11.3 points per game over their last four contests. They are physical up front, with defensive end Akiem Hicks totaling 8.5 sacks and 15.0 tackles for loss on the season. Defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, ILB Danny Trevathan and backup ILB John Timu are having solid seasons and should provide a challenge for the Vikings offensive line.
New-look Vikings offensive line will be asked to handle physical Bears front
Nick Easton has been placed on the Reserve/Injured list and Pat Elflein has been ruled out, meaning the Vikings will face a stout defensive front with two new starters and with two others playing out of position. Riley Reiff (left tackle) and Rashod Hill (right tackle) will man familiar positions, but it will likely be Joe Berger who slides over to center from right guard and then Mike Remmers who slides over from right tackle to right guard. Jeremiah Sirles is the likely starter at left guard.
The Vikings enter today as the No. 2 seed in the NFC but they still have work to do in order to hold onto that standing because the Carolina Panthers have their eye on that prize. A win today over the Bears would clinch the No. 2 seed for the Vikings, but a loss to Chicago would open the door for Carolina to jump ahead. If the Vikings lose to Chicago, the Panthers would need each of the following in order to secure the 2 seed: a win over Atlanta, a New Orleans Saints loss to Tampa Bay and a Los Angeles Rams loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Stat of the week
79 receiving yards
That will be the stat of the week if it's attributed to Jerick McKinnon. With 79 receiving yards today, McKinnon would surpass 500 rushing and receiving yards, which would mark the 13th time in franchise history someone has accomplished the feat and only the second time since 1986.
Quote of the week
*"This isn't about momentum. We need to win. It's important to get a bye. If you can get a bye, it's like winning two games in one day. That's pretty huge, so we need to go out and win." *– Mike Zimmer
So often NFL coaches talk about a game being 1/16th of the schedule and not meaning any more than any other game. Not this week and not with coach Zimmer. He pulled no punches and essentially said winning today against the Bears is like winning two games because it advances the Vikings through the wild card round without them even stepping on the field.
Akiem Hicks – The 6-5, 332-pound defensive end has been a thorn in Vikings side the past two seasons, racking up 10 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss, eight quarterback hits, 4.0 sacks and one pass breakup in three games. He can play anywhere along the Bears defensive line and he'll be a sturdy challenge for a Vikings offensive line that will be shuffled around quite a bit with injuries to Nick Easton and Pat Elflein.
Trubisky 3rd down scrambles – For a second consecutive week, the Vikings defense will be dealing with a mobile quarterback. Trubisky is particularly effective on the move on 3rd downs, where he has 14 rushes for 147 yards and five conversions. That's an average of 10.5 yards per carry on 3rd down, including a 46-yard scamper on a 3rd and 10 at New Orleans. Don't be surprised to see the Vikings employee the same or similar strategy against Trubisky that they used against Brett Hundley, with less of an emphasis on sacking the quarterback and more of an emphasis on keeping him in the pocket and encouraging him to throw into seven-man coverages.
Screens, returns and gadgets – The Bears run around five screen passes per game, they have a dangerous return man in Tarik Cohen and they scored on a gadget play against the Vikings last season when wide receiver Cameron Meredith threw a touchdown pass to quarterback Matt Barkley. Yes, the Vikings are the better team in this matchup, but the Bears can use screens, returns and gadgets to find ways to score points and overcome mismatches in other areas.
A couple weeks ago, we were tied with the Philadelphia Eagles in the playoff standings. At that time, I think we had the tie breaker. Now I read that the Eagles have the tie breaker. How did that happen?
It all comes down to the Vikings loss at Carolina. That loss dropped the Vikings one game below the Eagles in conference record. And even if the Vikings beat the Chicago Bears and the Eagles lost to the Dallas Cowboys this week to even up the conference records, that loss to the Panthers still dooms the Vikings in a tie with Philadelphia because it gave the Eagles the edge in record versus common opponents. In that tie breaker, the Eagles are 5-0 in games against Carolina, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington while the Vikings are 4-1.
Is there any way of knowing if the Vikings will play on Saturday the 13th or Sunday the 14th of the divisional round? I'm assuming in this scenario they have the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. When is that information released? After this week's game? Or does it depend on the wildcard weekend?
-- Nick Brendemuhl
The NFL will announce the schedule for the wild card and divisional rounds at some point late this afternoon or early this evening.
Why is it that I think Kai Forbath doesn't kick the ball into the end zone for a touchback instead of letting the other team have a chance to run one back?
-- Richard Doricchi
It requires great leg strength to kick the ball out of the end zone consistently, especially when kicking outdoors. Not every kicker can accomplish the feat every time. And if you try to accomplish that but wind up kicking it shorter than planned, it can result in a line drive kick that is returnable, and that puts a lot of pressure on the coverage group. So some teams choose to forego trying to blast it out of the end zone and instead focus more on hang time. While this provides a return opportunity for the opposition, it also ensures the coverage team will have ample time to get down the field and be in better position to prevent long returns. The Vikings have allowed the fifth-fewest kickoff return yards despite having the fourth most kickoffs and they rank eighth in kickoff return average allowed (22.8), which tells me special teams coordinator Mike Priefer and his crew have employed and executed a sound strategy.
National Television: FOX
Play-by-play: Kevin Burkhardt
Analyst: Charles Davis
Sideline: Pam Oliver
Local Radio: KFAN-FM 100.3/KTLK-AM 1130
Play-by-play: Paul Allen
Analyst: Pete Bercich
Sideline: Greg Coleman, Ben Leber