The outcome of the Vikings Week 17 home game against the Bears won't affect Minnesota's playoff seeding, as the Vikings are already locked into the sixth seed.
And while the Vikings likely won't know their opponent in the Wild Card round until the conclusion of Week 17 with the 49ers and Seahawks on Sunday Night Football, there are still plenty of storylines Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
ESPN recently picked a player or two from each team who will be in the spotlight in Week 17. Vikings reporter Courtney Cronin wrote that the regular-season finale is a chance for a pair of young players in cornerback Mike Hughes and linebacker Eric Wilson to step up on defense.
The Vikings are locked into the No. 6 seed with no way to advance their positioning in Week 17. The idea that Kirk Cousins has something to prove after his lackluster performance on Monday Night Football is moot, given that Minnesota might choose not to play its starters for much of the Chicago game — if at all — with the goal of maintaining health for January.
This game presents an opportunity for younger players to solidify their roles for the future. Hughes and Wilson are at the forefront, coming off a Packers game in which both saw a considerable increase in playing time. The Chicago game might appear meaningless, given that it has no bearing on Minnesota's postseason fate, but it holds importance for players who have a chance to supplant other starters in the future and can use Week 17 to further their cases for more playing time.
Hughes missed the first two games of the season while rehabbing from an ACL injury. He has played in 13 games (with two starts) in 2019, racking up 41 total tackles (according to coaches' stats) along with a tackle for loss, interception and fumble recovery.
Hughes was a 2018 first-round pick out of UCF.
Wilson has played in all 15 games in 2019 and has made five starts. He has recorded 54 total tackles (according to coaches' stats) along with 2.0 sacks and four tackles for loss.
Wilson, who joined the Vikings in the spring of 2017 as an undrafted free agent from the University of Cincinnati, also has a blocked punt this season.
Harris, Smith named to PFF's NFL Team of the Week
The Vikings saw their hopes for an NFC North title vanish with Monday night's loss to the Packers.
But there were still plenty of positives from the game, including the play of starting safeties Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith.
Both players were named to Pro Football Focus' NFL Team of the Week earlier this week as they were the two highest-graded safeties of any players at their position in Week 16.
The PFF staff gave praise for both players following their standout performances:
Aaron Rodgers targeted Anthony Harris just once on Monday Night Football, but that pass resulted in a terrific leaping interception after Harris undercut Davante Adams' deep over route. Harris now has six interceptions on the year, which is tied with Tre'Davious White and Stephon Gilmore for the most in the NFL.
Smith was also a force to be reckoned with on Monday night. The veteran safety was all over the field and secured three solo tackles, one tackle for loss and one quarterback hurry on one of his three snaps as a pass-rusher, but his best play of the game came when he laid a ferocious hit on Adams to knock the ball loose.
Both players have seen the field plenty in 2019. Smith leads the Vikings defense with 970 defensive snaps played out of 1,018. Harris has played 909 defensive snaps, which ranks fourth on the team.