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NOTEBOOK: Vikings Could Use Shuffled O-Line on Sunday

Eden Prairie, Minn. — The Vikings will go with their seventh combination of starting offensive linemen on Sunday in the regular-season finale against the Bears.

But it remains to be seen which players make up some spots on the unit.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Friday that center Pat Elflein will not play, while left guard Nick Easton was lost for the season in Week 16 with a fractured ankle.

Zimmer said that Berger will start at center. The 13-year veteran started all 16 games and the Wild-Card playoff game at center in 2015 before making 11 starts at the position last season.

"Joe has played great all year long. Very solid, steady, strong," Zimmer said. "Very, very smart. He's done a great job all year.

"He played good last year, and he's played well this year," Zimmer later added. "He takes good care of his body." 

Berger said he has no qualms about moving to his old spot, and that he's worked well with Elflein and Easton (also a former center) this season. 

"We talk a little, but [Pat] and Nick were kind of managing for the most part," Berger said. "They would communicate that spot together. It was nice to have the three of us in there and be able to talk about things.

"More than anything, just understand and talk about what the calls are going to be. You kind of anticipate it, so it's not one guy and everybody is waiting for him to get the call," Berger added. "You kind of have an idea of what's going to happen before Pat actually makes the call." 

As for the guard spots, Jeremiah Sirles could start at left guard for the fourth time this season, as he has manned Easton's spot when the left guard missed previous games.

"I've gotten more and more comfortable as the week has gone on," Sirles said Friday afternoon. "There's still some time to put mental preparation in.

"My role was to be that backup guy, but now my role is to be called upon and go out there and perform," Sirles added. "I think we've all kind of stepped up … we know this is a big game."

Perhaps the biggest change could come on the right side of the offensive line, as tackle Mike Remmers is a candidate to kick inside and play guard, which would pencil Rashod Hill in at right tackle.

Remmers said earlier this week that a possible position change wouldn't phase him.

"It's all football," Remmers said. "I'm just playing football."

Hill has made five starts at right tackle and one at left tackle this season but said Friday that the unit had yet to be finalized for Sunday.

"Right now it's looking like [I'm starting at right tackle], but I don't know at this point," Hill said. "Everything is up for grabs right now, we're just trying stuff out.

"Anybody that we got next to me, or I'm playing next to them, we're like a family so we try to fix everything and make sure everything is right," Hill added.

The Vikings used eight starting offensive line combinations during the 2016 season. But with a playoff berth secured and a first-round bye on the line, Minnesota's depth on the line could be something to watch Sunday.

"We knew in training camp we had a good group of guys," Berger said. "We didn't know if we had the depth, maybe, but the guys that have had to come on the field here and there have stepped up and played well. We've been able to get wins because of that."

Mapping out the scenarios

The Vikings could know by the end of Sunday's game if they have secured a first-round bye. That, of course, would be the case if they win.

If Minnesota loses, they can still get week off if Carolina loses or New Orleans wins or the Los Angeles Rams win.

The Vikings would then watch Wild Card weekend and wait to see who they play, and on what day.

Add it all up, and there are multiple scenarios that Zimmer has already mapped out going forward.

"I had to have that plan. There's four different plans," Zimmer said. "If we lose, we could play on [Saturday or] Sunday [in the Wild Card round].

"If we win and get a bye, we could play on Saturday or Sunday of the following week," Zimmer added.

Zimmer noted that if the Vikings manage to get a first-round bye, he'd ease up on the practice schedule a bit next week.

"I'd give them some time off. We make deals sometimes," Zimmer said with a smile. " 'You win, I take care of you. If you take care of me, I take care of you.' "

To throw deep or not throw deep?

The Vikings offense is tied for third in the NFL with 66 plays that have gained 20 or more yards.

Minnesota has had 14 such runs (fourth-most in the NFL) and 52 pass plays. Some of those big-gain completions have occurred on short throws, and others have been on deep tosses by Case Keenum and Sam Bradford, depending on matchups against opponents.

The Vikings did not have a pass play of 20 or more yards against the Bears in Week 5, when Bradford started and was relieved by Keenum just before halftime.

With Chicago sacking Bradford four times in the first half, the Vikings implemented a short passing game with Keenum under center.

Keenum finished 17-of-21 passing for 140 yards and a touchdown for a passer rating of 110.3. Analytics site Pro Football Focus noted that Keenum did not attempt a pass of 20 or more yards against the Bears.

A potential reason for that could be the effectiveness of the pass rush, as well as Chicago's play in the secondary.

**PFF noted** heading into the rematch that Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller has seen 21 deep targets (passes of 20 or more yards downfield) this year, but has allowed just six receptions.

Fuller has caught both of his interceptions and tallied four pass breakups on such passes. The 24.8 passer rating allowed by Fuller on deep shots is fifth-best among corners with at least 10 targets this season, according to PFF.

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