EAGAN, Minn. – Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and his team are well-aware what is at stake Sunday at home against the Bears.
A win gets Minnesota into the playoffs. Lose, and the Vikings would need a Philadelphia loss or tie at Washington to still make it in.
Zimmer usually sticks with the same mantra that each game counts the same, but even he acknowledged that the intensity will be palpable Sunday afternoon inside U.S. Bank Stadium.
“It is going to be a heightened sense of urgency. For us, playoffs have already started,” Zimmer said when he met with the Twin Cities media. “We know that we have to win this game in order to get into them.
“There has to be heightened sense of energy and focus and study time,” Zimmer added. “You have to make sure that your bodies are rested and understand it is going to be a physical football game on Sunday.”
Minnesota sits at 8-6-1 on the season. Seattle (9-6) leads the race for one of two Wild Card spots, followed by the Vikings and then the 8-7 Eagles.
Here are four other topics Zimmer discussed Wednesday:
1. Respecting Chicago’s defense
Zimmer is a defensive guy through and through, and has built one of the league’s best units in Minnesota.
The Vikings rank third in yards allowed per game (308.2) and are seventh in points allowed per game (21.1).
But Chicago’s defense is stout, too, as the Bears rank fourth in yards allowed per game (308.7) and are third in points allowed per game (18.2).
Zimmer offered plenty of praise for that unit on Wednesday.
“They really do a great job … I think defensively they play really good complementary, together football,” Zimmer said. “I think their back end does a really nice job with their coverages, they play covCover 2 to one side and coCover 2 to the other, play Quarters, play a little bit of 3-Weak.
“They do a nice job of understanding every part of the concepts that they’re doing and then their linebackers do a good job, and they’re getting a good rush,” Zimmer added. “It all works together. They’re playing great on defense.”
The Bears lead the NFL with six defensive touchdowns.
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2. Looking for more
The Vikings offense had one of their worst offensive performances against the Bears in Week 11, as Minnesota put up a season-low 268 yards of offense.
Zimmer said Wednesday that the entire unit needs to be better on Sunday at home.
“Well, we turned it over three times, so that wasn’t good,” Zimmer said. “I thought they kind of, what’s the best way to say this – they were dominating us for a long time.”
The Vikings also tallied just 22 total rushing yards, 17 of which came from running backs. Dalvin Cook had 12 yards on nine carries while Latavius Murray had five yards on four attempts.
Zimmer was adamant Minnesota needs to run the ball better — and more — on Sunday.
“Well we only ran it 14 times I think, right? This team is going to be hard to run against, but you can’t run it 14 times.”
3. On a roll?
The Vikings have won two straight against Miami and Detroit.
If Minnesota is victorious Sunday, they will not only make the playoffs, but also match a season-high with a three-game win streak.
The Vikings beat Philadelphia, Arizona and the New York Jets during a strong October stretch earlier this season.
The Vikings have endured an up-and-down season, as Minnesota has had a .500 or better record in 14 of 15 games so far in 2018.
Zimmer said he likes the way his team has kept at it during a rollercoaster ride.
“I don’t think we ever lost our confidence,” Zimmer said. “We’ve won a couple games and we need to continue to play good, but I don’t think we’ve lost our confidence.”
4. Rudolph made most of opportunity
Kyle Rudolph had the best game of his career Sunday against the Lions.
The Vikings tight end had a career-high 122 receiving yards, and also had a multi-touchdown game for the third time in his career. His nine receptions tied his second-most in a game.
Zimmer was asked if Rudolph’s big performance in Week 16 was a long time coming, or was it a factor based on matchups.
“It’s possible, a lot of times it’s based on the coverage that you’re getting, but last week was a week that we saw some opportunities for him,” Zimmer said. “Each week is a little bit different, so we’ll just have to see this week as we go.”
Rudolph has 60 catches for 615 yards and four touchdowns this season.