EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Sunday's game will pit two talented kicking teams against each other, and not for the first time. Over their past five match ups, Minnesota and Chicago have attempted a total of 26 field goals.
Vikings kicker Blair Walsh has played a major role in all five games, making 13 of 14 attempted field goals. Six of those have been from beyond 35 yards, and three of them have been beyond 40.
"It tends to happen that way with divisional games, especially when you see the team for the second time around like we are with Chicago," Walsh said. "Chances are it will be close. I'm kind of going into it expecting to have a lot of attempts."
At 34 years old, Bears kicker Robbie Gould has a few more seasons under his belt than Walsh, but the two hold equally reliable reputations. Walsh and Gould have made 84.3 and 85 percent of their attempted career field goals, respectively.
Since 2013, however, Gould has struggled a bit. Chicago made eight of its 12 attempts during that stretch, with Gould making just five of eight attempts (Jay Feely went 3-for-4 in the December 2014 game).
Over the past two weeks, Gould is 2-for-5 on field goal attempts against San Francisco and Washington. Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer was asked about Gould Thursday:
"Robbie is a pro; he has been doing this a long time. He has been in slumps before," Priefer said. "He's fought through them. I hope he has one more week of a slump, which would be great for us."
According to Priefer, Gould's recent missed kicks do not in any way impact the way his unit prepares for Sunday's game.
"There is nothing we can do differently besides to pressure, just like we would normally do anyway," Priefer said. "Being the pro that [Robbie] is, I'm sure he is fighting through it this week. I have gotten to know him a lot over the years. He is a guy that cares a lot about his production and what he does for his football team."
Both Walsh and Gould have plenty of experience with games in which wind, temperature and precipitation could play a role, but Walsh feels he still has the edge heading into a home game.
"You know, we go down [to TCF Bank Stadium] on Wednesday and we're kicking there and getting used to the stadium, so that helps us," Walsh said. "[Robbie's] only been in there once [he was 4-for-4 on field goals in 2010], so we have an advantage over him in that. But, he has kicked in bad weather for a long time, so he'll know what he's doing, and I know he's going to come in motivated to get out of that little slump that he's in. I think Robbie has all the ability in the world, but I'm hoping they get no attempts this week."
In the division rivals' last meeting, Walsh kicked the game-winning, 36-yard field goal with just four seconds remaining on the clock. The field goal was certainly important for the team, sealing its first win at Soldier Field since 2007, but the play also proved significant for Walsh personally.
"It was awesome," Walsh said. "It was kind of the point that brought it all together for me this year, really got me on a roll that I think I'm on right now."
Chicago is all-but-eliminated from the playoffs, but Minnesota can expect the rival team to come in ready to play and looking to spoil. And while the Vikings will be searching for a big win, they have proven capable in the close games, too, as they have had a number of fourth-quarter rallies this season.
"You'd like to blow teams out, take them out early, but that's just not how the NFL is," Walsh said. "Especially with our team and the way we are right now, we're keeping things close. And we play a lot of good teams – I think that's also the product of it. If we can win the close ones, that's just as important as winning the blow-outs."
When all is said and done, Walsh realizes the game could throw any number of scenarios at him – and he will be ready.