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The Skinny Post: Vikings to Close Out Regular Season at Home

EAGAN, Minn. — The 2019 Vikings will be known as a playoff team, one of 30 squads in the 59-year history of the franchise that qualified for the postseason.

These Vikings have won double-digit games, which marks the 20th time that has happened in franchise history.

That includes a 6-1 record at U.S. Bank Stadium, a venue where the Vikings will close out the regular season on Sunday against the Bears. Kickoff is at noon (CT).

Minnesota is already in the NFC Playoffs and will be the sixth seed, regardless of Sunday's score. But the Vikings postseason destination depends on the outcomes of a handful of other games around the league.

And while it remains to be seen whether or not the Vikings choose to rest some starters to get ready for the postseason, Sunday marks the final game that the current team will play together.

While it's likely that the core group of the Vikings stays together, there is always turnover on each and every NFL roster in the offseason.

The 2019 Vikings can write their own history once the playoffs begin. But Sunday gives the group one last chance to enjoy a home game together, and celebrate the fruits of their labor with a playoff game on the horizon.

"We're excited to end the season on a good note against a good Bears team," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Friday. "Get our crowd into it and play good football this Sunday at noon."

Here are three areas to watch in Sunday's contest, plus some noteworthy stats on both teams:

What does the O-line look like? | By @Eric_L_Smith

There's a chance the Vikings rest key players in Sunday's regular-season finale, as the likes of Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph might not see much action, if any at all.

Zimmer said Friday that he's still weighing whether or not to sit the big names on the roster.

"It's always a catch-22 because you always want to go out and you always want to play well. These guys like to play," Zimmer said. "But you don't want to get anybody hurt, and you want to start focusing on the new season that's coming up here in a week.

"There's been a lot of consternation, I guess, on trying to figure everything out," Zimmer added.

If Zimmer does choose to rest players, it could mean the majority of, if not all, of Minnesota's starting offensive line also takes a seat. Riley Reiff, Pat Elflein, Garrett Bradbury, Josh Kline and Brian O'Neill could end up spending the majority of the game on the sideline.

So, what would the Vikings offensive line look like with a handful of reserves in the lineup?

Rashod Hill is the likely candidate to play left tackle, as the veteran has experience with 15 career starts in his career. Perhaps Aviante Collins slides in at left guard, as the former undrafted free agent sees his first action of the season after beginning the year on Injured Reserve.

Dakota Dozier has made four starts in 2019, including three at right guard and another at left guard. But there's a chance he could get the nod at center, as he was seen snapping to quarterback Sean Mannion in the open portion of Friday's practice.

A pair of rookies might fill in on the right side of the line. Dru Samia (right guard) and Oli Udoh (right tackle) could potentially make their NFL debuts on offense in Week 17.

Samia, a fourth-round pick in April, has been inactive for 12 of 15 games but only played three snaps on special teams in Week 5. Udoh was a sixth-round pick in April and has been inactive for all 15 games thus far.

Perhaps the Vikings play their usual offensive linemen Sunday. But if they don't, the regular-season finale could give backups and youngsters a chance to show their stuff against a talented Bears defense.

Keeping an eye on special teams | By @LindseyMNSports

Vikings punter Britton Colquitt is poised to accomplish something he hasn't yet done. If he finishes Sunday's game against the Bears without a touchback, it will be the first time in his 10-season career without one. Colquitt, whom the Vikings signed just before the start of the season, has been largely consistent in Purple, averaging 45.1 yards per boot on 61 punts.

Kicker Dan Bailey has also been reliable for Minnesota, especially at home. Through 15 games of 2019, he is perfect at U.S. Bank Stadium; he enters Sunday's game 10-for-10 on field goals and 20-for-20 on extra points in the venue that opened in 2016. 

The Vikings will be keeping an eye on Chicago's special teams unit, as well. Most notably, the Bears returners can keep opposing coverage teams on their toes. Vikings fans will see a familiar face in Bears kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson, who recently was named to his third career Pro Bowl. Patterson is averaging 29.5 yards per return this season.

Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Marwan Maalouf spoke with Twin Cities media members on Thursday and said, "We have to be extremely diligent when it comes to our coverage."

"Our guys have to run by [Patterson] every single play," Maalouf said. "Just because it's kicked 10 [yards] deep, I've seen times where he's tried to keep it from going through the back of the end zone. With him, anything and everything is possible." 

At punt returner, Tarik Cohen ranks fifth in the NFL with an average of 9.2 yards per punt return and is second in the league with 302 total punt return yards.

Mannion preparing the same at QB | By @pcraigers

One of the most bizarre factoids in Vikings history is that no quarterback has started all 16 games in consecutive seasons (the NFL implemented a 16-game schedule in 1978, which was Fran Tarkenton's final season).

Cousins is in position to do so with what would be his 80th consecutive start dating to his time with Washington (2015-present), but with the Vikings could rest their starter.

Given Minnesota's recent history at the position — the Vikings started six different QBs in Zimmer's first four seasons — it's hard to believe that Cousins is within reach of this accomplishment.

Of course, Minnesota could take the safest road possible with Cousins, who ranks fourth in the NFL with a passer rating of 107.4. Cousins was sacked five times by the Packers on Monday and six times by the Bears in Chicago, accounting for 39.3 percent of the 28 takedowns suffered by Minnesota in 2019.

That would put Sean Mannion in line for his second career start and first in Purple. Signed this offseason after his role as a backup with the Rams, Mannion's only game action with Minnesota has been lining up in the victory formation against the Raiders and Chargers.

His lone start occurred in 2017 when he completed 22 of 37 passes for 185 yards against San Francisco in Week 17 (the Rams already had clinched the NFC West).

"Nothing is official and nothing is decided, but my approach doesn't change, no matter what," Mannion said. "The nature of my role as the backup quarterback is that I have to be ready to play every week."

He said the opportunity would be "special."

"You just want to go out there and do the best you can," Mannion said. "There's not a lot of people that get to play quarterback and start a game in the NFL. I know my first start, I didn't take it for granted, and if that circumstance happens again, I'm going to cherish it, go out and play my best football."

Substantial Stats

— Anthony Harris snagged yet another pick on Monday night, bringing his season total to a team-leading six interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown at Seattle in Week 13. The safety also has 11 passes defensed and a fumble recovery.

— Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack has 8.5 sacks on the season. He needs 1.5 to record his fifth consecutive season with double-digit sacks. Mack has forced 11 fumbles since 2018.

— The Vikings defense has recorded at least one takeaway in all but three games this season: at Green Bay in Week 2, at Chicago in Week 4 and at Kansas City in Week 9.

— Sunday will mark the fourth consecutive year that Minnesota has hosted Chicago to close out the regular season. The Vikings are 2-1 in the Week 17 matchups since 2016, having lost 24-10 last December.

Quotable

"Getting to work with Kirk every day has been a great experience for me. First of all, he's a great guy, a great leader, a great person to just be around. We spend a lot of long hours in the building together. We enjoy hanging out with one another. His experience has been great for me to learn from. A lot of conversations we have about reads and stuff in the QB room, it's our job to get ourselves ready, but I think we've got to get ourselves ready with one another by studying together and being in the meetings. I think the conversations that go on in there have really helped me, and I hope that they've helped him as well."

— Mannion

Harris wins Korey Stringer Good Guy Award

Anthony Harris has made a name for himself on the field over the past two seasons, but he received an off-the-field accolade Friday.

The Vikings safety was named Wednesday by the Twin Cities chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America as the winner of the 2019 Korey Stringer Good Guy Award.

The award was established in 2001 in memory of Stringer, a former first-round pick who tragically passed away Aug. 1, 2001.

"I take pride in my play on the field, but to honored outside of that, and more for who I am as a person, it's very rewarding," Harris said. "Knowing the history [Stringer] had here, knowing all the accomplishments and accolades he had on the field … I think it says a lot about who he was as a person.

"Every memory that I've got from talking to people who knew him, the one thing they speak about first is now his performance on the field, but who he was as an individual," Harris added. "I try to pride myself on being a good player, but also showing people that I'm a good person, too."

Harris, who joined the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in the spring of 2015, is tied for the league lead with six interceptions. He has 60 total tackles (according to coaches' stats), and has also recorded a tackle for loss, a fumble recovery and 11 passes defensed.

Previous Vikings winners include Adam Thielen, Latavius Murray, Brian Robison, Captain Munnerlyn, Chad Greenway and Kevin Williams.

Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune presented Munnerlyn with a plaque commemorating the award.

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