As 2017 comes to a close later today, the Vikings are looking to cap the year in style by taking sweeping the season series against the Chicago Bears, and, in the process, notching their 13th win of the season and capturing the second seed in the NFC.
The Bears enter this matchup having won two of their last three games, thanks in large part to their defense which has been solid for the vast majority of the 2017 season. They have allowed just 11.25 points per game over the last four contests, and on the season, they are eighth in the NFL in total defense, and 10th in points allowed per game at 20.3, ahead of teams like the Panthers, Seahawks, and Chiefs.
Chicago currently has 16 players on Injured Reserve, including some key defensive pieces like linebackers Leonard Floyd, Pernell McPhee, and Willie Young. Their best defender on the season has been DE Akiem Hicks, who leads the team with 8.5 sacks, and has 51 total tackles with a pair of fumble recoveries. LB Lamarr Houston has been hot as of late, having accumulated 4.0 sacks in their last four games.
The Bears’ front-seven versus a “work in progress” Vikings offensive line is one of the storylines to watch in this game, as the Vikings look to move forward without G Nick Easton, who broke his ankle last Saturday at Green Bay. C Pat Elflein was ruled out on Friday with a shoulder injury, so Joe Berger is excepted to start at center. LS Kevin McDermott was put on Injured Reserve on Saturday, with C Cornelius Edison being signed from the practice squad.
Minnesota’s offense struggled last week at Green Bay, though the frigid temperatures and slick field certainly played into that. QB Case Keenum took good care of the football, something that will play into the success the team hopes to have as they make their way into the playoffs.
The ground game continued to find success, as the duo of Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon led the way to the tune of 112 yards on 33 carries. The Vikings rushing offense ranks eighth in the NFL for both total yards on the season and yards per game. Hopefully the changes up front don’t have an adverse impact on what the group has been able to accomplish.
Offensively, the Bears have been carried by their two-headed running attack. Jordan Howard leads the way with 1,113 rushing yards on the season, good for fifth in the NFL. He’s averaging 4.2 yards per carry to go along with his nine touchdowns. Tarik Cohen has carried the ball less over the second half of the season but is second on the team in receptions with 47. Minnesota has shut down opposing backs coming out of the backfield all season long, so Cohen will present another test in that regard.
The ground game could be slowed down by injuries up front, as starting LG Josh Sitton (ankle) and RT Bobby Massie (knee) are both listed as doubtful after not practicing all week.
Chicago’s leading wide receiver is Kendall Wright, who has 54 catches for 585 yards and one touchdown. Rookie TE Adam Shaheen leads the team with three touchdowns. The group was thin to begin the season and then injuries to Cameron Meredith and Kevin White decimated the group.
Despite the lack of weapons, QB Mitchell Trubisky has put together a solid rookie season since making his NFL debut against the Vikings in week five. He’s thrown for 2,015 yards while completing 59.9 percent of his passes, with seven touchdown passes and seven interceptions.
The task for Chicago’s offense will be tall, as they are going against the NFL’s top defense in terms of total defense and scoring defense. Coming off a shutout against the Packers last weekend, the Vikings group of defenders will look to close out the season strongly and help secure that coveted first-round bye.
The Vikings defense will be without DT Shamar Stephen (ankle) and CB Tremaine Brock Sr. (foot).
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