The week of practice is over and the Vikings are nearly set for their contest against the Chicago Bears on Sunday. Here's what we learned this week about the Vikings-Bears matchup in Week 15.
Barr, Smith out on Sunday
The Vikings defense will likely have one of its starters back on Sunday, but four others are either out of questionable. S Andrew Sendejo is listed as probable on the final injury report and he said earlier in the week he plans on playing. LB Anthony Barr and S Harrison Smith are listed as out, while DE Everson Griffen and DT Linval Joseph are listed as questionable.
This all means that depth on defense is likely to be tested once again this week. The depth responded well last week in Arizona when four defensive starters were out, and as many defensive starters could be out this Sunday against the Bears, as well.
The Vikings can clinch a playoff berth on Sunday
The Vikings control their own destiny when it comes to winning the NFC North and advancing to the playoffs. If they win their final three games, which includes a Week 17 date with the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, they will win the NFC North for the first time since 2009 and advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
But we learned this week that the Vikings can actually clinch a playoff berth without waiting for the final game to play out. With Tampa Bay's loss to the St. Louis Rams on Thursday night, the Vikings can clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Bears on Sunday plus some help. If the Vikings win and the NY Giants or Washington Redskins lose or tie plus the Atlanta Falcons or Seattle Seahawks lose or tie, then the Vikings are in.
Cold weather doesn't impact play calling on defense or offense
The forecast for Sunday's game calls for a high temperature of 39 and a low temperature of 25 degrees. For next Sunday night's game against the NY Giants, the 10-day forecast calls for a low temperature that day of 24 degrees. With the weather turning so cold, you can cue up the "Such and such QB/team has a such and such record when the temperature is below such and such degrees."
According to Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner and Defensive Coordinator George Edwards, though, it's not the cold weather that impacts how teams operate. Each coach was asked how cold weather impacts their play calls.
Said Turner: "The biggest thing that affects play calling is the team that we're playing."
Said Edwards: The wind affects it as much as anything. I think depending on how much the wind is blowing that day, it will affect decisions whether they're throwing with the wind or against the wind. So we kind of take all of those things into consideration as we're going through play-calling and also preparation for the week and how we're going to attack things and matchups and those kind of things."
Yes, the weather is turning colder as the season gets older. But no, you won't find any defensive or offensive coaches using the temperature as an explanation for what happens on the field.
The cold weather is another story for the special teams
**Edwards and Turner downplayed the temperature as a factor in how they call plays. But Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer explained the weather has a great impact on his game-day decision making.
"I think it affects everything," Priefer said. "It affects the range for your field goal kicker. It's going to affect how you call your kickoff return game if they are kicking into the wind or kicking with the wind. How we call our kickoffs, whether we're kicking deep, mortar kick, line kick and obviously punts you're going to directional kick left or right. Which way do we want to return the ball? Which way do we think they're going to kick the ball? Whether we pressure that side or not, that type of thing. So there is a lot that goes into it to be honest with you."
So what's tougher: cold, wind, or rain?
"Probably rain, because of the slickness of the ball," Priefer explained. "With the wind, we have Kevin (McDermott) aim a little more inside toward Jeff (Locke) on the field goal snaps so it makes it easier for Jeff to handle if the wind does affect it. We practice that a lot with the cold weather. Obviously of late it's been pretty nice but we had enough cold and windy weather to practice that technique. There are some things that we do a little bit differently but for the most part it's about the same.
Norv Turner likes the Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis
**The Vikings are in the midst of an intense late-season battle for a playoff spot and they're coming off a game against the Arizona Cardinals in which they lost by 3 points and were in FG range before a sack-fumble ended their night. Yet offensive coordinator Norv Turner, a veteran of many late-season pushes to the playoffs, had the perspective and sense of humor to open his weekly press conference on Thursday by giving a mention to a local restaurant.
"Shout out to our friends at Spoon and Stable restaurant downtown, they just got restaurant of the year in Minneapolis, it's a great place," Turner said. "My wife and I enjoy going there after wins."
The comments congratulating the Spoon and Stable come from the same kind of approach that led Turner to jokingly providing updates on the Vikings staff softball team's record while he was meeting regularly with reporters at training camp.
There's something to be said for finding a bit of levity at such an intense time in the NFL's season.