By Joseph Gunther
The final game of the season. Week 17 can be a time of preparation for a run at the NFL’s great prize. However, for the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears, it is a game of learning if the younger players can fill a role for their respective teams next season and beyond.
Each team also has their own motivation to win Sunday’s game at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings are trying to get a win against a division-rival this season and remain out of the division’s cellar. With a win, the Bears would sweep the Vikings and finish third in the division because of the head-to-head matchups.
The Bears are fourth in the NFC North Division with a 5-10 record. They have lost four straight games after defeating the Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers by identical 21-13 scores (both were at home).
The Bears are 3-4 on the road this season, but have lost their last three away from Soldier Field. They defeated the San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons and have lost to the Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions on the road.
Bears on Offense
The Bears offense has been a mess lately. The result was a quarterback switch from Jay Cutler to Jimmy Clausen. The former second round draft pick of the Panthers passed for just 181 yards, but did have two touchdowns. Then Monday, news broke that Clausen suffered a concussion and Cutler was going to be back under center for the season finale. Rookie sixth round draft pick David Fales is the backup.
Cutler threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns for a rating of 98 and a QBR of 68.7 in the matchup between the two teams earlier this season. Since, the ninth-year veteran totaled 945 yards (236.25 per game), seven touchdowns and completed 59.8 percent of his passes.
Cutler has three big playmaking receivers to get the ball to in the passing game. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are bigger than almost every cornerback in the league. The Vikings No. 2 cornerback Josh Robinson was picked apart by Cutler by simply throwing the ball up to where his receiver could catch and Robinson could not reach it. The two combined for 18 catches (of 31 completions), 225 yards (of 330) and three touchdowns (all of Cutler’s scoring throws) in their Week 11 matchup against the Vikings.
Bears on Defense
The Bears have improved their porous run defense from last season, but sit right at the middle of the pack. They are 16th against the run allowing 112.1 yards per game. Their pass defense is atrocious allowing 269.3 yards (31st in the league).
The Bears made a near complete overhaul of their defensive line to improve the unit. They signed three defensive ends, including former Viking Jared Allen. They also drafted defensive tackles with their second and third picks in the draft. Former Lion Willie Young was the most unheralded player of the new players, but he has been the best this season. He has 10 sacks, three tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and one blocked kick. But, he tore his achilles tendon against the Lions on Sunday and will not play this week.
The focus in this matchup will be whether Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil can finish the season on a positive note. He had trouble with Allen in the previous meeting. Allen recorded one sack, five tackles and a game-high three quarterback hits. Allen entered the game with just 1.5 sacks, but since has brought his total 5.5.
Also, in the previous meeting, safety Ryan Mundy recorded of his team-leading four interceptions. Former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher Brock Vereen did not get on the stat sheet in the previous meeting with the Vikings, but recorded his first career interception in last week’s loss to the Lions.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer will look to get his first inter-division win and enter the offseason with some momentum for next season. The Bears are likely to be playing their last game under head coach Marc Trestman.
It has been speculated and expected for several weeks that the Minnesota native will be fired at the conclusion of the season. He has amassed a 13-18 record in just under two seasons as the Bears head coach.
For more Vikings news and updates, visit Vikings Central.
Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. Joseph is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.