The Minnesota Vikings are embarking on their most important stretch of football in the Mike Zimmer era so far.
The Vikings (8-5) host the Chicago Bears on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium. A victory can all but guarantee them a playoff spot and at the same time, eliminate the Bears. The Vikings are one game behind the Green Bay Packers, who play at Oakland Sunday. The NFC North title is still very much up for grabs with three games left.
The Bears are coming off a loss to the Redskins, their second straight, and are 2-3 in their last five games. It’s a game the Vikings need to win to be taken seriously in the push for the NFC Playoffs. Here are four keys for the Vikings to beat the Bears.
A Big Game from Adrian Peterson
When the two teams met earlier this season in Chicago, Adrian Peterson had 20 carries for 103 yards. It’s no secret that the Vikings’ offense goes as Peterson goes, so a big day from him bodes well for a Vikings victory. Last Thursday, Peterson had 23 carries for 69 yards and a touchdown. In a win over Atlanta, he ran for 158 yards and two scores. In the loss to Seattle, he had just eight carries for 18 yards. If the Vikings stick to their identity, get an early lead and run the ball with their star, they should get a victory.
Take Advantage of Bears Secondary
In the win at Chicago earlier this season, Teddy Bridgewater threw for 187 yards and a touchdown, but did have an interception. If Adrian Peterson can be effective running the ball, it should open up all sorts of opportunities for Bridgewater in the passing game. He completed six passes for 95 yards and a score to Stefon Diggs the first time around. He also completed passes to 11 different receivers in the loss to Arizona. The Bears will likely key on stopping Peterson, so it would be a big positive to see Bridgewater have a good game in a spot where the Vikings need a win to inch closer to the playoffs.
Get Healthier on Defense
Seattle exposed a beat up Vikings secondary two weeks ago in a 38-7 loss for Minnesota. The Vikings, despite not having Harrison Smith, Andrew Sendejo, Anthony Barr and Linval Joseph, put up a heck of a fight on a short week at Arizona. It’s always a plus to have reserves step up when starters are hurt, but the Vikings are much better on defense when those four are healthy and playing. It may mean players missing practice time this week, but we’d rather have them on the field and healthy Sunday. The Vikings are one of the better defenses in the NFL with Smith, Joseph and Barr on the field.
Contain Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery
Jay Cutler is wildly inconsistent and always has been with the Bears, but he seems to play well against the Vikings. Cutler threw for 211 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings earlier this year. Alshon Jeffery had a huge day with 10 catches for 116 yards and the lone score. Cutler also had a rushing touchdown in the game. The Vikings will look to create pressure on Cutler, whether it’s in blitzing or straight rushing from the defensive line. Along with Jeffery, they’ll need to contain Matt Forte in the run game, and he’s also an effective receiver out of the backfield.
A win Sunday puts the Vikings at 9-5 with two games left and the New York Giants coming to town for a primetime game on Sunday, Dec. 27. The hope is things come together for the Vikings to have their Week 17 game at Green Bay to decide the NFC North.