PREVIEW: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Playoffs Hopes on the Line in the Twin Cities this Sunday
Familiar rivals square off a mere two weeks after their initial tussle in Chicago which netted the Bears a much needed 28-10 Victory in Soldier Field. A suddenly pensive and very banged up Chicago Bears team limps into the Metrodome to face a Vikings group that will be fighting for their Playoff lives in front of a raucous home crowd that really didn't otherwise need any coaxing from tackle machine Chad Greenway, who this week implored the Viking Faithful to get "super duper drunk" in preparation for this old school Black and Blue Division Contest.
Pre-game libations and other miscellaneous elixirs aside, Christian Ponder will have to shake his recent and rather painful, lingering hangover, one which culminated in a pair of critical interceptions at Green Bay last Sunday in a Game there was surprisingly there for the taking for the upstart Vikings. Like many young quarterbacks, Ponder performs better at home where he will be expected to make a few big plays down the field in order to augment best in class Adrian Peterson, who sliced and diced the Green Bay Defense for 210 yards last week in Lambeau, picking up those yards at an unheard of 10.1 yards per carry.
Ponder learned this week that Percy Harvin was placed on injured reserve thus ending his season after an MVP-like start. Although Ponder has developed an obvious chemistry with future Pro Bowl TE Kyle Rudolph, he has yet to establish a deep threat on the outside, as journeymen Michael Jenkins, Jerome Simpson and Devin Aromashodu have all been rather mediocre at best this season. Jarius Wright on the other hand has stepped in rather admirably for the otherwise uniquely irreplaceable Harvin in the slot and you can look for Ponder to target both Wright and Rudolph as he attempts to make plays in the passing game while protecting the football in order to allow Peterson to establish himself between the tackles.
For the Bears, injures are the headline story with Future Hall of Famer and 8 time Pro Bowler Brian Urlacher added to an injury list that includes Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs and Tim Jennings, all of whom are Pro Bowl caliber players in their own right. This is a group that remains 2nd overall in the League in points allowed, however they were pushed around last Sunday by Seattle to the tune of 459 yards in their OT loss to the emerging Seahawks. They have allowed their opponents to rush for 100+ yards in 6 straight games after making it through the first six without allowing an opposing running back to rack up a C-Note. With Adrian Peterson in the on-deck circle, this doesn't bode well for the Monster of the Midway.
The Bears will of course counter with lightning rod signal caller Jay Cutler, a Quarterback as critical to his team's fortune as any other in the League. Cutler will be backed by an improving offensive line, a Unit that has had its share of problems in the past. They will have to be on their game in order to provide Cutler with the time needed to make plays in the passing game against the likes of Brian Robison, a rejuvenated Kevin Williams and sack king Jared Allen.
Expect Offense in what should be a hard fought, back and forth contest, as Cutler has been a Viking Killer in his short tenure in Chicago. The Vikings will counter with a ground-based attack spearheaded by Peterson with play action to Rudolph and Wright coupled with an occasional long shot down the field to the mercurial Aromashodu, who would like nothing better than to burn his old team.
Turnovers will of course play an enormous role, as they do in virtually every football game and I expect Ponder to take care of the pigskin this Sunday while making the 6 or 7 plays needed to augment what should be a big day for Peterson against a patchwork Bears Defense. Cutler will put up numbers in his own right, but in the end rookie place kicker Bryan Walsh will hit the game winner as time winds down and the Vikings will live to fight another Sunday in their unlikely chase for a playoff spot. The Bears meanwhile will be left to wonder if another late season collapse is in the cards.
Vikings 26 Bears 24