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Bears-Vikings matchups and predictions

MinnesotVikings running back Adrian Petersrushes away from Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle C.J. Mosley (99) defensive end TysAlualu (93) during overtime

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson rushes away from Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle C.J. Mosley (99) and defensive end Tyson Alualu (93) during overtime of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012, in Minneapolis. The Vikings won 26-23. (AP Photo/Genevieve Ross)

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STAFF PREDICTIONS

RICK MORRISSEY: 14-10 Bears

Season: 9-1

RICK TELANDER: 21-18 Bears

Season: 9-1

DAN McGRATH: 23-21 Bears

Season: 7-3

SEAN JENSEN: 24-13 Bears

Season: 7-3

MARK POTASH: 17-13 Bears

Season: 8-2

ADAM L. JAHNS: 23-20 Bears

Season: 5-1

WEEK 12

VIKINGS AT BEARS

Time: Noon Sunday at Soldier Field.

TV: Fox-32 (Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa).

Radio: 780-AM, 105.9-FM.

Line: Bears by 6 1/2.

Total: 38 1/2.

WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL

On the ground

With new starters in LG Chris Spencer and RT Jonathan Scott, the Bears are likely to try to establish the running game they attempted to use against the 49ers, regardless of the starting QB. It will be an interesting battle. The Vikings are 14th in the NFL in rushing defense (111.6 yards per game) but second in first-down rushing defense (3.6 yards per carry). The Bears are last in the NFL in first-down yardage (4.09). Matt Forte is averaging 2.8 ypc in his last two games after averaging 5.0 in his first seven games. FB Evan Rodriguez should figure prominently in the running game.

In the air

Offensive coordinator Mike Tice said it all when asked if he thought QB Jay Cutler would start this week. ‘‘God, I hope so,’’ he said. But Cutler has a history of struggling after injuries, and it remains to be seen how much better an option he would be than Jason Campbell, who figures to be more at home against a defense that doesn’t come at him from all angles quite like the 49ers. If Tice can keep Allen from devouring Cutler/Campbell, Brandon Marshall should thrive against the Vikes’ defense. The Lions’ Calvin Johnson had 12 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown against the Vikes on Nov. 11.

Key matchup

Bears LT J’Marcus Webb vs. Vikings DE Jared Allen

Allen, who hasn’t had a sack in the last two games, has to be smelling blood against Webb, who struggled to contain him in Week 17 last season, when Allen had 31/2 sacks. Webb figures to get a lot of help Sunday.

WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL

On the ground

The Bears have dropped from first to eighth in the NFL against the run in the last three weeks — a particularly ominous trend with red-hot Adrian Peterson in town. Peterson not only leads the NFL in rushing with 1,128 yards (5.8 yards per carry), but he is averaging 157 yards and 7.7 ypc in his last four games. Peterson is averaging 3.6 ypc in his last four games against the Bears. Toby Gerhart is an effective change-of-pace RB who has burned the Bears before. And QB Christian Ponder also is a threat. He averaged 4.3 ypc and scored on a 23-yard run against the 49ers.

In the air

Ponder has been hot-and-cold in his second season as a starter. The difference this season is that he’s avoiding bad mistakes when he’s not on his game. He has thrown only eight interceptions, though the Redskins’ Madieu Williams returned one 24 yards for a touchdown. Percy Harvin (62 catches, 677 yards, three touchdowns) might not play (sprained ankle). But without Harvin against the Lions on Nov. 11, Ponder threw to nine receivers for 236 yards and two TDs in a 34-24 victory. After the 49ers’ Vernon Davis burned the Bears last week, TE Kyle Rudolph (six TDs) should have their attention.

Key matchup

Bears DT Henry Melton vs. Vikings C John Sullivan

The Bears have been successful against Peterson because their DTs get penetration, which prevents Peterson from getting a head of steam that leads to huge gains. Melton and Stephen Paea give the Bears a good head start.

X-FACTOR

Under Lovie Smith, the Bears usually have responded after embarrassing losses. But this has been a challenging week, with the uncertainty at quarterback, LG Chilo Rachal’s demotion and defection and Jonathan Scott replacing former No. 1 draft pick Gabe Carimi at RT. With the Vikings a game behind the Bears, the pressure is on. The Bears are in danger of falling out of the playoff picture with a loss, and the home crowd will be restless.

SPECIAL TEAMS

After a net minus-1 yard on three punt returns against the 49ers, Devin Hester is still due. But the Bears’ optimism is not unfounded. Hester has four kick-return touchdowns against the Vikings, including a 98-yarder last season. Vikes kicker Blair Walsh is second in the NFL with 41 touchbacks. He is 7-for-7 on field goals of 48 yards or longer, including five of 50-plus. Percy Harvin is second in the league in kickoff returns, but he might not play because of an ankle injury.



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