Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) rushes against the Chicago Bears during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
RICK MORRISSEY: Bears, 31-24
RICK TELANDER: Vikings, 28-24
DAN McGRATH: Vikings, 28-27
HUB ARKUSH: Bears, 37-34
ADAM L. JAHNS: Vikings, 23-21
MARK POTASH: Bears, 31-27
PATRICK FINLEY: Bears, 28-17
BEARS AT VIKINGS
Time: Noon Sunday at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome
Line: Pick ’em
TV: Fox-32 (Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick)
Radio: 780-AM, 105.9-FM
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
ON THE GROUND
Despite an early fumble, Matt Forte was effective as usual last week — 16 carries for 77 yards — and figures to play a key role against a Vikings run defense that is ranked 25th in the NFL (119 ypg) after allowing 196 yards to the Packers last week. Forte rushed for 88 yards on 20 carries vs. the Vikings at Soldier Field. Alshon Jeffery had a 38-yard gain on an end-around vs. the Vikes in Week 2. Jeffery has 115 yards on 13 carries, not including a 27-yarder vs. the Rams nullified by penalty. Packers QBs Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn combined for 49 yards and 1 TD on 6 carries vs. the Vikings last week.
IN THE AIR
If the Bears can keep Jared Allen off his back, Josh McCown has a chance for a big day against a Vikings defense ranked 29th against the pass. McCown’s 100.8 rating in five games in place of Jay Cutler (7 TDs, 1 INT) would ranked seventh in the NFL. This is the first opponent McCown will face that Cutler faced previously this year. Cutler was 27-for-38 for 292 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs in Week 2. The Bears allowed 17 QB hurries vs. the Rams last week, so containing Allen and Co. will be key. Bears WRs Brandon Marshall (74-945) and Alshon Jeffery (58-860) are the top duo in the NFL.
The versatility of Matt Forte is an effective counter to Jared Allen and a Vikings defense that rushes the passer particularly well at home (15 sacks in five games). Forte had a season-high 30 touches for 161 yards vs. the Vikings at Soldier Field. Allen has just five sacks this year, tied with Brian Robison for the team lead, but is always a threat to go nuts at home.
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
ON THE GROUND
This could get ugly quickly. The Bears allowed 258 rushing yards to the Rams. Now they face Adrian Peterson (226-997, 10 TDs), who is second in the NFL in rushing and already has gains of 78, 60 and 52 yards this season. On his first carry against the Bears at the Metrodome last year, Peterson gained 51 yards. After getting smoked by rookies Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham, the Bears are hoping that a superstar such as Peterson will have their attention and increase their focus on run fits. Vikings RB Toby Gerhart has rushed for 158 yards on 15 carries (10.5 ypc) in his last two games.
IN THE AIR
Vikings QB Christian Ponder (78.7 passer rating, 7 TDs, 9 INTs) doesn’t look like a big threat, but the third-year pro has had 100-plus passer ratings in 2 of his last 3 games — 113.1 vs. the Redskins on Nov. 7 and 103.9 vs. the Packers last week. Still, only the Jets (9) and Jaguars (5) have fewer TD passes than the Vikings (11) this season. Deep threat Jerome Simpson (36, 546) is the Vikes’ leading WR but has yet to catch a TD. Greg Jennings (36-439, 2 TDs) has not had the impact he had with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. Bears could be without SS Major Wright (hamstring). Craig Steltz would replace him.
Bears rookie LB Jon Bostic has been a hit-and-miss player who mostly missed last week. But he’s learning and quite a talent, so he could step up as an impact player at any time. Vikings QB Christian Ponder has a career 59.2 passer rating in 5 games vs. the Bears (2 TDs, 4 INTs). But a porous Bears run defense could make anyone look like a star.
Kick returns were huge when the Bears beat the Vikings 31-30 at Soldier Field on Sept. 15. The Vikings’ Cordarrelle Patterson returned the opening kickoff 105 yards for a TD, but Devin Hester responded with a kickoff return of 76 yards and added kickoff returns of 80 and 42 yards for a franchise record of 249 kickoff-return yards. Patterson added a 109-yard KO-return TD vs. the Packers and leads the NFL with a 34.0-yard average. The Bears rank 10th in the NFL in kickoff coverage and 19th in punt coverage. Hester, whose 62-yard punt-return TD was nullified by a penalty last week, is due. But then again, he always is.
For what it’s worth, the Bears’ last two losses — to the Lions (21-19) and Rams (42-21) have come against teams with an extra week’s rest after a bye. That can be a big factor late in the season (it paid dividends for the Bears coming off their bye week when they won at Green Bay), and in both losses the Bears struggled more than normal on the line of scrimmage (even though they gained 424 yards vs. the Rams, they still allowed 17 QB hurries). Now both teams will be on a level playing field. Will it make a difference? It’s hard to tell, but the NFL is so tight this season that every little edge can become a big one.