It’s almost like fantasy football—week 17 and not that much to play for—except in the case of the Minnesota Vikings, who have the 2nd seed and a first round bye to solidify when the Chicago Bears come to U.S. Bank Stadium this weekend. In fact, don’t tell the Vikings that they can coast on Sunday afternoon, this week is huge for them.
“This is the first time in my career that we can say this game counts for more than one,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “Every week we stand up here and say ‘it’s one week, it’s one win, it’s one loss.’ This week counts as two wins, essentially. If we can go out and get a win, it guarantees us that we get next week off.”
The Vikings are looking good for the 2nd seed and, more importantly, a first-round bye:
Minnesota clinches a first-round bye with:
1) Vikings win or tie OR
2) Carolina loss or tie at Atlanta OR
3) New Orleans win at Tampa Bay OR
4) Los Angeles Rams win against San Francisco.
All of those things could happen or none of them could happen and the Vikings would get the bye (since they currently hold the 2nd seed). But we can probably imagine at least one of them happening, and anyone works. However, if the Vikings lose and Panthers win, then the Vikings will drop—and we don’t want that to happen. This is the NFL, though, so . . .
So, the Vikings should go out and beat the Bears on Sunday. They play first before any of the games featuring the alternative scenarios are being played, so they do have backup plans in case of a loss. But the Vikings won’t be scoreboard watchers while playing their game because there is nothing to watch except their own score.
“All week, all we have to do is worry about taking care of our business,” Rudolph said. “We don’t’ want to get any help from anyone. We want to go out, take care of our business and continue to ride this momentum to the playoffs. The last things you want to do is limp into the playoffs, coming off a loss. We want to go out and play well and end the season the right way.”
But what about a facing a team with nothing to play for—which the Vikings will now be doing for, essentially, the third week in a row (although the 5-8 Bengals weren’t officially eliminated, but they played like they were). So, should the Vikings expect any sense of “letdown” from the 5-10 Chicago Bears?
“Not at all,” Rudolph said. “I think they are almost dangerous in that they have nothing to lose. They can go for it on fourth down; they can have trick plays on special teams; they can try to do things to win the game and ruin our next week. So, they are almost more dangerous, in my opinion.”
This is another NFC North Division rivalry game, after all. And the Bears, who have had the Vikings number (until this season) at Soldier Field, will certainly be coming to Minneapolis to try to spoil the Vikings’ postseason plans. The Bears have been kind of playing with little playoff hopes for a lot of the season, so this week is no different for them—they all know their jobs are on the line.
All that said, the Bears are no pushovers. Their defense has played well most of the season and is currently ranked eighth in yards allowed per game (318.6 yards) and 10th in points allowed per game (19.8 points). It is the Chicago offense that has struggled and held the team back this season. They are ranked 30th in the league in yards (293.2 yards) and 20th in points scored per game (16.9 points).
The Bears have played rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky since the first game against Minnesota (he was 12 of 25 for 128 yards and a touchdown pass and an interception in that game), and while he has had some moments, it has been fairly much the same the rest of the season. Head coach Mike Zimmer, however, says he Trubisky has developed.
“He’s doing a lot better,” Zimmer said. “I think he’s got much better command of where he’s throwing the football. He’s using his legs to make some plays in some bootlegs. Seems like he knows where to go with the football a lot better now. Reading coverages better, but to me he’s much improved.”
On Sunday, this will be a game about emotion in having something to play for, and the Vikings should the lion’s share of that. Minnesota lost their left guard Nick Easton for the remainder of the season (with a broken ankle) against the Packers and long snapper will Kevin McDermott (shoulder) is hoping to return for the playoffs—so the idea is to get him (and the rest of the team) that bye week and don’t get anyone else injured.
Quarterback Sam Bradford was spotted in the locker room on Wednesday, and while he won’t suit up on Sunday, he will likely practice next week, according to head coach Mike Zimmer, so there is that to keep an eye. Speaking of quarterbacks, the Vikings would like to get up early and big on the Bears so they can get Teddy Bridgewater another look behind center late in the game. All these factors are fact finding missions for the Vikings decision-making process at that position next season.
But no one is looking past this weekend and they are anticipating a good test from the Bears:
“This is a big game,” wide receiver Adam Thielen said. “It’s pretty much a playoff game for us, so, it’s a big game.”
That might just be what the players are supposed to say (Thielen picked up the Korey Stringer Good Guy award from the media on Wednesday, so he is a pro in answering questions), but with so much still riding on this game for the Vikings, we shouldn’t expect to see a let down from them.
Quarterback Case Keenum and the offense will put up a better game than he did last week at frozen Lambeau, and the defense, if they were to play the whole game, likely could pitch another shutout. But the team will take care of business early, have some time to look at Bridgewater and get ready for a couple days on the couch during Wild Card weekend.
“That kind of sums up the importance of this week,” Rudolph explained. “You go out and win this week, we get to sit back and watch everyone play next week while essentially win again and someone has to come here for the divisional round.”
Sounds good to me.