The race for the seventh and final spot in the NFC playoff picture is coming down to the wire. Two teams, the 6-7 Chicago Bears and 6-7 Minnesota Vikings, are just one game back of the playoffs, with the Vikings holding the tie-breaker after beating the Bears 19-13 last month in Chicago. Now, these teams will play each other again in Minneapolis, with the victor being more in the playoff mix than ever and the loser being sent to the brink of elimination.
Here is a closer look at both the Bears and Vikings, along with a pick to win the game. Minnesota is a three-point favorite at home, according to the latest odds.
One year after earning a .500 record, the Bears looked like they were well on their way to the postseason early on this season. Even with a quarterback change from Mitch Trubisky to Nick Foles in Week 3, Chicago still started the year 3-0 and won five of their first six games, which most notably included a one-point win on Thursday night against the Buccaneers. But beginning with a poor performance in Week 7 against the Rams, the Bears lost six in a row to tumble well out of playoff position. Now, after a miserable stretch of losing that lasted over 50 days, Chicago potentially saved their season with a big 36-7 win over the Texans last Sunday. They now look to hand Minnesota the upset this Sunday and assert themselves firmly in the race for the playoffs.
Although Chicago's offense boasts a couple of solid players like wide receiver Allen Robinson and running back David Montgomery, they are statistically still one of the league's worst units. The Bears are averaging 21.7 points per game, 25th in the NFL, on just about 340 total yards, which is ranked 28th. They also rank as the fifth-worst rushing offense and ninth-worst passing offense while also converting a league-low 32 percent of their third downs.
Defensively, the Bears are good enough to keep them in most games. Their 22.4 points allowed is ranked ninth, while the 363 yards they allow per game is just outside the top-10. They are fairly equal defending the pass and run, ranking around the middle of the pack in both, and have a top-10 defense on third down. In addition, a huge performance against Houston brought Chicago's team sack total to 30, to go along with a pedestrian seven interceptions.
You could make the argument that the Vikings have had the exact opposite season as the Bears. After a trip to the playoffs in 2019, Minnesota lost their first three games and started the season a dismal 1-5. Two of those losses, one to the Titans and the other to the Seahawks, were by a single point. However, an upset victory on the road against the rival Packers sparked wins in five of their next six, their one loss coming in a dramatic late touchdown drive by the Dallas Cowboys for a 31-28 final. But after a disappointing 26-14 loss last Sunday to the Buccaneers and the loaded Saints on the schedule next week, this Sunday is a pivotal game for the Vikings if they want to complete their comeback this year and make it back to the postseason.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins, along with running back Dalvin Cook and wide receivers Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, oversee an offense that is averaging 25.6 points per game and ranks top-five in yardage. Their 400 yards per game are aided by a ground game that ranks sixth with 147 rushing yards per game, as well as a passing game that sits 17th. Minnesota is also 13th with a 42.6 percent success rate on third downs.
On the defensive side, a young Vikings unit has struggled in several areas. They allow 27.3 points per game, 24th in the NFL, and give up over 385 yards per game, just outside the bottom-10. Minnesota ranks 19th in run defense but carries the seventh-worst pass defense in football. Finally, while the Vikings have a top-five third-down defense, they also have just 21 sacks as a team to go along with 11 interceptions.
Both of these teams really are who their record indicates if you look against the spread. First, the Bears are 6-7 ATS and 3-3 on the road, exactly the same as their overall and road records. They are a meager 1-4 ATS in their last five games against the NFC, and 3-8 ATS in their previous 11 games on the road. But they fare well against Minnesota, winning four of their last five meetings and covering in five of their last seven games against them.
Speaking of the Vikings, their 6-7 record ATS also matches their overall record, but their 2-5 ATS record at home is slightly worse than their 3-4 overall record at U.S. Bank Stadium. While they have covered just once in their last five games, they're 4-1 ATS in their last five NFC North games. They have also won six of the previous eight games against the Bears that were played in Minnesota.
This is legitimately a must-win game for both teams if either wants to stay in the playoff picture. The more times Cook can touch the ball for the Vikings, the better they'll be, as his 112 all-purpose yards in their win over Chicago played a significant role in their last meeting. Meanwhile, the Bears will have a confident Trubisky coming off of his best game of the year, as well as a healthy Montgomery, who missed the game against Minnesota in November.
For Sunday, I like the Bears in an upset. Cousins was sacked six times last week against the Bucs, while the Bears had six sacks of their own against the Texans. I like Chicago's invigorated pass-rush to put the pressure on, while Trubisky manages a simple yet effective offensive game-plan against one of the league's more-questionable secondaries. Give me the Bears to grab the win in this NFC North showdown.
Free Pick: Chicago Bears (+3).