By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
The Chicago Bears come into this Sunday leading the NFC North but they have not beaten a team with a winning record yet so far this season.
The game that awaits them on Sunday evening, against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football, will decide who controls the NFC North after Week 11 and likely for the remainder of the season. With a win, the Bears move to 7-3 and gain a whole new level of national praise and respect for themselves.
Many coaches and analysts talk about how teams want to position themselves around Thanksgiving for a playoff run in December. The Bears started positioning themselves in the right way after two straight wins in November and are coming off their best performance last week against the Detroit Lions.
Minnesota provides the likely lone impediment towards Chicago having a perfect November, which if the Bears pull off allows them to not only maintain control of the NFC North with 3 wins in division, it also puts them at eight wins before the end of November, which is a good sign for clinching a postseason berth in December.
Plenty of factors will help decide this game against the Vikings, adding layers to this match-up that feature a Vikings team coming off a bye week and that was already playing pretty good football before the break.
On paper this game looks like a heavyweight battle and could easily be a potential playoff match-up. Speaking of previews, here are the four goals for the Bears to gain a victory in a big time showcase game on the lakefront.
Who will break whom? — The Bears and the Vikings have both been very efficient teams that don’t beat themselves. Through Week 10 both teams have had 65 penalties for the season, with the Bears racking up 471 yards on those fouls to the Vikings’ 415 as both rank as two of the best teams in the league in penalty yardage.
On top of the discipline both teams have shown, both are also in the positive column regarding turnover ratio. The Bears have a much bigger advantage in this category as they rank first in the league in the all important turnover category while the Vikings are only +1 on the season but that speaks more to the lack of takeaways by their defense — Minnesota’s offense has committed only 13 turnovers, as low as number as you’ll see in the league but not lower than the Bears’ 11.
Defensively, both teams rankings are about identical in passing yards a game and rush yards a game. Where the Bears have been much better statistically is in points scored and points given up. These stats give us a clue on what type of game to expect but come Sunday it will be about which team is able to play their game the best and that team will likely win.
Strike First and Get Soldier Field Rocking — The Bears have enjoyed a nice home field advantage so far this season with only one loss (New England) coming in five games at Soldier Field.
In 2018 the venerable home of the Bears has made sounds and noises that haven’t been heard around these parts in quite awhile. Coach Matt Nagy issued a challenge to the fans to be as loud and as crazy possible to help the team get going (see video above). A challenge that fans will surely have no problem meeting but there is a catch. The fans need things to cheer about which requires the Bears to get the fans into the game early by starting strong.
Chicago had no problem starting fast last week by scoring 13 points in both the first and second quarters. On the season, the Bears have yet to beat a team with a winning record, the Vikings are going to be the best team the Bears have played at least since the Patriots and perhaps all together thus far.
Young teams feed off energy and in-game momentum, getting the crowd going by starting fast will go a long way in getting a big prime-time victory for the home team.
Stars Are Born in Primetime — The Vikings are an explosive team on both sides of the ball, boasting explosive weapons on the edge in wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, the do-everything running back Dalvin Cook and a quarterback that can sling it however you may like that (or not) in Kirk Cousins.
On defense, they have playmakers at every level with ferocious book end pass rushers in Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen that evoke past days of Purple People eating. Hard hitting linebacker Anthony Barr, shutdown corner Xavier Rhodes and ball hawking free safety Harrison Smith are other Pro Bowl-level talents. The Bears come into the game with less established stars overall.
Edge rusher Khalil Mack is bonafide and guys like quarterback Mitch Trubisky, wide receiver Allen Robinson, running back Tarik Cohen, safety Eddie Jackson and corner Kyle Fuller are all on the verge of getting that star status verified blue check mark. What’s likely kept those players from crossing such a threshold is the idea that players get national recognition as super stars when they show up to play in nationally televised games.
Well, this week the Bears players have an opportunity to establish some new faces of the NFL if they come through with a great performance and all the players mentioned may have to play well for the Bears to win.
Coach Nagy’s “Show It” Week — What a thrill it has been anticipating this game, especially after the news broke that the noon kickoff was flexed by the NFL to its most watched game of the week.
Still, this wasn’t a perfect week for the flex as this match-up is playing second fiddle to the potentially epic Chiefs and Rams on the national scale, but not by much. The NFC North can potentially produce three playoff teams and likely will remain hotly contested all the way up to the end of the season. Minnesota has experience in dealing with expectations under the bright lights but this is foreign territory for the team across for them.
So how do the Bears combat the experience of the Vikings? That question will be answered by the game planning and preparation from the staff and players, but it starts with Nagy’s coaching, he and his staff have been great for the most part this year in getting the team prepared for each opponent.
The key in the Bears preparation will be the schemes that the offense and defense each deploy. It will be best if the Bears can continue their trend of not overthinking things, which they’ve been good at week to week in 2018 — this is a team that instinctively attacks the weaknesses of their opponents and it has worked itself to be competitive in every game, another element to back up the leadership Nagy brings.
The team is rallying around “Swagy” Nagy (his new nickname, credit me if you run with it please) and with a victory Nagy will start getting Sean McVay-level recognition in time for the two meet at Soldier Field on December 9th…which, interestingly, is now another prime-time game.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR