Last weekend the Minnesota Vikings were in the perfect position to play the part of a playoff spoiler team as the Green Bay Packers were in a must-win situation but only managed to leave the field with a tie. This weekend the Vikings are in the same position against another divisional rival, the Chicago Bears. The Bears are 6-5 and in second place in the NFC North, but the Detroit Lions already won this week and appear the favorite to emerge from the division.
Although the Vikings are now 2-8-1 and don’t have the record to make any team nervous, they played pretty well last weekend and will have their strengths amplified by the atrocious Bears defense. In the past the Bears have been known as a defensive minded team, but with Marc Trestman as the new coach the defense has taken a hit as the offense has come into the foreground.
According to Pro Football Focus the Bears are vying with the Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers for the title of worst overall defense. All three teams have a very similar negative ranking by PFF, and the one unit that is really holding the Bears back is the run defense. This is where the Vikings will have their opportunity to control the game as they have two running backs playing at a high level.
Adrian Peterson hasn’t been his same old self this season, but he is still second in the league in rushing and has a respectable 4.4 yards per carry average. Toby Gerhart has emerged as a real contributor in recent weeks as he’s gained 158 yards in the past two games on just 15 carries. That comes out to an impressive 10.5 yards per carry average and is a clear indicator he should continue getting touches this Sunday.
The Vikings rode their ground game to a tie last weekend, and hopefully this weekend the coaching staff sticks with the same game plan as the Bears gave up 258 rushing yards and 42 points to the St. Louis Rams last week. This is a Rams team that only ran the ball 29 times with two running backs that are relatively unknown and aren’t of the same caliber as Peterson or Gerhart.
That’s just one instance in which the Bears have given up an insane amount of rushing yards, and this weekend’s matchup will likely be another example of a NFL team using the run game to win. Christian Ponder has looked somewhat better in recent weeks, but the run game is easily this team’s biggest strength and they should focus on keeping the ball on the ground if they are to spoil the Bears’ playoff hopes.
The Lions are 7-5, meaning a win for the Bears gives them the same record, but a loss puts them a game back and makes their hopes of winning the division sink slightly. They still have a realistic shot at either winning the division or getting a wild card spot, but they would likely have to win-out against a tough schedule to secure a playoff berth if they are to lose this weekend.