First place in the NFC North will be on the line Sunday night during a critical matchup between the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings. Kickoff is set for 8:20 EST on Sunday, November 18, at Soldier Field in Chicago. The game will be nationally televised on NBC.
Oddsmakers list the Bears as 2.5-point favorites at home. That line has shrunk slightly after Chicago opened the week as 3-point favorites. The over/under is set at 45.5 points. Click here to see a full list of this week’s betting odds and game previews.
Before the season, the Bears were a trendy pick to make some noise in the NFC this season, and those predictions have come true thus far. With three straight wins, Chicago currently sits in first place in the NFC North at 6-3. If it matters, the Bears don’t have a win against a team that currently has a winning record. However, they’ve done enough to give themselves a slim lead in the NFC North ahead of the 5-3-1 Vikings.
However, with a win on Sunday, Minnesota can slip past the Bears for the top spot in the division. After a sluggish start, the Vikings have come on strong, winning four of their last five games. Minnesota’s only loss during that span came against the Saints in a game that they probably should have won. Of course, they also don’t have a win this year against a winning team, something that will change for one of these sides this week.
Despite playing great football over the past month, the Vikings may not be able to survive a loss on Sunday and still win the NFC North. With a win, Chicago would have a somewhat comfortable lead atop the division. Also, Minnesota still has road games against the Patriots and Seahawks down the stretch, giving them a more difficult schedule than the Bears. Of course, even if the Vikings pick up a win this weekend, the division could still end up being decided when these two teams meet again in Week 17.
For what it’s worth, the Vikings have won six of the last seven meetings between these two teams, including a series sweep last year and in 2015. With plenty of wins at Soldier Field over the years, the Vikings won’t be worried about going on the road on a Sunday night, even as the underdog.
This game has defensive slugfest written all over it, which is the way it should be with first place in the NFC North on the line. With that in mind, I see the Vikings as being the team with more offensive game changers and the team more likely to break through a stalemate. In what I expect to be a tight game, that’s enough for me to lean toward the Vikings as the underdog.
The Vikings aren’t quite the same team they were a year ago when they reached the NFC Championship Game. But they’re slowly getting back to that same level. Over their last five games, they are holding teams to less than 19 points per game. The only outlier in that stretch was their loss to the Saints, and in that game, they were able to hold New Orleans to under 300 total yards. Needless to say, that’s a huge accomplishment for any defense.
Minnesota’s defense has been particularly stout against the run this year. On the season, they are giving up just 3.6 yards per carry. That’s a concern for the Bears, whose running game has been solid but not all that flashy. If not for Mitchell Trubisky’s scrambles, they’d struggle to reach 100 yards rushing most weeks. Given Minnesota’s propensity to stop the run, this is a game when the Bears could ask more of Trubisky than most weeks. The young quarterback is still prone to accuracy problems, which makes me a little nervous to rely on the Bears to cover.
To be fair, the Bears are top-5 in points per game this season. That is no doubt a shocking statistic. However, while the Chicago offense has been better than expected, they owe a lot of their success to their defense. The Bears are second in the NFL in takeaways, which has led to short fields for the offense and a lot of defensive scores. If Minnesota can avoid turnovers and not give any breaks to the Chicago offense, they should feel good about their defense keeping the Bears out of the end zone.
Obviously, the onus will be on Kirk Cousins to step it up in the ball security department. However, his five interceptions in nine games is an acceptable number and a big step in the right direction for him compared to previous years.
More importantly, Cousins has some dynamic playmakers at his disposal. Adam Thielen has been a nightmare for opposing defenses this year, especially when teams know that Stefon Diggs can also beat them deep. Also, Dalvin Cook is finally back to full health and will be ready to be the team’s workhorse back. With those three finally on the field at the same time, that’s a lot of talent for the Chicago defense to worry about, no matter how good they’ve been this year.
When push comes to shove, I think the Vikings will find a way to score points against the Bears. Minnesota has better skill players and more big-play potential. Both defenses will have a good game, but the Vikings will be able to produce one or two big plays that sway the game in their favor.