Sunday matchups: Bears-Vikings
January, 1, 2012
By Michael C. Wright | ESPNChicago.com
BEARS (7-8) AT VIKINGS (3-12) Noon Sunday at Metrodome on FOX
|Josh McCown needs to build on his strong Bears debut with another efficient outing against the Vikings to secure a legitimate opportunity in 2012 to compete for the No. 2 job behind starter Jay Cutler. McCown played with poise against the Packers last week, but needs to eliminate the turnovers. Vikings rookie Christian Ponder will get the start, and is completing 56.8 percent of his passes on third down, which ranks 13th best in such situations. McCown’s experience wins out here.|| |
|Marion Barber appears set to miss the game with a calf injury. So Kahlil Bell prepares to make his third NFL start after finishing with a career-high 121 yards rushing against the Packers, with Armando Allen backing him up. Vikings RB Toby Gerhart averaged 9.9 yards per attempt filling in for injured Adrian Peterson. Gerhart is considered just as physical a runner as Peterson.|
|This outing presents somewhat of an audition situation for veteran Roy Williams, who caught a season-high six passes for 81 yards in the loss at Green Bay. Earl Bennett and Dane Sanzenbacher also look to finish strong. Chicago’s receivers, however, are no match for Minnesota’s group led by Percy Harvin. Rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph could present problems for Chicago’s safeties.|
| Lost in the loss to the Green Bay Packers last week was the fact Chicago’s offensive line didn’t give up any sacks. McCown’s mobility plays a role in that, but the Bears -- despite the perception -- have protected fairly well. The Vikings, meanwhile, will be without left guard Steve Hutchinson (concussion) and right guard Anthony Herrera has battled a lower-back injury in the week of preparation.
|Chicago’s defensive line has played well at times this season, but the unit has been wildly inconsistent. The front four all but disappeared in the loss last week to the Packers, as the defensive ends didn’t register any statistics. Minnesota’s Jared Allen is in the midst of his fifth consecutive season with double-digit sack totals, and the front four leads the charge in the Vikings ranking second in the NFL with 107 plays for negative gain.
|Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher have racked up 15 Pro Bowls between them, with the former still motivated by the desire to secure a new contract. Although Bears coach Lovie Smith has been supportive of strong-side linebacker Nick Roach, this could be an evaluation game for him. Minnesota’s Chad Greenway has posted 11 tackles for lost yardage, and E.J. Henderson has 14.|
|Cornerback Asher Allen should be back this week after missing the game against the Redskins with a concussion. But safety Husain Abdullah’s season ended three weeks ago because of a concussion. Cornerback Cedric Griffin leads the Vikings with 10 pass breakups. Chicago’s Zack Bowman needs to bounce back after a shaky outing last week along with safety Major Wright. Craig Steltz will receive yet another crack at proving his worth.|
| Injuries have taken away the explosiveness of return man Devin Hester, but he’ll look to finish the season on a high note after struggling over the last few weeks. Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell needs a field goal to move into second in franchise history for field goals made. Bears kicker Robbie Gould has made 20 field goals or more in seven consecutive years, while punter Adam Podlesh’s 40.1-yard net average is the best in team history.
|In his first full season as Minnesota’s head coach, Leslie Frazier helped the Vikings break a six-game losing streak last week at Washington, and hopes to finish on a two-game winning streak to set a tone of optimism for the offseason. Bears coach Lovie Smith would like to do the same, but his teams have lost two of their last three regular-season finales.|
|Smith quickly points out that there isn’t a tryout period, but rest assured the coaching staff and front office will use this meaningless game as an evaluation tool for how the team proceeds into the offseason. With so many backups expected to play key roles against the Vikings on Sunday, look for this game to resemble a team’s final preseason game in which lesser-known players are fighting for jobs.|
|PREDICTION: Bears 27, Vikings 17|