I just finished watching the Minnesota Gophers win a Big Ten game...on the road. No, that's not a misprint. The Minnesota Golden Gophers. Their football team. They won. On the road. Meanwhile back here in the Twin Cities, it was almost 70 early in the week. Today we have six inches (and counting) of snow.
Perhaps it's fitting that this Minnesota Saturday has been so wild and unpredictable, because this Sunday probably will be too. When the Vikings and Bears get together in Chicago, you never know what to expect.
Take last year's Monday Nighter for example. The Vikings did absolutely nothing in the first half, stormed back from a 16 point deficit to force overtime, only to watch Devin Aromashodu waltz down the sideline for the game-winning score in the extra session. (Hmm...struggling out of the gate followed by frantically scrambling from behind most of the game...sounds like a blueprint for the 2010 season!)
Remember 2008's game at Soldier Field? The 48-41shootout won by the Bears with five Viking turnovers and three non-offensive touchdowns by Chicago? Yeah I didn't want to remember it either.
And how about 2007? The Vikings won that one, but it wasn't easy. It took a 55-yard Ryan Longwell field goal to overcome the Devin Hester Show (an 89-yard punt return TD and an 81-yard reception that tied the game late).
If recent history is any indication, tomorrow's game should come with a mandatory warning from the FDA for all spectators with a heart condition. There's a good chance that Sunday's game will be just as nuts, but let's go ahead and try to predict the unpredictable anyway.
You know that old football cliche "the game is won in the trenches"? I can't think of a time where that old saying has held more true. The performance of each team's offensive and defensive lines will be the main factor in the outcome. The Vikings' pass rush finally woke up last week against Arizona. They notched six sacks and doubled their season total. Meanwhile, the Bears' offensive line has given up a league-worst 32 sacks through the first eight games. The Vikings need to make Jay Cutler spend a whole lot of time with the ground for a chance to win. If they don't, that Mike Martz offense could reach near-St. Louis levels.
It's no walk in the park on the other side of the ball either. The Bears now have Julius Peppers on their defensive line. After last year's game against the Panthers, I'm pretty sure he was put on this Earth to terrorize Bryant McKinnie. We'll need an incredibly "chippy" game from the likes of Jim Kleinsasser, Visanthe Shiancoe, and Toby Gerhart. There's no way the Minnesota tackles should ever face Peppers one-on-one on passing downs.
You know that old football cliche "you need to win the turnover battle"? I can't think of a time where that old saying has held more true. It's no surprise that the 5-3 team in this game is +1 in the turnover margin while the 3-5 team is -9. Both Brett Favre and Cutler are undoubtedly capable of putting up huge stats. But at the end of the day, the most important number will be the one under the INT column. Neither team can expect to win if they aren't careful with the ball.
You know that old football cliche "defense wins championships"? I can probably think of times where that old saying has held more true, but it's still pretty relevant here. After struggling with tons of injuries the past couple seasons, the Bears D is back in the top 10 this year. They're allowing only 3.5 yards per carry and are third in the league against the run. The Vikings will need to establish the running game or risk seeing way too much of team MVP Chris Kluwe. (No, I'm serious...who has played better than Kluwe this season? To put it in terms Kluwe would understand, he's punting like a Level 60 Night Elf with maximum dexterity and Shadowmeld.)
Minnesota's defense has made us pull our hair out from time to time, but they're still fifth overall. The real test in Chicago will be on our secondary. Since Mike Martz tends to call plays like rushing the ball results in an automatic 3-point penalty, there will be plenty of opportunities for the defensive backfield to make some plays. Cutler is equally capable of throwing four touchdowns and four interceptions. The closer he is to the latter instead of the former, the better the chances are for Minnesota.
Finally, since this is a Vikings/Bears game at Soldier Field, special teams will probably come into play. This is the part when I say PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO NOT KICK IT ANYWHERE NEAR DEVIN HESTER. DO NOT TEMPT FATE HERE. That is all.
While we can't be sure what to expect tomorrow, I'm fairly certain that Minnesota has more talent than Chicago. It sounds like Sidney Rice could return in a limited role, which can only help the Purple. If the Vikings can take care of the ball and play consistently for 60 minutes (HUGE ifs to be sure), they should win this game. I see the Vikings edging out the Bears in a typical roller coaster of a game.
Prediction: Vikings 27, Bears 24
Here are the rest of my Week 10 NFL picks (home team in ALL CAPS):
FALCONS over Ravens: Yep, I got this one right on Thursday. Just ask everyone in our Daily Norseman Pick 'em league, because yours truly is still winning! Damn right I'm bragging about winning something with no money or pride riding on it!
BILLS over Lions: With Matthew Stafford out and Detroit riding a 24-game road losing streak, the Bills have to win this one to avoid 0-16, right? Poor Detroit fans--the Lions had all sorts of promise this year, and now they're underdogs to the only winless team in the league.
Jets over BROWNS: I wouldn't be surprised if the Browns continued their string of upsets here, especially with how poorly New York's offense has played lately. However, I would be shocked if there is any food remaining from the post-game spreads with the likes of the Ryan brothers and Eric Mangini in the stadium.
Titans over DOLPHINS: I think Randy Moss should just play for a different team every week. That way he'll have his trademark "great first game with his new team" every game and nobody would have to deal with his locker room crap for more than a few days.
BUCCANEERS over Panthers: How pissed to you think that Carolina's wide receiver is now that he's the "other" Steve Smith in most fantasy circles?
Texans over JAGUARS: If I gambled on the NFL, this would be the "No Way Would I Ever Bet On Either Of These Jekyll And Hyde Teams" Bowl. Hmm. Maybe the name of the bowl needs some work.
BRONCOS over Chiefs: My inexplicable upset pick of the week. Just a weird feeling.
GIANTS over Cowboys: My suicide pool pick, still alive at 9-0. No matter how poorly these next two divisional games go for Minnesota, at least we're not the Cowboys. Speaking of which, can we start incorporating "At least we're not the Cowboys" into everyday life? For instance, say your girlfriend dumped you or you just got laid off. Wouldn't saying "At least I'm not the Cowboys" make you feel better?
CARDINALS over Seahawks: I think Seattle might treat road games like baseball teams that send split squads to spring training games.
49ERS over Rams: Only because I'm openly rooting for a 7-9 NFC West champion this year.
STEELERS over Patriots: I'm picking Pittsburgh to defy every analyst I've heard preview this game. They have all pointed to the fact that Tom Brady won two AFC Championship games in Pittsburgh back in the day. Um, how the hell is that relevant to this game? Screw you Tedy Bruschi.
Eagles over REDSKINS: I had some great analysis for this game, but I didn't have the cardiovascular endurance to type it.
Last week: 11-2
Season so far: 84-47