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Vikings at Bears Preview: Won’t Back Down

After a home loss that added insult to injury, can the Vikings get a rare win in Chicago? Or will they keep Free Fallin’?

NFL: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
Jordan Howard will look to ease the pressure on Mitchell Trubisky in his first NFL start.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Like many of you, I use a streaming service for most of my music these days. My service of choice happens to be Spotify.* One of my favorite features of Spotify is the custom playlists you can save and stream on any of your devices. Perhaps the most listened to playlist I have created is called “Dad Songs.” It consists of all the classic rock I grew up listening to, mostly because it was what my dad listened to. Hence the name. I play it all the time because it works for almost any audience. Today’s music can be almost as divisive as today’s politics; not so with “Dad Songs.” Everyone knows and enjoys most of the playlist. It may not be everyone’s favorite music, but nobody ever yells “UGH I HATE THIS SONG, CHANGE IT!” either.

There are currently just under 500 songs on the playlist. The most featured artist by far is Tom Petty, who sadly passed away this week. So if you notice an underlying theme in this week’s preview, now you’ll know why.

* = This is NOT a sponsored post—but if Spotify wants to throw a few free months of Premium my way for this free advertising, I wouldn’t be against it.

You Wreck Me, Minnesota Vikings.

Just when I thought the Vikings were on their way to grinding out an important divisional home win over the Detroit Lions and move to 3-1 on the year, we saw the knee of Dalvin Cook Breakdown. Detroit pounced on the fumble caused by Cook’s ACL tear, took the lead on the ensuing drive, and that all-too-familiar sensation of another season Free Fallin’ was suddenly back.

Whenever fans of other teams try to console me about the latest devastating non-contact knee injury to strike down a Vikings star, my response is always the same: You Don’t Know How It Feels. Every year, I think just maybe, that We Stand A Chance. And then the terrible injury luck rears its ugly head and I’m thrown Straight Into Darkness again. We’re suddenly back to Square One.

Ugh. I Should Have Known It. Don’t Do Me Like That, injury bug! Don’t Come Around Here No More! I feel like every knee at Winter Park should be labeled Handle With Care. We were really starting to believe in this Vikings team after Week 3. Sadly, we’re once again Finding Out that we’ve been Fooled Again (I Don’t Like It). It’s just The Same Old You when it comes to our favorite team. Sometimes it feels like cheering for the Vikings is A Wasted Life in a Dirty World.

Alas, it isn’t The End Of The Line for the purple and gold just yet. The Vikings are still 2-2 and nobody appears to be ready to run away with the NFC anytime soon. They’re Alright For Now. As bleak as things may seem, Love Is A Long Road. Celebrating a big win on Monday night could change our perspective.

The Chicago Bears haven’t had a lot to celebrate over the past several years. The Bears haven’t made the playoffs since 2010. They have lost at least ten games the past three seasons, and their 1-3 start isn’t exactly conjuring up a lot of hope for things to change.

But Even The Losers get lucky sometimes. You Got Lucky, Bears, when you found Tarik Cohen in the fourth round of this year’s draft. “The Human Joystick” has breathed some life into an otherwise dormant offense that was desperately in need of another playmaker outside of Jordan Howard. Cohen is the Spud Webb of the Bears offense. He’s listed at 5’6” and 181 pounds. But through the first four weeks of his rookie season, Cohen has been Darren Sproles 2.0—incredibly shifty and dangerous in both the run and pass game. He leads the team with 331 yards from scrimmage.

Even with the emergence of Cohen, Howard doesn’t have to live like a Refugee in the Chicago offense. The second-year running back is still putting up impressive numbers and getting the majority of the carries out of the backfield. Howard has four touchdowns and has found the end zone in all but one game thus far.

Chicago’s one-two punch at running back is one of the best combos in the league. The Vikings had all sorts of problems tackling Ameer Abdullah last week in ideal conditions. If they struggle wrapping up Howard and Cohen on Monday, the backs could get Into The Great Wide Open and do some damage. They could really Hurt the Vikings’ chances of winning.

If the Vikings can manage to keep Cohen and Howard in check, the Bears don’t have much else to work with. Outside of the running backs, nobody on the Bears offense really scares you. In fact, Howard and Cohen have 48.6% of Chicago’s yards from scrimmage through the first four games. Kendall Wright is Chicago’s most notable wide receiver only because you have probably added and dropped him from your fantasy teams at least a dozen times over the years. Deonte Thompson, Josh Bellamy, Markus Wheaton, and David Garrity might as well be auto-generated players in Madden. In fact, Chicago’s wide receivers are so anonymous that you probably didn’t even realize I made up that last one. David Garrity isn’t even real!

Of course, it isn’t all the receivers’ fault. Much of their lack of production has to do with who was attempting to throw passes to them. Mike Glennon and his $18.5 million in guaranteed money seemed like a terrible idea when Chicago signed him; it has turned out even worse.

Glennon was mostly atrocious in the first four games, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns and amassing a paltry 4.12 adjusted net yards per attempt. Even in their win over the Steelers, Glennon finished with 101 yards passing. With Glennon, Chicago was scoring on only 23.8% of their drives while turning the ball over 21.4% of the time. Bears fans have been telling Glennon Yer So Bad for a month now. So with his job on the line, John Fox is having a Change Of Heart and giving Mitchell Trubisky his first NFL start.

Going against the likes of Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter isn’t exactly an ideal way of Learning To Fly in the NFL. Trubisky will be playing behind a decent enough offensive line, but the Vikings’ front four can make just about anyone Rattled. I mean, how do you even defend something like this?

I would expect the Bears to keep things as simple as possible for Trubisky’s first start. He ran a lot of run-pass option at North Carolina, which is good for opening up passing lanes on quick reads. Trubisky is one of the most inexperienced players in the league, with only 13 college starts and zero NFL snaps under his belt. But that also means there isn’t much film on him—Chicago could surprise the Vikings defense by changing up their playbook and using lots of misdirection. Minnesota’s defense needs to stay disciplined in order to make Trubisky’s debut one he’d rather forget.

After all, defense, we’re Depending On You more than ever. The offense could only muster seven points last week. Case Keenum often looked like the backup quarterback that he is, and the running game went away when Cook did. Latavius Murray simply looked like A Face In The Crowd last week. He stated after the game that his ankle still wasn’t 100%; it showed. Murray got only 29 yards from nine touches last Sunday and didn’t really do much with the open space he got.

Murray and Jerick McKinnon will have to shoulder at least some of the burden with Cook out; it looks like Weeks 2 and 4 Keenum were more the norm while Week 3 Keenum was the anomaly. Expecting Murray and McKinnon replace Cook’s production isn’t realistic, but they have to at least keep Chicago’s front seven honest. The Bears are only allowing 3.5 yards a carry and have the league’s sixth stingiest run defense. However, they will be without three inside linebackers on Monday: Danny Trevathan (suspended for headhunting Davante Adams last week), Jerrell Freeman (on IR with a concussion and a pectoral injury), and Nick Kwiatkoski (out indefinitely with a pectoral injury of his own). The Bears will be well-rested after 11 days between games but they won’t be completely healthy. If the Vikings can’t get yards up the middle this week, it might start looking like 2016 all over again with the run game.

Thankfully it isn’t all doom and gloom for the Vikings offense. Michael Floyd is back from Mary Jane’s Last Dance with suspension and Kombucha, which could Make It Better until Sam Bradford and/or Teddy Bridgewater return. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are almost Too Good To Be True, but Kyle Rudolph has struggled to find a consistent connection with Keenum. I Need To Know that there’s a viable third option in the passing attack, because Laquon Treadwell and Jarius Wright have been OK at best with the handful of chances they have been given. Hopefully Floyd can use his size to prevent the Bears corners from Jammin’ Me and make some big plays. Most of the “wow” plays that Floyd made in Training Camp were from Keenum passes. Those two seemed to have a good rapport in Mankato; hopefully it can carry over into the regular season.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the Vikings’ recent history in their annual house of horrors, Soldier Field. Minnesota has entered the unfriendly confines sixteen times since the year 2000; they have emerged victorious only twice. The Vikings have been better in primetime games under Mike Zimmer, but not nearly as good on the road as at home. The stench of that ugly 20-10 loss in Chicago last Halloween still stinks worse than a zombie’s rotting corpse. This has all the makings of a five-turnover, shoot-ourselves-in-the-foot-over-and-over-again, Trubisky-plays-like-he-did-in-that-first-preseason-game, did-we-suddenly-forget-how-to-tackle, why-the-hell-do-we-always-suck-in-Chicago kind of game. Soldier Field is to the Vikings as Yankee Stadium is to the Twins. (Too soon?)

But I Won’t Back Down just yet. I am still Runnin’ Down A Dream of a playoff run. I remain Heading For The Light. It could be All Or Nothin’ on Monday as far as the 2017 season goes. Are the Vikings Built To Last? Is there still Room At The Top of the NFC North?

I think there is. I believe that Mike Zimmer and George Edwards will bring pressure from all over the field and force Trubisky into a couple crucial rookie mistakes. I think the Vikings’ pass protection will continue to be a surprising bright spot and give Keenum enough time to pick apart an iffy Bears secondary. I know that despite the injuries, the Vikings are still better than the Bears top to bottom and they’ll actually prove it in Chicago for once.

The Waiting is the hardest part, as the Vikings will play their second Monday night game in five weeks. When it’s all said and done, I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better if the Vikings win. If they don’t, this entire preview will have felt really...Petty.

(Rest in peace, Tom. If my kids ever make a “Dad Songs” playlist, you’ll be heavily featured on that one as well.)


Vikings 22, Bears 17

And now for the rest of my Week 5 NFL picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):

Patriots over BUCCANEERS

The mere thought of New England being under .500 should make me pick the Bucs here. Jameis Winston against that terrible defense could spell trouble for the Pats. But Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still something like 99-2 after losses, so I can’t bring myself to do it.

BENGALS over Bills

Everyone’s starting too blow just a little bit too much smoke up Buffalo’s rear ends after that win in Atlanta last week. I think their defense is great but Cincy needs it more.

Jets over BROWNS

C’mon, Jets. Everyone had this game circled as the worst game on the entire 2017 NFL slate. The Browns held up their end of the bargain. What the hell are you doing at 2-2? (Also, how the hell is Cleveland favored for the second time this season?)

LIONS over Panthers

I still don’t understand how, but that Detroit defense is actually pretty good. Cam Newton getting about 23,000 questions leading up to the game about his ridiculous “lol girl reporters don’t know football stuff” remark probably isn’t going to help his cause either.

Titans over DOLPHINS

If Marcus Mariota can’t go, we’re going to get our first Matt Cassel vs. Jay Cutler matchup since 2008! They’re calling it The Rematch That Absolutely Nobody Wanted!

COLTS over 49ers

Honest question: are the league’s eight worst teams having a round robin tournament to decide the overall first draft pick? Every week there seem to be at least three games between absolutely atrocious teams. (But hey Andrew Luck might come back soon!)

GIANTS over Chargers


EAGLES over Cardinals

The Battle of the Carsons! Both Carson Wentz and Carson Palmer are equally capable of making you say “Wow, how did he do that?” in the best and worst ways. I’ll take Wentz because he’s at home and has a better team around him.

STEELERS over Jaguars

My Survival Pool pick of the week, now 3-1 on the season after Seattle dispatched Indianapolis last week. Pittsburgh is winning this game unless the Jags can figure out a way to hypnotize Blake Bortles into believing this game is in London.

RAIDERS over Ravens

Fun fact #1: Mariota and Derek Carr got hurt on the same day two years in a row. Fun fact #2: EJ Manuel’s cap number is $23,910,000 less than the cap number of Joe Flacco this season and I’m not 100% sure that Flacco is any better.

Seahawks over RAMS

Jared Goff’s adjusted net yards per attempt, 2016: 2.82
Jared Goff’s adjusted net yards per attempt: 2017: 9.39

Ladies and gentlemen, Jeff Fisher! (I still think Seattle’s defense makes Goff come down to Earth a bit this week though.)

Packers over COWBOYS

Because the Packers are already 1-for-1 in excellent recreations of last year’s playoff games.

TEXANS over Chiefs

I am buying as much Deshaun Watson Hype Stock as I can right now. It’s weird how players who won on the biggest stage in college often do well at the next level, isn’t it?

(Shut up. Tim Tebow won a playoff game. That counts.)

Last week: 7-9
Season so far: 35-28