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Here’s the deal: Bears

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It’s a big game, and the Vikings need to find a way to win it.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
Dalvin Cook is healthy and needs to have a big game Sunday night.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings head to the Carny Fun House that is Soldier Field on Sunday night, and there is a ton at stake for both teams. In recent years, it’s been rare that both the Vikes and Bears have been this good this late in the season, so there hasn’t been a matchup between these two rivals with this much at stake since...2012, maybe? That year the Vikings won their last four to go 10-6 and get to the playoffs as a wild card, while the Bears missed the playoffs, but also went 10-6. They had a December matchup in Minnesota that the Vikings won, 21-14, thanks in large part to a 154 yards rushing and two TD’s from Adrian Peterson, and a pick six from Harrison Smith.

Smith is still around, but most everything else about both teams has changed. The Bears have a young and developing QB in Mitch Trubisky, the Vikings have the $84 million dollar man in Kirk Cousins. Both have exceptional defenses, and this game is for the lead and an inside track to the divison championship.

What’s at stake: Control of the NFC North. The Bears sit at 6-3, the Vikings are 5-3-1. If the Bears win and move to 7-3 and the Vikings fall to 5-4-1, the division race isn’t over...but it’s almost over. After the Bears game, the Vikes have the Packers at home, then road games against Seattle and New England. They finsh with Miami at home, a road game at Detroit, then finish up the regular season with the Bears. If Chicago wins, they will sit at 7-3, and will be essentially three games clear of the Vikings with a tiebreaker, and only six games left to play. If Chicago just splits their final six games and finishes 10-6, Minnesota would have to go 5-1 to get to 10-5-1 and win the division, and they’d have to beat the Bears in week 17. Possible? Sure. Probable? Eh, I’m not so sure.

The Bears have a more favorable schedule than the Vikings do, at least I think so. After Sunday night, they have road games at Detroit and in New York against the Giants, then home games with the Rams and Packers, then they finish up with two road games in San Francisco, and the season finale against the Vikings. Yeah, it’s four road games, with one of them in Minnesota, but other than the Vikings their two toughest remaining opponents are at home (Green Bay and the Rams).

So a win is crucial for both teams Sunday night, but I would argue it’s a lot more important for the Vikings to get a win than it is the Bears. Chicago would only be down half a game, with a better schedule and a shot in week 17 to win the division if they lose, and would still control their destiny as long as they kept pace with Minnesota heading into the final week of the season. It’s always better to control your own destiny than have to scoreboard watch, which Minnesota would more than likely have to do for the rest of the season if they lose.

So, let’s see how this plays out.

Why the Vikings will win: With two wins in three years, Mike Zimmer is close to breaking the Soldier Field Curse, and he has just the quarterback to make it three in four years. Here are the home/road splits for Cousins this year:

Cousins has played a lot better on the road this year, and had a monumental comeback against Green Bay, and solid wins against Philadelphia and the New York Jets. With Stefon Diggs coming back, look for him to get some explosive plays downfield with both Diggs and Adam Thielen.

As to Cousins’ counterpart, Mitchell Trubisky, he’s really improved his game over his rookie season, and the Bears have done an impressive job at improving the offense around him and improving his mechanics. Still, he’s inconsistent, and dramatically vulnerable in one area:

When you add in an injury to stalwart guard Kyle Long, the Vikings have to be licking their chops to get at Trubisky, and force him into making some mistakes. If they can rattle Trubisky, who is playing the biggest game of his young career, he’ll make a mistake or two, and the Vikings should come out on top.

Why the Bears will win: However, if the Vikings get to him, they better get home and not miss a sack. Because if Trubisky gets out of the pocket, he will kill the Vikings with his legs, he will make a play or three, and they will be the turning points in the game.

Speaking of quarterback pressure, the VIkings better find a way to keep Khalil Mack off of Kirk Cousins. A lot of what they do in that arena will be focused on Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray, and Minnesota’s ability to run the ball. Cook is finally healthy, so I expect to see him early and often as Minnesota tries to establish a running game. If they can’t and Cousins is forced to pass, that fearsome Bears front seven will tee off on a still-hobbled offensive line, and it could be a long night.

And a long road to get to a division championship.