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Playoffs Start Next Weekend for Vikings

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Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Vikings got what turned into an easy win over the hapless Lions after getting off to an incredibly slow start offensively. And for all practical purposes, with the Eagles beating the Texans shortly after the Vikings win, the Vikings regular season has ended.

It’s now pretty much do or die for the Vikings. The Vikings could still back into the playoffs with a loss to the Bears next weekend, but they would need the Eagles to lose too at Washington - which has been eliminated from playoff contention and may not have much to play for. The Bears will be playing for a first-round bye, hoping the Rams lose Sunday afternoon in a game being played concurrently.

What’s Changed Since the Last Meeting at Soldier Field

It’s been a little over a month since the last meeting between the Vikings and Bears, which the Bears won 25-20, and a few things have changed. First, the Vikings have a new offensive coordinator in Kevin Stefanski. Secondly, the Bears and their QB Mitch Trubisky have been struggling offensively. Third, the Bears lost their starting slot cornerback, Bryce Callahan, for the season. Sherrick McManis has done well in his stead. The Bears also lost their impressive safety Eddie Jackson last weekend, and he didn’t play against the 49ers or even travel for the game. He injured his ankle, and the way the Bears have handled injuries like this suggests he may not play against the Vikings this weekend.

Of course the other thing that’s different compared to week 11 is that this game is being played at US Bank stadium, and not Soldier Field.

Bears and Vikings Both Strong Defensively, Less So on Offense

Both the Vikings and Bears have strong defenses, both up front and in coverage. But offensively, both have been ineffective for stretches and have leaned on their defenses to keep them in games.

The Bears may have the advantage along the offensive line, but the Vikings have the advantage at the offensive skill positions. You could argue that over the season, the Vikings have under-performed their talent-level on offense, while the Bears have not, and the Vikings have shown more improvement recently than the Bears, but at the end of the day, the Bears have the better record - and therefore the upper hand - because their defense has generated more turnovers and points than the Vikings’.

The Vikings Need to Beat the Bears to Get Anywhere

But at this point all that doesn’t matter. What matters is how the two teams perform in the postseason, which for the Vikings begins next weekend playing host to the Bears. If the Vikings win next Sunday, they will most likely play the Bears again the following weekend at Soldier Field. If they lose, they are likely out, but if not (if the Eagles also lose at Washington) they would still likely play the Bears next weekend at Soldier Field.

So, for the Vikings to make the playoffs and do anything more than one-and-done, they will need to beat the Bears twice in two weeks. Not an easy task.

Beating the Bears Comes Down to One Number: 24

The Bears are 0-4 this year when their opponent has scored at least 24 points. They are 11-0 when they don’t. For the Vikings this season, they are 7-1-1 when scoring at least 24 points, and 1-5 when they don’t. That’s a pretty clear dividing line.

A not often mentioned statistic for the Vikings this season is the average points per game scored by their opponent defense. The Vikings give opposing defenses 2.5 points per game, which is easily the worst in the league. Cousins’ pick sixes has been the chief culprit here, and he had one in Chicago week 11, which provided the margin of victory for the Bears. Not allowing the Bears’ defense to score points will be key to beating them, particularly with a Bears offense that struggles without the aid of their defense. The revealing stat here is that the Bears are ranked 5th in the league in points per game, but only 22nd in yards per game. Playing with a short field and aided by a league-best 3.1 points per game scored by their defense has led to the top 5 in points per game.

So the Vikings, who are easily the worst in the league in terms of giving up points to opposing defenses, are facing the Bears who are easily the best at scoring on defense. If the Vikings can overcome this weakness - and prevent Chicago from capitizing on their strength, this will help considerably in the outcome of the game.

But even if the Vikings don’t allow the Bears defense to score, this doesn’t help them score at least 24 points. In the four games that the Bears allowed 24 points or more this season, the opposing offense was helped by special teams scoring (Patriots), a deep 75-yard bomb (Packers and Miami), or a defensive touchdown (Giants). So, the Vikings will hopefully be able to capitalize on one or more of these plays to help them get over the 24 point hump if the offense can’t get there by itself.

Vikings vs. Bears Week 11

Looking back at the Week 11 matchup between the Vikings and Bears, both teams had three turnovers, but the Bears had a pick six and the Vikings did not. In fact the Vikings had difficulty scoring points off of turnovers.

The Vikings also chose to run the ball only 14 times the whole game - less than 25% of their total offensive snaps. The Vikings also had an incredibly slow start to the game. Their first six drives went like this: 3-and-out, fumble, 3-and-out, 3-and-out, interception, punt. The sixth drive ended about mid-way through the 3rd quarter. It was only after being down 2-3 scores that the Vikings and John DeFilippo decided to run a hurry-up offense, which proved more productive.

One would hope that in both potential games against the Bears in the next two weeks, the Vikings would be able to do a little bit better offensively the first 37 minutes. Having a new offensive coordinator in Kevin Stefanski is encouraging for having a better game plan for the Bears, but the Vikings still need to execute well.

Bottom Line

It's a new season starting Sunday afternoon for the Vikings, and the following weekend for the Bears, Saints, Rams, Cowboys and Seahawks in the NFC. What has happened earlier in the season doesn’t matter, except lasting injuries perhaps.

No team has looked like an infallible juggernaut to the Super Bowl, Vikings included. The Vikings have lost to every playoff team they’ve played this season. But they’ve also lost by one score or the game was close into the fourth quarter. This despite an offense that has struggled most of the season and has yet to find it's groove for more than a short length of time.

And the Vikings defense has kept them in games, with the best third down and red zone defense in the NFL. The linebackers and secondary especially seem to be hitting their stride, and the defensive line is getting there too.

The task ahead is a daunting one: win at home, win three more on the road, and win in Atlanta. It takes physical and mental toughness, talent across the board, some measure of luck, excellent coaching and execution. The Vikings have the talent to compete and beat any team in the playoffs. They have the physical toughness. What remains is a coaching staff and veteran leadership that can prepare them mentally and execute well designed and adapted game plans. The capability is there, what remains is realizing it when the stakes are highest.

Poll

How far will the Vikings get in the post season?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    No where - they won’t make it
    (551 votes)
  • 32%
    One and done
    (839 votes)
  • 17%
    Divisional Round
    (447 votes)
  • 7%
    NFC Championship
    (194 votes)
  • 4%
    Super Bowl
    (119 votes)
  • 16%
    World Champions
    (421 votes)
2571 votes total Vote Now