It’s Week 12 in the NFL, and we are about to wrap up November football with a Monday night match-up between two NFC North foes, the Chicago Bears, and the Minnesota Vikings. These two teams know each other well, as this will be the 126th time that they’ve faced each other, with the Vikings leading the series by a record of 66-57-2. The most recent meeting was in Week 6 when Minnesota won by a score of 19-13. Much has changed since then, so let’s take a “downfield read”, dissect some game plans, and see if we can predict the winning drive.
Chicago Bears (3-8):
Chicago is coming into a hostile and FREEZING Minnesota night, where the temperature will be somewhere around seventeen degrees at kick-off. The Bears are currently sitting 14th in the NFC, last in the NFC North, and pretty much out of the playoffs. No, they aren’t technically eliminated yet, but they would need to win at minimum four of their last five games including tonight to get back into contention. They’ve lost three of their last four games, but at least they did themselves a favor by beating the Carolina Panthers and ensuring a top draft pick in 2024.
Quarterback, Justin Fields was on the IR for four games after being injured during their first game against the Vikings earlier this season. He returned last week against the Detroit Lions, who are currently first in the NFC North. “Da Bears” lost a tough game late as Detroit came back to score ten points in the last three minutes for a 31-26 victory. In seven games this season, Fields has thrown for 1,370 yards, 12 TDs and 6 INTs. He’s taken 26th sacks, with a QBR of 45 (23rd in the NFL), and a Passer Rating of 93.3 (13th). IF you take away the loss to the Vikings (since he only played about half of the game), Fields’ record as a starter this year is 1-5.
Although it may not seem like it, the running game for the Bears has been one of their strengths. While they don’t have a primary runner like Christian McCaffrey or Josh Jacobs, they do have three players that keep their rushing yards per game high. D’Onta Foreman (who, unfortunately is OUT tonight) is leading the team with 381 rushing yards (40th), and 4 TDs in seven games, with a 4.1 average per carry. Fields is next with 341 yards (44th), averaging 5.2 yards per carry in seven games. Khalil Herbert is right behind them with 307 yards (47th) in six games, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Chicago averages 139.5 yards per game this season, which is 3rd in the NFL and 1st in the NFC.
From one of the Bears’ strengths, to one of their weaknesses, the passing game has left much to be desired from Justin Fields and backup QB, Tyler Bagent. They average only 184.4 passing yards per game, and outside of Wide Receiver, DJ Moore (who was an excellent trade acquisition from Carolina) and Tight End, Cole Kmet, there’s not much to see here. Moore has been outstanding with 59 receptions (18th in the NFL) for 889 yards (9th), and six touchdowns (tied for 10th). Moore can catch and run with the best of them, accumulating 368 yards after the catch, which is 9th best in the NFL. We take a drop down from there, with Kmet, who has 49 receptions (34th) for 439 yards (60th) but seems to always get open in the end zone, snagging five TDs.
Chicago’s defense mirrors their offense. They have one “super star” in Linebacker, T.J. Edwards, who is currently 3rd in the NFL in Total Tackles with 121. The Baltimore Ravens’ Roquan Smith is currently first in the category with 126 and might get passed up tonight if Edwards has a good game. T.J. also has two sacks, one interception, and one forced fumble this season. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds has had a solid year as well, accumulating 70 tackles, with a tie for first in INTs (2) with Cornerback Jaylon Johnson. The addition of Montez Sweat rounds out this defense, as he is tied for 17th in the NFL for sacks with 7.5, but he’s only gotten one so far in his three games with the Bears.
Minnesota Vikings (6-5):
The Vikings looked like their ship was sinking after Week 5, having the second worst record in the NFC at 1-4. Then they lose arguably the best Wire Receiver in the game, Justin Jefferson to a hamstring injury before deciding to win three games. THEN, they lose Quarterback, Kirk Cousins before winning two more games! They barely lost last week to the Denver Broncos, and are now sitting at 6-5, which currently puts them in the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs, and second in the NFC North. How’s that for “next Viking up”?
“Who’s at the helm of the Vikings offense?”, you might ask. None other than journeyman Quarterback, Joshua Dobbs. Fun fact: The Vikings let go of Quarterback Kellen Mond in August of 2022, where he was later claimed by (and then dropped, and then claimed again) by the Cleveland Browns after Cleveland decided to trade Dobbs to the Arizona Cardinals to claim Mond back. Then the Cardinals traded Dobbs to the Vikings. There’s your “QB marry-go-round”. In three games with the Vikings, Dobbs has completed 63 of 96 passes (65.6%) for 647 yards, four touchdowns, one interception, and six sacks. He has a Passer Rating of 94.4, which is good for 13th in the NFL, right behind Jalen Hurts.
The running game for the Vikings has been less than stellar after releasing Running Back, Dalvin Cook in the offseason. Current RB, Alexander Mattison has 542 rushing yards (26th in the NFL), zero (yes, zero) TDs, averaging 3.7 yards per carry, 49.3 yards per game, and two fumbles lost. In three games with the Vikings, Dobbs has 131 yards, averaging 5.7 yards per carry with three TDs and one fumble. Minnesota is ranked 27th in rushing yards per game with 93.8, and they are the third worst in the NFC, beating only Carolina and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
You would think that losing your best Wide Receiver would put a damper on your passing game, but Kirk Cousins and Dobbs are better than most people give them credit for. While Jefferson has been out, Tight End, T.J. Hockenson, and rookie WR, Jordan Addison have stepped up. T.J. has 75 receptions (tied for eighth with “some guy” name Ja’Marr Chase) for 736 yards (19th) and four TDs. Addison has 48 receptions (35th) for 647 yards (31st) and seven TDs, which is tied for fifth with Wide Receivers AJ Brown and Keenan Allen.
Addison could use some work on his Yards After the Catch (YAC), as he is currently at 183 YAC yards in 11 games, and by comparison, Justin Jefferson has 182 in just five games. J.J. is also still 38th in the NFL with 571 yards, but also still on the IR, so he will not be playing tonight.
Defensively, the Vikings have a boatload of playmakers, especially at Safety and Linebacker. Safety, Camryn Bynum is leading this D in tackles with 91, with two INTs, a forced fumble, and .5 sacks. Safety, Josh Metellus is third on the team in tackles (72), with one INT, a sack, and a forced fumble, and Safety Harrison Smith is fourth in tackles (71) with three sacks and three forced fumbles. Linebacker, Jordan Hicks (IR) is second on the team in tackles (87) with a sack, INT, and forced fumble of his own, and Linebacker Danielle Hunter needs to start being talked about in the Defensive Player of the Year discussions. Hunter has twelve sacks, which is tied for fourth with Josh Allen in Jacksonville, and has more total tackles than the three guys who are currently ahead of him in sacks (T.J. Watt with 13.5 sacks, Khalil Mack with 13 sacks, and Myles Garrett with 13 sacks). Hunter very well could take the lead in sacks tonight. Linebacker, D.J. Wonnum also needs to be recognized on this defense with six sacks (tied for 30th).
This game might come down to whoever can hang onto the ball. Both teams are terrible when it comes to turnovers, each being a -6 differential, which is the sixth worst in the league. Minnesota has lost more fumbles than any other team in the NFL (14), and Chicago has thrown the sixth most interceptions (12). The game plan for the Vikings is easy. Do what you do best and pass the ball; short to mid, quick passes with the occasional deep throw. You average 267 yards of passing per game, which is fourth best in the NFL and second best in the NFC right behind the Detroit Lions. Utilize your running game when the Bears defense has backed off the line of scrimmage, as Chicago is currently first in the NFL for the least number of rushing yards allowed per game, but eighth worst in passing yards allowed.
The game plan for the Bears will be more difficult. The Vikings have the seventh best rushing defense, only allowing 94 rushing yards per game. Minnesota’s passing defense is “middle of the road” so executing a lot of play action pass and run pass option is going to be key. Defensively, putting pressure on Dobbs is going to be a must, but seeing as how Chicago has the fewest number of sacks on the season, I don’t see this happening too often. Final Score: Chicago 20, Minnesota 23. Thanks for the “read”!