Week 17 Preview: Bears at Vikings - December 31, 2017

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Week 17 Preview: Bears at Vikings – December 31, 2017

Chicago Bears

It’s Week 17 and everyone is playing for something.

The Minnesota Vikings are playing for a first-round by and the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. Beating the Bears would secure the precious second seed. And if the Vikings hold their own in the postseason, all they would need is a slip-up by the Philadelphia Eagles and they would have a chance at playing three “home” playoff games. Remember, Super Bowl LII is at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Chicago Bears are playing for everything from pride, contract extensions, a coach to be named later, etc. Indeed, all signs point to Sunday’s game being the finale for John Fox, so he and his coaches are playing to win and put something on tape for future employers.

And in the end, the only thing that really matters is that Mitch Trubisky takes another step in his development and emerges from the game healthy.

“Never Tell Me The Odds:”

The Minnesota Vikings opened Sunday’s game as 12.5-point favorites at the Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas, but that line has since come down to 10. That’s still a pretty big spread, especially with an over/under set at 39.

Series History:

The Bears are 52-59-2 all-time against the Vikings. Chicago has lost five straight on the road in this series and has done so by losing at three different sites – Mall of America Stadium, TCF Bank Stadium, and U.S. Bank Stadium.

Game Time, Broadcast Info, Officiating Crew:

Location: U.S. Bank Stadium,  Minneapolis

Broadcast Info: noon, FOX-TV (Kevin Burkhardt, Charles Davis, Pam Oliver), WBBM-AM 780, WCFS-FM 105.9 (Jeff Joniak, Tom Thayer, Zach Zaidman)

Referee: Craig Wrolstad

Expected Starters and Lineups:

Bears Offense Expected Starters:

  • QB Mitch Trubisky
  • RB Jordan Howard
  • WR Kendall Wright
  • WR Dontrelle Inman
  • WR Josh Bellamy
  • TE Dion Sims
  • LT Charles Leno Jr.
  • LG Cody Whitehair
  • C Hroniss Grasu
  • RG Tom Compton
  • RT Bradley Sowell

Bears Defense Expected Starters:

  • DE Akiem Hicks
  • NT Eddie Goldman
  • DE Jonathan Bullard
  • OLB Sam Acho
  • ILB Danny Trevathan
  • ILB Nick Kwiatkoski
  • OLB Lamarr Houston
  • CB Kyle Fuller
  • CB Prince Amukamara
  • FS Eddie Jackson
  • SS Adrian Amos

Bears Specialists: 

  • Mike Nugent (kicker), Pat O’Donnell (punter, holder), Andrew DePaola (long snapper), Benny Cunningham, Tarik Cohen (kick returners), Tarik Cohen (punt returner)

Vikings Offense Expected Starters:

  • QB Case Keenum
  • RB Latavius Murray
  • FB C.J. Ham
  • WR Adam Thielen
  • WR Stefon Diggs
  • TE Kyle RUdolph
  • LT Riley Reiff
  • LG Jeremiah Sirles
  • C Pat Elflein
  • RG Joe Berger
  • RT Mike Remmers

Vikings Defense Expected Starters:

  • LDE Danielle Hunter
  • DT Tom Johnson
  • NT Linval Joseph
  • RDE Everson Griffen
  • WLB Ben Gedeon
  • MLB Eric Kendricks
  • SLB Anthony Barr
  • LCB Trae Waynes
  • RCB Xavier Rhodes
  • FS Harrison Smith
  • SS Andrew Sendejo

Vikings Specialists:

  • Kai Forbath (kicker), Ryan Quigley (punter), Kevin McDermott (long snapper), Marcus Sherels, Jerick McKinnon (kick return), Marcus Sherels, Stacy Coley (punt return)

Hot or Not and Whom to Watch

Chicago Bears – Offense

Mitch Trubisky followed up his best performance of the year with a perfectly cromulent showing against the Browns. Trubisky had fun in the snow posting a 93.3 passer rating without pressure, running for 44 yards on seven carries, and scoring his second rushing touchdown in three weeks. The rookie has Pro Football Focus’ third best deep throw grade (111.1), but could be forced to scramble more than usual if Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes are shutting down receivers on the outside. According to PFF, Trubisky’s 9.5 yards per carry on scrambles is second behind Deshaun Watson (9.9).

In other news, Bradley Sowell’s performance flew under the radar against the Browns. Sowell split his 62 snaps between guard and tackle and earned an 82.3 overall grade, which put him among the team’s five highest graded players in Week 16 and the best of the six offensive linemen who played last week. Where Sowell plays probably won’t be decided until gameday, but right guard or right tackle seem like safe bets.

Chicago Bears – Defense

This might be the last time we see Kyle Fuller in a Chicago Bears uniform (but hopefully not!), so enjoy it while you can. Going up against Stefon Diggs and/or Adam Thielen should make for a grand finale, in any case. Fuller has successfully shut down opposing deep threats, allowing just six catches on 21 deep targets in 2017. He has also come away with two interceptions and has broken up four deep passes, limiting opposing quarterbacks to a 24.8 rating on deep throws.

Akiem Hicks started the season by cashing in with a major pay day and has proven to be worthy of an extension. Hicks followed up his 11th multi-pressure game and 12th multi-stop game of 2017 with a Week 16 performance against the Browns that featured a sack, a QB hit, two hurries, and two run stops. Hicks is a game-changer as a pass rusher and run defender and should be a selling point for a new coach curious about what the Bears have on defense.

Minnesota Vikings – Offense

Right tackle Mike Remmers is the Vikings’ second-highest-graded offensive lineman by PFF’s standards, but registered a woeful 37.8 grade in his Week 5 matchup against the Bears. Remmers allowed two hits and a hurry in a game in where Minnesota’s quarterbacks were sacked three times, faced four hurries, and took four QB hits. The Vikings would be wise to send help against Akiem Hicks, who owns Pro Football Focus’ seventh best run defense grade and a pass rushing grade that ranks 25th among 106 interior defenders.

Case Keenum posted a 102.1 passer rating when targeting Stefon Diggs in Week 16, but Keenum’s 46.8 overall grade was his worst showing since Week 7 against the Baltimore Ravens. The Packers pressured Keenum on 37.9 percent of his drop-backs and sacked him three times. If the Bears’ corners can stick to Vikings receivers, it could give a battered pass rush a fighting chance to take down Keenum.

Minnesota Vikings – Defense

Harrison Smith came away with the soul-crushing fourth-quarter interception in the first matchup that turned out to be a decent teaching point for Trubisky. Now, let’s see if the rookie quarterback has really learned his lesson. Smith hasn’t allowed a touchdown in coverage this season. He’s the best safety in football and the biggest Pro Bowl snub we’ve seen in quite some time.

Even though the Bears scored three red zone touchdowns on the ground against the Browns, the Vikings are a better team and getting another game without a competent rushing attack seems impossible. Linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks both have run defense grades that rank among the bottom half of the league, by Pro Football Focus’ grading standards.

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Author: Luis Medina

Luis Medina is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at@lcm1986.