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NFL Preview - Chicago (4-6) at Minnesota (9-1)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Chicago Bears lost what many felt was a must-win game for the club last weekend. Thanks to Brett Favre, the Minnesota Vikings haven't lost many games at all this year.
Minnesota will try to inch closer to its second straight NFC North title, as well as posting its first 10-1 start in 11 years, in this Sunday's matchup with fading Chicago at the Metrodome.
Thanks to running back Adrian Peterson and what was expected to be a solid defensive group, the Vikings were already in the possible championship team discussion before luring Favre out of retirement and into a purple uniform.
The 40-year-old Favre has surpassed even the Vikings' highest expectations so far this season. He has already thrown for 2,482 yards and 21 touchdown passes with just three interceptions in 10 games, putting him on pace to record 30 scoring strikes for the ninth time in his career. He had 22 touchdowns throws to 22 picks in 16 games with the New York Jets last year.
While the grueling NFL schedule seemed to wear Favre down last year in New York, he enters this game coming off one of his better performances of the season. The Southern Miss product completed 22-of-25 passes for a career-high 88 percent completion rating, while also finding four different receivers for touchdowns in last Sunday's 35-9 laugher versus the Seattle Seahawks.
Favre played just three quarters before getting a break in the final stanza, where Tarvaris Jackson took over and added another scoring throw. Still, the story was Favre, who completed at least 80 percent of his passes for the fourth time in his career and second this season. He also notched his NFL- record 22nd career game with at least four touchdown passes, surpassing Dan Marino's record.
The victory was Minnesota's third in a row since its lone loss of the season, which took place on October 25 to Pittsburgh, and also its 14th win in the past 16 regular-season games. The Vikings, who have played each of their last two games at home as well, have also won six straight and 11 of their last 12 at the Metrodome in the regular season.
That has the Vikings on the verge of posting their first 10-1 start since 1998 after turning in their sixth-ever 9-1 beginning last weekend. They hold a three-game edge over second-place Green Bay, which visits Detroit on Thanksgiving, in the NFC North and hold the tie break over the Packers after winning both meetings this year.
The Bears will need to turn things around quickly if they are to make a run at a postseason spot. Sunday's 24-20 home setback to Philadelphia was 4-6 Chicago's third straight and fifth in six games following a 3-1 start. The only team the Bears have beat over their last six games is 1-9 Cleveland.
One week after throwing five interceptions in a loss to San Francisco, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler completed 24-of-43 pass attempts for 171 yards and a touchdown versus the Eagles. He was also picked off to end Chicago's final drive of the game, and overthrew three receivers on plays that could have very well resulted in touchdowns.
Instead, Chicago settled for four Robbie Gould field goals in addition to a Kellen Davis touchdown catch in the third quarter that put the Bears ahead 20-17 after a two-point conversion. However, Gould had a 48-yard field goal try early in the fourth blocked, and Philadelphia scored the game-winning touchdown on its resulting possession.
Chicago, which is just 1-4 on the road this year, is now in serious danger of missing the postseason for a third straight campaign since a Super Bowl XLI loss to Indianapolis.
The Vikings lead the regular season series with the Bears, which dates back to 1961, by a 51-42-2 count, including a conventional home-and-home split of last year's series. Chicago won a wild 48-41 affair when the teams met at Soldier Field in Week 7, but were 34-14 losers when they visited the Metrodome in Week 13. The Bears are 0-2 in Minnesota since last winning there in 2006.
The clubs have also met once in the postseason, a 35-18 Chicago road win in a 1994 NFC First-Round Playoff tilt.
Bears head coach Lovie Smith is 5-5 against the Vikings as a head coach, while Minnesota's Brad Childress is 3-3 against both Smith and the Bears as a head man.
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
Cutler (2524 passing yards, 15 TD) has yet to meet the expectations put on him since being acquired from Denver before the season, leading the Bears to just the 19th-ranked offense in the league (329.3 yards per game) and 14th (240.0 ypg) through the air. He leads the NFL with 18 interceptions on the season, with 13 of those coming in his last six games, and his inaccuracy may have very well cost Chicago a win versus Philadelphia. With tight end Desmond Clark out due to a neck injury, Davis caught the only Chicago touchdown, making three of his nine catches this year scores. Fellow tight end Greg Olsen (40 receptions, 6 TD) led the Bears with six catches versus the Eagles while posting 42 yards, while wide receiver Earl Bennett (40 receptions) added five catches for a team-leading 57 yards. Devin Hester (52 receptions, 3 TD), who was one of the three receivers Cutler overthrew to blow scoring chances, had four catches, as did running back Matt Forte (516 rushing yards, 42 receptions, 3 TD). Forte also managed just 34 yards on 14 carries, giving him a mere 108 yards on the ground over his last three games. The lone bright spot in Chicago's running game last weekend was Khalil Bell, who took his first- ever NFL handoff 72 yards. It was the longest run by a player on his first- career carry since Alan Ameche ripped off a 79-yard run for the Baltimore Colts in 1955. Bell ended with 81 yards on four carries in the loss.
Forte shouldn't see much room this weekend, when he faces the NFL's third-best run defense. Minnesota is yielding just 85.5 ypg on the ground this year, including an eye-popping four versus Seattle. Minnesota's 21-0 halftime advantage may have had something to do with that, as the Seahawks ran the ball just 12 times in the game. Minnesota has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 33 straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL. The Vikings also held Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to 231 passing yards with an interception while also recording two sacks in the game, one on Hasselbeck and another on backup Seneca Wallace. That upped Minnesota's NFL-leading sack total to 36, with linebacker E.J. Henderson (68 tackles, 2 sacks) and safety Husain Abdullah (11 tackles, 1 sack) each getting to the quarterback. With defensive ends Ray Edwards (37 tackles, 5.5 sacks) and Jared Allen (37 tackles, 10.5 sacks) hoping to make life miserable for Cutler, the Vikings secondary could have cornerback Antoine Winfield (30 tackles, 1 INT) back after he missed the last four-plus games with a foot injury. Edwards led Minnesota with six tackles versus Seattle, while Henderson, corner Karl Paymah (24 tackles) and linebacker Chad Greenway (61 tackles, 2 INT) all had four. Rookie corner Asher Allen added his first career interception as well.
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
Favre leads the NFL with a passer rating of 112.1 and will face the Bears for the first time in a Minnesota uniform. Chicago does have some history on its side, as Favre is 0-4 with just two touchdown passes to 10 interceptions in his last four home starts versus the Bears, all with Green Bay. However, he may have more weapons as his disposal than at anytime with the Packers. Favre completed touchdown passes to rookie wide receiver Percy Harvin (36 receptions, 4 TD), tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (33 receptions, 7 TD), wideout Bernard Berrian (32 receptions, 4 TD) and receiver Sidney Rice (50 receptions, 4 TD). Rice also caught a scoring throw from Jackson and ended with six catches for a team-leading 89 yards. Shiancoe ended with eight catches for 78 yards, while Harvin added five for 79 yards. The Vikings are second in the NFL with 30.6 points per game while ranking eighth in total offense (375.3 ypg). Peterson (999 rushing yards, 11 TD) ended with just 82 yards rushing on 24 carries thanks to the blowout, as backup Chester Taylor (212 rushing yards, 27 receptions) added 11 carries for 73 yards. Peterson is just one yard shy of his third straight 1,000-yard rushing season and despite not scoring versus Seattle, he is still second in the NFL in rushing touchdowns.
The Bears' defense did its part last Sunday versus the Eagles, forcing three turnovers in the game. That includes an interception by cornerback Zackary Bowman (40 tackles, 4 INT), his third game in a row with a pick, and a career- high three forced fumbles by corner Charles Tillman (49 tackles, 2 INT), two of which were recovered by the Bears. Tillman leads the NFL with six forced fumbles and will certainly be looking to pop the ball out of Peterson's hands, as the Viking back has lost four this year and has put the ball on the ground 17 times in his career. Chicago sacked Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb three times last Sunday night, getting one full sack each from linebacker Lance Briggs (82 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) and defensive tackle Tommie Harris (14 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT). McNabb was also limited to 244 yards passing, but he did complete two touchdown deliveries. Chicago ranks eighth in the NFL versus the pass (197.8 ypg) but is just 23rd in rushing defense (122.3 ypg) and is allowing 22.5 points per game. Philadelphia totaled 157 yards rushing versus Chicago, getting 99 out of rookie running back LeSean McCoy and 34 yards on a Wildcat carry by Michael Vick. Briggs led the Bears with 11 tackles, while Tillman and defensive back Corey Graham (21 tackles) each had seven.
After impressive numbers a year ago, Cutler was been a fantasy disappointment in 2009. However, with the Vikings' excelling at stopping the run, Cutler might have no choice but to put it up in the air. Owners must just hope that ball finds a Bears receiver and not a Vikings defender. None of Chicago's wide receivers have been consistent enough to start on a regular basis, but Hester has the most big-game potential. However, Olsen remains a strong play. Forte, a top-three fantasy pick this year, has been a big bust and should get shut down by the Vikings this weekend, though he is a factor in the passing game at times. Chicago's defense should be sat, but Gould might get some points.
Favre has emerged as a fantasy steal and is coming off an excellent game. He should be safe to start again, upping the value for Rice, Harvin and Shiancoe. Deep leagues might give Berrian a look as well. Peterson is a must-start, but don't expect Taylor to see as many carries this weekend unless things get out of hand again on the scoreboard. Minnesota's defense should be able to come away with a few turnovers this weekend. Kicker Ryan Longwell has been very accurate this season.
Things don't get easier for the Bears this weekend. Many thought Cutler looked a little uneasy versus Philadelphia off his five-interception game, and getting constant pressure by the Vikings won't restore his confidence anytime soon. And with Minnesota's stout run defense, Cutler can't expect much help from Forte either. Over on the purple side, Favre and Peterson won't have as easy a time this Sunday as they did versus Seattle, but Minnesota's strong defense will make things smoother. Expect Peterson to have a big game to give his aging signal-caller some more rest as the Vikings continue their march towards a playoff spot.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 27, Bears 20
11/25 19:00:24 ET
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