Vikings – Bears
Well, we've reached the end of our nightmare Vikings fans. The 2011 season has featured more lowlights than I care to rehash here. Very little went right for the organization. With 12 losses and counting, this squad will go down as one of the worst in team history. The acquisition of Donovan McNabb blew up in the team's face. Chris Cook allegedly tried to choke his girlfriend. Adrian Peterson's wrecked his left knee, an injury that could result in him being a shadow of the gamebreaking player he was just six days ago. And the team's future was not resolved as the high stakes game of stadium poker between the Wilf's and the State of Minnesota dragged on and on.
In another cruel twist of fate, the Chicago Bears will start Josh McCown at quarterback on Sunday. You might remember him from the starring role he played in one of those "punched in the gut" moments the Vikings specialize in.
But I'm not here to scratch at old sores. Actually, McCown has the opportunity to do the Vikings a solid in this contest if he plays well. He did not embarrass himself last week against the Packers. Playing against a Vikings defence that struggles even more than the Packers do to defend the forward pass, it's easy to envision that McCown will at least equal, and maybe even better, his passing totals from last week.
If he can do that, that helps the Bears beat the Vikings. And a Vikings loss will benefit the greater good, which is securing a top three draft pick in next April's college draft. This week, the Daily Norseman outlined how the whole draft slot scenario could play out for the Vikings. I won't be rooting for the Vikings to lose come Sunday – a loss to Chicago under any circumstance never sits well with me – but let's just say I won't be disappointed if on Sunday evening the Vikings are in position to draft Matt Kalil or Morris Claiborne.
The best-case scenario for Sunday's game from a Vikings perspective is that they lose, but it's a close game and the defence is to blame for that loss. This unit really doesn't have any young players Viking diehards are counting on to be the cornerstones of a turnaround. So if the defence stinks against a Bears offence sans Jay Cutler and Matt Forte, I'm not going into the offseason discouraged.
The Vikings offence is another matter, however. After a season of struggling to move the ball and score points, the unit has shown signs of life lately, scoring no less than 28 points in three of the last four games. But if rookie quarterback Christian Ponder hands out interceptions like candy and second-year running back Toby Gerhart gets stuffed by Chicago's defence, panic will settle in quickly for Vikings fans because where's the hope then?
So here are my benchmarks for a successful day at the Metrodome against the Bears:
– The Vikings lose 35-33.
– Ponder goes 20-28 for 220 (or more) yards, two touchdown passes and no picks.
– Gerhart rumbles for 85-100 yards on 20 to 25 carries.
– Rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph, who Football Outsiders writer Mike Tanier chose this week to his NFL All Rookie team, has his best game as a pro. His game high for catches is three and for yards it's 44. So I'm looking for him to catch five catches for 65 yards and haul in a touchdown on a fade from Ponder.
– Veteran tight end Jim Kleinsasser, who is retiring after Sunday's game, catches two passes (a season high) and scores a touchdown.
– Finally, I don't care if defensive end Jared Allen breaks Michael Strahan's sack record, but I would like to see Allen reach 20 sacks. It's extremely difficult to get even 10 sacks in today's NFL with the way quarterbacks get rid of the ball so quickly. In a year where so much went wrong, Allen has played as well as any defensive lineman has played, ever. He's been a pleasure to watch.
So who wins this game? The 2011 Vikings have been very consistent in one area this season. When you need them to do something, they usually fail to do it. And in a game where they need to lose, I have a feeling they won't oblige one last time.
Kiss goodbye the number three overall pick – and the opportunity to select Kalil or Claiborne.
Vikings 27 Bears 17