By Don Banks | Nov. 16, 2018
While all eyes are understandably fixated on the tantalizing Week 11 matchup of the once-beaten Chiefs against the once-beaten Rams on Monday night in Los Angeles, don’t sleep on the underrated but wildly significant Sunday night showdown that takes place in Chicago this weekend.
Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears may lack the pedigree of featuring the teams tied for the NFL’s best record on the same field, but the outcome could go a long way toward deciding the champion of the NFC North, especially if Chicago prevails and continues its worst-to-first trajectory in 2018.
Of the seven new coaches in the NFL this season, only the Bears’ Matt Nagy has his team in first place and in position to open up some ground between them and their division rivals as mid-November arrives. At 6-3, with its second three-game winning streak of the season intact, Chicago enters play with a half-game lead over the 5-3-1 Vikings, winners of two of the past three NFC North titles.
A win over Minnesota boosts the unheralded Bears to a game-and-a-half lead with six weeks remaining, plus puts Chicago in position to potentially win the head-to-head tiebreaker if necessary, pending the outcome of the teams’ Week 17 rematch in Minneapolis. With Green Bay losing a game it desperately needed, 27-24, in Seattle Thursday night, the Packers have slipped to 4-5-1 and would trail their historic rivals from Chicago by two-and-a-half games with a Bears victory.
That makes Sunday’s matchup at Soldier Field, which was recently flexed into the coveted primetime slot by the league, the Bears’ biggest statement game in many seasons. Already it’s the first time NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” cameras will do a game from Chicago since 2012, which was the last season the Bears had a winning record, as well as reaching double digits in wins at 10-6.
After the misery of the past four seasons in Chicago, when the Bears finished in last place each year and went a combined 19-45 (.297), a seventh win on Sunday night would represent the franchise’s highest total since going 8-8 and just missing out on the NFC North title to the 8-7-1 Packers in 2013, coach Marc Trestman’s first season.
For the Bears, the Vikings represent the toughest test they’ll face since Chicago lost 38-31 at home to New England in Week 7. Since then, the Bears have drubbed three sub-.500 clubs — the Jets, Bills and Lions — by an average margin of more than 19 points per game. Minnesota enters on a roll itself, with four wins in its past five games, owning victories over those same Lions and Jets in recent weeks, sandwiched around a 30-20 home loss to the rampaging Saints in Week 8. The Vikings are well rested as well, having enjoyed their bye last week while the Bears beat up on visiting Detroit.
Add it all up and it’s the first time the Bears and Vikings will collide in primetime this late in the season in a game with first-place implications since 2008, when Minnesota won the division at 10-6 and the Bears finished second at 9-7, missing the playoffs.
While it’s not do-or-die time for the Vikings if they lose in Chicago, it’s precariously close to a dire situation, given the rest of their schedule. Minnesota still has home games left against both the Packers and Bears, but the Vikings also face the daunting task of traveling to New England and Seattle in Weeks 13-14. Wiggle room will be in short supply if the Bears triumph.
Chicago at 7-3 would hold a formidable lead, and have a clear-cut path to at least 10 wins and the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2010’s 11-5 division championship season. The Bears still have very winnable road games remaining against Detroit, the Giants and San Francisco — with a combined 7-21 record — plus home dates with the Packers and Rams.
Picked to finish last by many, Nagy’s upstart club is in great shape and will set itself up for a meaningful December and likely some January football if it can take care of business at home against the Vikings, who have won six of the last seven meetings in the series.
Sunday night at Soldier Field. First place in the NFC North at stake. Before we get to Monday night’s marquee matchup in Southern California, don’t overlook the delicious drama that will be on display in Chicago.