Jeff Diamond’s Vikings-Bears Prediction
The Vikings seek to rebound from last Sunday night’s disappointing loss in Denver with a Monday night matchup against the division-rival Bears, who gave the Purple a tough battle six weeks ago in Chicago.
Jeff Diamond’s Vikings-Bears Prediction
The Vikings prevailed 19-13 but needed a scoop-and-score from Jordan Hicks and a late interception by Byron Murphy on a bad first down deep throw from backup QB Tyson Bagent to win on a day when the Bears’ defense held Minnesota to 220 total yards and three scoring drives on offense.
Since that Week 6 game, the two teams have gone in opposite directions, with the Vikings winning four of five games to move into playoff contention at 6-5 while the Bears have gone 2-3 and now are 3-8 on the season. Like the Vikings in Denver, the Bears are coming off a difficult loss in Detroit, where their conservative play calling on offense caused them to blow a 12-point lead with four minutes remaining in a 31-26 defeat.
Justin Fields returned last week from a four-game absence due to a thumb injury sustained on a Danielle Hunter sack in the mid-October game with the Vikings. Fields played well (104 rushing yards and 169 passing yards, including a 39-yard TD pass to D.J. Moore, who had seven catches for 96 yards). Chicago’s defense intercepted Jared Goff three times and had a fumble recovery, but the Bears only turned the four turnovers into 10 points, so they couldn’t pull off the upset (and Chicago had a huge giveaway when Fields had a late fumble on a sack by Aidan Hutchinson that resulted in a safety).
The Bears’ conservative play calling with the two-score fourth-quarter lead did them in, and the Vikings also were too conservative on a couple of occasions in Denver — punting on 4th-and-1 from the Denver 48 in the second quarter with a four-point lead and with a couple of unimaginative run calls late in the game with a two-point lead and 4:48 left from the Denver 12 when a TD would’ve made it a two-score game.
Josh Dobbs will make his fourth start for the Vikings and his second in front of an excited home crowd after he led the Week 10 victory over the Saints.
Here are my keys to the Vikings beating Da Bears to improve their playoff hopes by moving to 7-5:
1. Protect the football on offense and defense force turnovers: the Vikings almost beat the Broncos with a minus-three turnover ratio, and they must improve in this area that has caused far too many losses this season.
The Vikings’ defense had three takeaways in the 19-13 win over the Bears earlier this season, and a repeat of that would be big on Monday night. Josh Dobbs turned it over twice in Denver (with the interception, not his fault, as his arm was hit on the throw). The Vikings must avoid the first drive turnover that has happened five times this season. O’Connell says he’ll be fine with the Vikings at least breaking even in the turnover ratio.
2. Dobbs running and passing & give him better pass protection: in Dobbs’ three starts, the offense has been most productive when he scrambles and finds receivers on the move, as on the TD pass to Oliver and a long gainer to Hockenson in Denver. The entire offense must do a better job of protecting Dobbs (pressured on 58% of his dropbacks last game) — especially against effective blitzes for Denver. The Bears (and future opponents) will certainly try that strategy until the Vikings do a better job stopping the blitzes. Recent trade acquisition Montez Sweat had a sack last week and has helped the Chicago pass rush that has only 15 sacks (last in the league).
The Bears rank 26th against the pass, so there should be opportunities for big plays if Dobbs has time to throw.
3. Get the wide receivers more involved than last week: the Vikings wideouts had only seven catches for 83 yards against the Broncos, partially because Dobbs rarely had time to throw downfield. Perhaps more quick wide receiver screens will help the cause. But Dobbs needs to throw a few deep balls to keep the secondary from swarming Hockenson (and he hit on a couple of deep shots while under pressure to Oliver and Hockenson last week). Star rookie Jordan Addison was targeted only six times, and K.J. Osborn twice in Denver, and those numbers must increase.
It would be great for the Vikings if Justin Jefferson returns on Monday night, but it seems likely he’ll remain out until after the bye, so it would be at Las Vegas in Week 14.
4. Time to start Ty Chandler and run it better than the last Bears game: the Vikings had 175 rushing yards last week, but the Bears’ defense is No. 2 against the run, and the Vikings had only 46 yards on the ground last time against them. They are led by two free-agent signees at linebacker — T.J. Edwards (121 tackles) and Tremaine Edmunds (71 tackles). This is a good test for the Vikings O-line, tight ends, fullback C.J. Ha, and the wide receivers to create space to run.
Chandler has proven he’s the Vikings’ best running back. He has the most speed, runs instinctively, and is a dual-purpose threat as a receiver. Plus, he hasn’t fumbled in his Vikings career (as opposed to Alexander Mattison’s two lost fumbles and several dropped passes this season). Mattison should be utilized as the relief back, and he must always have two hands on the ball.
5. Contain Fields scrambling, and Danielle Hunter, D.J. Wonnum, and the blitzers (led by Josh Metellus and Harrison Smith) sack him: this is definitely a key to the game, and the Vikings must keep Fields under control. The Bears’ offensive line isn’t great, with the sixth most sacks allowed (32). Crowd noise is a factor that will help the edge rushers get a great jump on the offensive tackles.
6. Stop the run and cover WR D. J. Moore and TE Cole Kmet: Fields is the biggest run threat, but the Bears have two solid backs in D’Onta Foreman (381 rushing yards) and Khalil Herbert (307 yards). Moore and Kmet are Chicago’s leading receivers. Moore has 59 catches for 889 yards (8th in the league) and 6 TDs; Kmet has 49 receptions for 439 yards with 5 TDs. Darnell Mooney also is a talented receiver (23 catches, 345 yards).
The Vikings’ secondary must be solid in coverage, and we’ll see if Akayleb Evans recovered from his calf injury or if Mekhi Blackmon gets the start, and either or both need to play better than they have recently. Byron Murphy did a good job as the primary defender on Moore last time, holding him to five catches for 51 yards (no TDs), and he’ll probably get that assignment again.
7. Special teams contributions: the Vikings need to win the special teams battle, whether it’s another fake punt that worked well last week, solid coverage on returns, or a big day kicking for Greg Joseph (who made all his kicks and kicked off well in Denver). Bears kicker Cairo Santos is having an excellent season — 19 of 20 on field goals, including 5 of 5 from 50+, and 21 of 22 on PATs.
8. Don’t get distracted by the holiday weekend or the upcoming break with the bye: playing on Monday night gives the Vikings one more day to get past the Thanksgiving holiday hoopla. I always worried about an upcoming bye week with the players making plans to get away, and the bye comes after the Bears game. But the Monday night spotlight should keep the team’s focus on the task at hand: winning a divisional game to improve to 7-5 overall, 3-0 in the division, and 7-2 in conference games that are critical for playoff tie-breakers.
With the Bears having confidence after playing tough in Detroit, probably angry after falling short, and wanting to play well in prime time, this should be another challenging one-score game (all 11 games except the win in Green Bay have been decided by one score).
I think the Vikings’ offense will move the ball through the air against the Bears’ shaky pass defense and do enough on the ground, especially if Chandler gets more opportunities along with some timely Dobbs scrambles. The amped-up crowd on Monday night will help the Vikings pass rushers get after Fields and force a couple of turnovers. Flores will have a plan to contain his running (as the Vikings D did successfully in not letting Russell Wilson scramble–only two rushes for 1 yard). The Vikings will win 24-20.
Around the NFL Observations:
1. The Vikings obviously have a keen interest in Green Bay at Detroit on Thanksgiving. Several division leads are on the line in other matchups this weekend: 7-3 San Francisco at 6-4 Seattle (for the NFC West lead) on Turkey Day and Sunday, 7-3 Jacksonville at Houston (surging at 6-4 with three straight wins led by sure-fire Offensive Rookie of the Year QB C.J. Stroud) for the AFC South lead (the Texans crushed the Jaguars 37-17 in Week 3 in Jacksonville); 5-5 New Orleans is at 4-6 Atlanta with first place on the line in the NFC South.
2. Also on Sunday, two hot teams meet with 7-3 Cleveland at 5-5 Denver, and Buffalo (6-5) will try to keep its playoff hopes alive in a difficult game at Philadelphia against the Eagles, who are riding high with the league’s best record at 9-1 after coming from behind to beat the Chiefs 21-17 in Kansas City on Monday night.
3. The AFC North has been hit hard by quarterback injuries, with Joe Burrow (wrist) and Deshaun Watson (shoulder) out for the season. They join Kirk Cousins, Aaron Rodgers, Daniel Jones, and Anthony Richardson as starting QBs on the sidelines due to major injuries.
Wouldn’t the 7-3 Browns love to have not traded Dobbs to Arizona in August (for a swap of late-round picks)? He would be starting in place of rookie fifth-rounder Dorian Thompson-Robinson (165 passing yards and an interception last week against the Steelers in a game Cleveland’s No. 1 defense won). Ex-Viking Jake Browning gets his first NFL start against the Steelers on Sunday in place of Burrow (quite a drop in talent).
I see too many teams, such as the Browns and Bengals, not having quality, veteran No. 2 QBs, which I’ve always believed is a critical part of roster building (which is why we had Bob Lee at the Vikings in 1977, Wade Wilson in 1987 and Randall Cunningham in 1998 along with Case Keenum for the Purple in 2017…all four of these Vikings teams made it to the NFC title game in large part because there were quality, veteran No. 2 QBs when the starters got hurt).
The Vikings were smart and fortunate to land Dobbs (who had 10 career starts and seven years in the league) in the trade with Arizona after Cousins’ injury.
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Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl