Coming off their first loss of the 2016 NFL season, the Minnesota Vikings might not have much trouble getting back in the win column. They’ll host the Chicago Bears on “Monday Night Football” in Week 8 as the NFC North leader takes on the division’s worst team.
With a 5-1 record, Minnesota is among the favorites in the NFC to reach the Super Bowl. Chicago has lost six of their first seven games, and they are one of only a handful of teams that is truly out of the playoff race with the regular season less than halfway complete.
A win for the Vikings is no guarantee. Quarterback Jay Cutler is returning for the Bears, having suffered a thumb injury in Week 2, and Minnesota was just defeated soundly by the Philadelphia Eagles. The Vikings were six-point favorites earlier in the week, but the betting line moved to 4.5 points at Las Vegas and online sportsbooks by Friday morning, according to OddsShark.
Philadelphia defeated Minnesota by forcing them to commit several key turnovers. Sam Bradford threw his first interception of 2016, and the quarterback lost two fumbles. The Vikings have one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines, and it finally cost them as Bradford was sacked six times. Minnesota couldn’t get much going on the ground either, averaging 3.4 yards per carry.
Chicago will look to take advantage of Minnesota’s glaring weakness, though they’ll have a more difficult time doing so than Philadelphia did. The Eagles have one of the league’s top defensive fronts, averaging an NFL-best 3.3 sacks per game. The Bears are in the middle of the pack in that department with 15 total sacks in seven games.
The Bears could have a chance to pull off the upset by playing a low-scoring game, keeping the final score below the over/under of 40.5. With fewer rushing yards than any NFL team and a quarterback that’s been inconsistent throughout his career, Minnesota might struggle to score on the road.
But it appears to be a near certainty that Chicago will have trouble scoring points, and it might be too much for them to overcome.
Even in their loss last week, the Vikings’ defense was terrific. Philadelphia’s 21 points were a season-high allowed by Minnesota, and one of the Eagles’ touchdowns came on a kickoff return. In their previous five games, the Vikings held all of their opponents to between 10 and 16 points.
There’s little reason to think Cutler and the Bears’ offense will perform any better than Minnesota’s first five opponents. Chicago has scored 17 or fewer points in six of their seven games, only totaling 23 points when they faced the Indianapolis Colts, who have surrendered at least 22 points in every single game.
Backup quarterback Brian Hoyer started in Weeks 3-7, but the return of Cutler might not mean that much of an improvement for the team’s offense. Hoyer was productive, posting a 98.0 passer rating with six touchdowns and no interceptions. Cutler had just a 75.7 passer rating before he went down in Week 2, and the Bears were 23rd in scoring with him at the helm in 2015.
Making his return against the team that leads the NFL in takeaways, Cutler could commit a few costly mistakes that will make it difficult for Chicago to keep the game competitive. After committing several turnovers against Philadelphia, Minnesota should be able to hold onto the ball against Chicago, who ranks 23rd in takeaways.
The Bears don't seem to have much of a home-field advantage, having lost 12 of their last 14 games at Soldier Field. The lowly Jacksonville Jaguars were even able to win in Chicago a few weeks ago, and doing so shouldn’t be a problem for the NFC North’s top team.
Prediction: Minnesota over Chicago, 24-13