The Chicago Bears hope a return to Soldier Field can stop their two-game losing skid, but the Minnesota Vikings won’t make it easy for them. The 6-4 Vikings come off a bye looking for their third straight win in the division against the 7-3 Bears.
Whether the Bears can stay tied with Green Bay for first place will be decided largely by these three factors:
1. How much can Chicago hope to get from Jay Cutler?
After missing last week’s debacle in San Francisco with a concussion, Jay Cutler will reportedly resume his quarterbacking duties against the Vikings. He’ll be hard-pressed to look worse than Jason Campbell has done this season, but it’s an open question how sharp Cutler will be against an imposing Minnesota pass rush.
Jared Allen is the kind of sack specialist who has slaughtered the Bears this season, and if he puts Cutler on the ground with regularity, Chicago’s offense is sunk. Even if he has time to throw, Cutler can’t afford any lapses in his timing or confidence after his week on the sidelines.
2. Is Christian Ponder ready for the Bears’ defense?
Christian Ponder has improved significantly from his rookie season, but he’s still thrown eight interceptions against just 12 touchdowns. Those are the kind of mistakes that the Chicago defense loves to turn into scores.
The Bears have picked off a league-high 19 passes, returning seven of them for touchdowns. As much as Ponder will want to put points on the board for the Vikings, his top priority must be to avoid doing the same for the Bears.
3. Will Chicago have an answer for Adrian Peterson?
The Bears’ run defense started the season hot, but it’s cooled considerably along with Chicago’s fortunes. Frank Gore rang up 78 yards on Chicago a week ago, and Arian Foster broke 100 the game before that.
Obviously, those two backs are an awfully high standard of comparison, but Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson (1,128 yards on the year) is on a similarly lofty plane. If he can get on track and beat the Bears at their own ball-control game, Minnesota will be in much better shape.
Prediction: Bears 16, Vikings 10
Both quarterbacks are in for very long afternoons, but Chicago’s defense has a better chance than Minnesota’s to turn that advantage into points on the scoreboard. The Vikings will have enough trouble with Chicago’s ground game to keep the Bear offense from failing altogether, and Chicago’s edge on D will be enough to grind out a win.