The 6-3 first place Chicago Bears face the 5-3-1 second place Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football this week. This game was originally a noon game, but was flexed to prime time because of the success of both teams. The Bears are coming off their third consecutive victory while the Vikings come in on a one game win streak. A win for the Vikings would move them into first place, while a win for the Bears would give them a 1.5 game lead in the division. Here is how I think one of the most important games in recent memory for the Chicago Bears will play out.

Let’s start with some recent history of Bears-Vikings games in Chicago. Last year, the Bears kept it close the entire game using trick plays, an effective run game and great defense. But in Mitchell Trubisky’s debut, he threw a pick on the potential game winning drive to seal the 2017 win for the Vikings. Two years ago, on Halloween, a Bears team that ended up going 3-13 beat the Vikings 20-10 behind Jordan Howard’s 156 yard, one touchdown game. The Bears dominated, especially Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks who combined for three sacks. Since 2010, the Bears are 6-2 at home against the Vikings. But this Bears team coming into Soldier Field on Sunday could very well be the best in the past eight years.

This is going to be a gritty divisional game, but not your typical NFC North battle. Minnesota currently ranks 15th in points per game while Chicago ranks 5th. The Vikings have put up 30 points in two games this year while the Bears have done that in four different games. The Bears are 4-0 as a home favorite this year, tied for best in the NFL and open at 2.5 point favorites on Sunday Night. One of Matt Nagy’s biggest points in the offseason was defending Soldier Field and becoming a team that is stellar at home. Trubisky has had his two best games at home, and the team has defended their turf just as well as any team in the NFL. I think it continues on Sunday Night.

If the Bears want to win this game, it needs to start with a solid run game and getting takeaways. I see Matt Nagy getting Howard going in this one to keep some stress off Trubisky against a Minnesota pass rush that collected 11 sacks two weeks ago. That doesn’t mean Nagy is going to be conservative, but I don’t see them throwing the ball 40 times. The Bears will need to generate big plays, which they’ve been extremely good at through 10 games. Last week, one of the Bears’ biggest playmakers, Taylor Gabriel, had 0 receptions for 0 yards. This week I expect them to target Gabriel numerous times out of the slot.  Xavier Rhodes is one of the top cornerbacks in the league, but teams have been able to generate big plays in the slot against the Vikings. Gabriel and Anthony Miller (who is second in the NFL in creating separation) should have solid games and generate big plays. However, the forte of both teams is the interior defense. The Vikings have a top-five pass rush with playmakers all over. Minnesota is 3rd in the league in sacks and hold opposing offenses to the least amount of third down conversions in the NFL.

Although I expect the offense to produce through some big plays, I see this game being won on the defensive side by the Bears. The Bears rank 4th in sacks and 1st in takeaways and points off takeaways. The Vikings have a great receiving duo in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, and their rushing game is getting going with the addition of Dalvin Cook coming back from injury. This offense has weapons but Minnesota gives the ball away the 8thmost in the NFL. Their offensive line has given up 2.7 sacks per game, 16th most in the NFL. With a Bears defense that is bringing in a healthy Khalil Mack and the rest of the Monsters of the Midway, I expect the defense to wreak havoc on a vulnerable Minnesota O-line to the tune of six sacks. This should lead to forced throws from Kirk Cousins, resulting in numerous interceptions for the #1 ranked secondary in football.

The excitement about this Bears team locally and nationally, is something that fans have waited a long time for.  The Bears confidence is growing and momentum is building as Trubisky and the defense continue to win games. Minnesota on the other hand, has already accumulated the same number of losses as they had all year. Things feel different in Minnesota and it’s certainly not the same magic that was evident last year. Playing in prime time for first place, the Bears have the opportunity to finally show the nation they are legit and a force to be reckoned with in the NFC. This is why I love the Bears in this game. Momentum, confidence, and heart are just as important as stats and matchups in the NFL, especially in a divisional game, and right now, there may be no team that has more momentum and confidence right now than the Chicago Bears.

Prediction: Bears 31, Vikings 24

Photo: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
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