Thanksgiving weekend is typically the time of year to kick back with your family and friends and remember what you're thankful for --in between helping yourself to another helping of turkey, natch. For the Chicago Bears, though, this weekend brings about not the fond memories of family, but the grim reminder of pigskin mortality. Yes, two weeks removed from seeming like world beaters, the Bears now face a must-win tilt against a very game Minnesota Vikings squad. How did it come to this? You know the story: an ugly, hard-fought loss at home to Houston and an absolutely savage manhandling at the hands of San Francisco in consecutive weeks have put the Monsters of the Midway in these dire straits. And maybe we all should have seen these losses coming. Turnovers in the NFL, even for a team coached, nay, bred to be a tenacious mob of ball hawks, is a fickle prospect; and for the Bears defense, well, their number was up. Toss in a Jay Cutler concussion, some terrible line play, and yeah, the Bears probably deserved to lose to Houston and, well, the scorch marks in their white unis will hopefully be out in time for their next roadie after the debacle in Bay.
But we're looking to the future, maaaan; and we're asking: Can the Bears recover from two consecutive losses even if they may feel like their cloak of invincibility, if not their collective "self", is disintegrating? On paper, sure the Bears should win. Game's at Soldier Field. Minnesota, even for their impressive win over San Francisco, has baffling double-digit losses to the likes of Tampa Bay and Washington. Vikes defense, save for a very active and dangerous man named Jared Allen, has taken more steps backward than forward this season. But the Bears are surely licking their wounds and, gasp!, potentially seeing their confidence leak out of the locker room with each passing minute. NFLers are not the "psychological man" by any means, but surely cracks in an already lacking and fragile offensive line's psyche will emerge after being bulldozed and treated with such casual indifference by San Francisco's marauders. It's a fool's errand to wonder "Will Matt Forte hit the hole as hard after that game?" but at the same time, one would've been a fool to think the Bears would lose by 25 and gain 143 total yards against San Francisco only a week ago.
When the Bears Have the Ball:
Jay Cutler or no Jay Cutler, the offense's success will come down to how well the offensive line is pushing against Minnesota's solid defensive line. If, like the past two weeks, the Bears offense is the shoved instead of the shover, look out, Bears fans, calamity is comin' to town. But if the Bears linemen can camp out on the line of scrimmage and assert themselves, than we're talking a Thanksgiving feast for Matt Forte and probably, one hopes, more than one touchdown for the Monsters of the Midway.
Look for Jared Allen to get his no matter what. He's a disruptive presence and regardless of who is matching up with him, there will likely be some double-teams and that means one less body for Chicago to put somewhere else on the line. As a unit the Vikings defense is pretty average, but they do an OK job of stopping the run and they'll happily sack your quarterback (tied for 11th in the league in sacks); but they do have a penchant for giving up passing yards. So, hopefully, if Cutler is behind center or if it's the Ghost of Jason Campbell Past lining up, the Bears will be able to get Brandon Marshall more involved.
When the Vikings Have the Ball:
The Vikings offense, much like the Bears', starts and ends with the running game. Adrian Peterson, you're familiar with his work, trust me, is the main cog and Chicago should rightfully key in on stopping him. Christian Ponder who started the season out pretty well, fell off his game sometime around Week 5 and has never stopped falling. More importantly for the Bears defense, the Vikings offensive line is NOT the 49ers o-line. In a classic redemption narrative, the Bears, after facing the absolute best, can now watch "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" tomorrow night and then recognize that they can still push around anyone and everyone they want. This starts with the d-line getting it together, and well, we shall see. The Vikings offensive line anonymous as it may be, is not to be underrated and how the Bears respond after two weeks of being tenderized will be very telling for this game and the rest of the season.
The Bears face the Seahawks in Week 13, the Vikings again in Week 14, and the Green Bay Packers in Week 15. All three of those opponents are vying with each other and the Bears for NFC playoff spots. A divisional win over Minnesota on Sunday not only keeps the Bears within striking distance of Green Bay for the divisional crown, but also kicks the Vikings down another rung on the playoff ladder. It's hyperbolic but entirely realistic to call this tilt a must-win and the Bears will prevail: Bears 23, Vikings 16