CHICAGO — It’s gameday as the Minnesota Vikings look for a huge road upset in a stadium that’s been hard on them over the years.
And we could be in for a sloppy one. Rain, fog and wind have made for a soupy Sunday morning in Chicago. Forecasts call for a chance of rain all the way up to kickoff, so even if it’s dry during the game, the surface will be slick.
With the Green Bay Packers having lost on Thursday night and the Detroit Lions facing the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs, the winner of Sunday afternoon’s game could jump into a tie for the NFC North lead with a Lions loss.
Hicks in jeopardy
Dan Graziano of ESPN reports that defensive tackle Akiem Hicks is likely to miss Sunday’s game with a knee injury. If he does, it would be Hicks’ first missed game as a member of the Chicago Bears and his first overall since 2014 when he played for the New Orleans Saints.
Hicks was all over the place in Minnesota’s loss at Soldier Field last November, logging five pressures and five run stops while posting his second-best defensive grade of the season, per Pro Football Focus. Hicks has eight pressures and four run stops so far this season.
“He’s a power player, gets under your pads and drives,” said Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. “He’s got great lower body strength and is able to do that. For him, he’s a terrific push-the-pocket guy that can get off the block at the top of the rush and then get to the quarterback.”
If Hicks is out, it will take a bit of pressure off the Vikings’ interior offensive line, which has been up and down this season, particularly in pass protection. Pat Elflein and Garrett Bradbury have allowed 12 pressures combined, while the most consistent of the inside blockers, right guard Josh Kline, will miss the game with a concussion. Kline’s replacement Dakota Dozier filled in for Elflein at left guard in Week 2 and will be asked to flip sides on Sunday.
Linebacker Anthony Barr will return for Minnesota after missing Week 3 with a groin injury, which likely sends Eric Wilson back to the bench after two admirable weeks of fill-in duty. “He gives us a lot of flexibility,” head coach Mike Zimmer said of Barr.
Meanwhile, Mackensie Alexander could be in line for his first action since Week 1 (elbow). Alexander practiced in full for the first time this week since dislocating his elbow against the Falcons. Because it’s an upper body injury, Alexander’s mobility shouldn’t be affected, making it more likely he plays despite a questionable designation, assuming he responded well to the contact in practice during the week.
The Vikings have suddenly restored their cornerback depth with the Mike Hughes returning in Week 3, Alexander in line to play versus Chicago and Marcus Sherels signing back with the team this week as a punt returner. Sherels should be a better depth option than rookie Nate Meadors, who gave up touchdowns each of the last two weeks and was waived on Saturday.
In his last three games against the Vikings, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was only charged with one reception against him, per Pro Football Focus. Those games came as a member of the Green Bay Packers before Clinton-Dix was traded to the Washington Redskins at the deadline in 2018. Now he lines up adjacent to Eddie Jackson on an opportunistic Bears defense. Clinton-Dix had two interceptions last week against his former Redskins team, and now he faces a familiar rival in the Vikings. Cousins was victimized at Soldier Field last year by the Bears safeties when Jackson sniffed out a Cousins pass in the fourth quarter, picked it off and returned it for a game-sealing touchdown.
For Minnesota, could this be the day receiver Bisi Johnson records his first regular season catch? Johnson has played 22 snaps on offense without a grab, but Chad Beebe’s ankle injury that sent him to injured reserve may elevate Johnson in the pecking order. The Vikings’ new depth chart is unclear with Laquon Treadwell signing on Tuesday and rookie Davion Davis getting activated from the practice squad on Saturday. Johnson had five catches for 87 yards and a touchdown in the preseason to earn a roster spot, and the Vikings have a history of incorporating new receivers quickly once their role gets increased (i.e., Stefon Diggs’ six catches in his 2015 debut, Beebe’s three catches in his 2018 debut).
Frankly, it would be hard to justify selecting the Vikings here because of how uncharacteristic a win would be. For Minnesota to pull the upset as three-point underdogs, it would require them to win at a venue where they’ve only succeeded three times since 2000 (Zimmer has beaten them twice, yes, but those were three-point wins against last-place Bears teams). It would also require Kirk Cousins to play his best game as a Viking against a legitimate contender, on the road, in bad weather.
There are certainly reasons to have a good gut feeling if you’re a Vikings fan — such as Mitch Trubisky’s possible regression, Minnesota’s running game, etc. — but you can’t overlook the Packers game from two weeks ago that presented the Vikings with a similarly big opportunity in which they came up short.
If past performances are all we have to go on, the equation doesn’t add up in Minnesota’s favor. A pro-Vikings hunch could be the so-called value bet, but the safer pick is a Chicago victory. Bears 26, Vikings 20.