Peppers injury opens door for Vikings

The underworld of NFL injuries is a murky and mysterious place. You never know who or what to believe. With that said, the general consensus around the Chicago Bears this week has been that defensive end Julius Peppers' sprained knee would improve enough to allow him to play Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings.

That theory took a hit Friday when Peppers was unable to practice and was listed as doubtful on the Bears' injury report. Coach Lovie Smith said "we are still hopeful" but noted: "When a guy doesn't practice at all during the week, we're not too optimistic."

It's important to note that "doubtful" means there is a 25 percent chance of a player being available. As we learned last year, a player can be ruled out on the final injury report of the week and still wind up playing. So I'm not ready to rule out Peppers completely from this game. All we can say is that if he does play, he'll be on the field at far less than 100 percent capacity.

The Bears' already-struggling defense would be substantially weaker without its best player, especially when you consider that his likely replacement would be a 248-pound free agent with one NFL sack in two seasons. Nick Reed is a feisty reserve but hardly a player the Bears want in a premier position during a nationally televised game against an opponent that will be more than happy to test him with its power running game. If the Bears were giving up 135 rushing yards per game with Peppers in the lineup, then how many will tailback Adrian Peterson pile up without him?

We'll have the rest of the NFC North injury report a bit later, but this turn of events merited immediate response. Peppers has missed only six games in his 10-year NFL career, and none since 2007. But his availability doesn't look good for a key division game that will be the difference between a 2-4 and 3-3 record.