When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday Where: Soldier Field, Chicago TV: CBS
So at the conclusion of Sunday's contest, at least one team will walk away having cleared a major hurdle.
ESPN.com NFL Nation reporters Michael C. Wright (Bears) and Ben Goessling (Vikings) break down the matchup:
Michael C. Wright: The Bears wanted to do what Minnesota did going into the bye week, and that's stack up a couple of wins so they could start the second half of the season riding a wave of momentum. I know the quality of the opponents hasn't been exactly stellar over Minnesota's last two outings, but how much of a roll would you say the Vikings are on right now, and what's been the difference?
Ben Goessling: The biggest difference has been the teams they've played -- Tampa Bay and Washington aren't exactly formidable opponents, and the Vikings haven't beaten any team with more than three wins -- but I'll give them credit for punching back at key moments in a pair of close games. They've got a young defense that's developing confidence in coach Mike Zimmer's scheme, and Teddy Bridgewater has directed a couple of key scoring drives in the fourth quarter after missing a chance to put a game away Oct. 19 in Buffalo. The Vikings haven't beaten anyone of substance yet, but with four games against sub-.500 teams in the second half, they might not have to. They can get to 7-9 or 8-8 just by taking care of business against losing teams, and as they continue to grow under Zimmer, who knows? I don't expect a playoff run this season, but I won't yet rule it out, especially if they get Kyle Rudolph and Adrian Peterson back.
There will be plenty of intrigue from Vikings fans about Jared Allen and how he's fared in Chicago. I know he lost quite a bit of weight from pneumonia -- is that the main reason he's struggled to get to the quarterback, or do his problems run deeper than that?
Wright: Ben, I don't quite understand exactly why he hasn't had more of an impact. Headed into the bye week, Allen talked about needing to find an extra "half step," which I took as he needed to clean up some technical kinks to get to the quarterback just a tad quicker. I think a combination of factors have limited Allen's ability to make an impact. Allen missed time to attend the birth of his daughter during the preseason. Then, the team held him out of the exhibition outing because of a bruised shoulder. Two days after Chicago's Sept. 22 win against over the Jets, Allen fought through pneumonia, which caused him to lose 15 pounds. So to me, all of those factors have sort of prevented Allen from hitting his stride. But I've definitely seen him gradually pick things up over the past few weeks.
There's a chance Rudolph could be returning to the lineup this week from a sports hernia. How much does the offense change with Rudolph in the mix, and how in sync can he get with Bridgewater since they haven't really worked together in a game situation?
Goessling: Rudolph will definitely help the offense, primarily because his presence means the Vikings could have two solid pass-catching options in the two-tight-end sets they like to use. You're right, however, about Bridgewater not having had much time with him; most of Bridgewater's snaps in training camp and the preseason came with the No. 2 offense, and he's developed a solid rapport with Chase Ford in recent weeks. Rudolph, though, is a big target who's probably the Vikings' best threat in the red zone. That alone should help the Vikings, who rank 23rd in the league in red zone efficiency.
As bad as the Bears' defense has been, the offense should have enough weapons to keep them in some of these games. How close does the Bears' offense seem to be spiraling out of control, and what is it going to take to fix things this weekend against a vastly improved Vikings defense?
Wright: How close? Man, the offense has already spiraled out of control. When you've got a bye week to self-scout, study the opponent, and fix internal issues and you still come out and play like they did Sunday, I'd say things are out of control. Obviously, you know Jay Cutler has committed a league-high 15 turnovers, which have led to 65 points by opponents. So that needs to get fixed for the Bears to have a shot. The offense also needs to truly commit to running the football. At Green Bay, the Bears threw the ball nine times and rushed on four occasions in the first quarter as the Packers took a 14-0 lead. After Green Bay went up 7-0, the Bears passed the next two plays on the ensuing possession, with the second resulting in an interception that helped the Packers go up 14-0. So now the Bears are forced into passing mode, which means exposing Cutler to more turnovers. Although the Bears passed nine times in the first quarter, several of those attempts came on run calls featuring run-pass options. So Cutler pulled the ball on some of the runs and opted to pass. The Bears need to take away that option and run the ball when a run call is on. That would help tremendously against the Vikings.
Speaking of running, nobody likes hypotheticals, but let's say the league reinstated Peterson in time for Sunday's game (we already know that's not happening). But realistically, how much of an impact could Peterson make after such a long layoff, because the only way to get into playing shape is to actually play?
Goessling: Well, it sounds unlikely Peterson is going to get back in time for Sunday's game, but whenever he does return, he'll have to answer the questions you just raised. He hasn't played in more than two months, and the Vikings' offense has changed substantially since he last played. They spend the majority of their time in the shotgun, where Peterson has only 86 career carries, and that change alone means he'll have some things to get used to when (or if) he plays for the Vikings this season. The Vikings are trying to build an offense that will work for their young quarterback, and a number of its components -- runs out of the shotgun, more plays with designed points of attack and fewer opportunities to freelance, a larger involvement for running backs in the passing game -- will be new to Peterson. He was excited about getting a chance to catch the ball more often before the season. Maybe he'll get a chance to prove he can be a weapon in that facet of the game eventually.
What do you expect from the Bears after that loss in Green Bay on Sunday night? The Vikings have said they figure they'll get an angry opponent Sunday; do you expect the same thing, or are the Bears close to giving up on the season?
Wright: I think the Bears have given up. The Vikings might see an angry opponent for the first half. But if they take a decent lead into intermission, the Bears -- not all of them, but most -- will mail it in, call it a day. Sure, they're saying all the right things publicly because that's what they've got to do. But I get the sense that neither side of the ball trusts the other to effectively do their jobs, and I think collectively, the squad -- coaches and players, alike -- is wondering why the offense hasn't gotten more production out of its high-priced quarterback. Regardless of Bears coach Marc Trestman saying it takes all 11 for the offense to be successful, everything starts and ends with the quarterback in Chicago's system, and that's coming from a source within the organization who added, "If [the quarterback] functions [in the offense], it's good, if not, there is no place to turn."