Formally known as the Purple People Eaters, Minnesota captured six straight NFC Central Division titles from 1973-78, appeared in four conference championship games and three Super Bowls. Along with Pittsburgh and the Los Angeles Rams, Minnesota enjoyed four consecutive double-digit win seasons—playing a 14-game schedule—starting in 1973 and was entrenched as one of the league’s elite franchises.
Three decades later, the Vikings have yet to return to the Super Bowl but they took a considerable step last Sunday when Green Bay’s lost in Pittsburgh giving them back-to-back division crowns for the first time since the late ‘70s. Only two current Vikings—Brett Favre and Pat Williams—were alive when it last happened and they’ll try to secure a first-round playoff bye for the first time since 1998.
Speaking of No. 4, he once again made himself the center of attention by refusing to exit last week’s loss to Carolina. Thus heading to the Windy City, Minnesota (11-3, 8-5 ATS) has unintentionally given ESPN a number of storylines heading into its last Monday night telecast.
Though Favre and coach Brad Childress have reportedly kiss and made up, questions have to remain, especially in the Vikings locker room, where players have to wonder who is really in charge. Enough players will back Favre, while others will support the coach. No matter who backs who, Minnesota backers are impassible with their team 5-22 ATS in final road of the regular season.
Favre has been remarkable, no matter what his age, as the Vikings have a had a top 10 offense all season and are fourth in scoring at 28.3 points per game. Minnesota’s outstanding season has in part been because of how they played in division, showcasing a 5-0 SU and 4-0-1 ATS record in NFC North games.
Minnesota got a potential belated Christmas gift, with New Orleans losing a second straight home game, blowing a 17-0 lead to Tampa Bay and losing in overtime 20-17, leaving ajar the door for Minny to be the top-seed in the NFC if they win out and the Saints falter at Carolina next week.
Chicago (4-10 ATS) fans couldn’t have been happier this past off-season, they finally got their franchise quarterback, one problem; he needs to be able to throw the ball to somebody. Jay Cutler has thrown for over 3,100 yards and 19 touchdowns, but been picked off a league-high 25 times. Chicago receivers are arguably the worst in the NFL (good luck trying to find ones that are worse) and the combination of poor route-running and Cutler trying to force throws have sunk Chicago.
The Bears have fallen like the winter temperatures to 5-9 by losing six of its last seven games, including a 36-10 rout at the hands of the Vikings in November. Chicago has become THE play against team having dropped seven in a row against the spread. The Bears are 2-16 ATS this month as underdog versus team that is off SU and ATS loss.
In the previous matchup, Chicago had no answers for Favre, who completed 32 of 48 for 392 yards and three touchdowns. All three of his scoring tosses—one each to rookie Percy Harvin, Chester Taylor and Visanthe Shiancoe—came in the second quarter as the hosts built a 24-7 halftime lead. Cutler threw for 147 yards and a touchdown and was picked off twice and sacked four times.
The Bears have fared well at home in this head-to-head series however, going 7-4 SU and 8-3 ATS dating back to 1998. They are also on a nice 12-3 ATS run when revenging a loss of 14 points or more to an opponent. However, coach on the hot seat Lovie Smith has seen his team at its worst against good teams, 0-7 ATS vs. clubs with a winning record in this campaign.
DiamondSportsbook.com has Minnesota as eight-point road division favorite, with total of 41.5. The Vikings are 4-11 ATS as North Division visiting favorites and is a torpid 2-13 ATS in December as road chalk. The Vikes are 7-0 UNDER off an upset loss by 10 points or more as a road favorite. If Chicago has an ounce of pride, they should play well after another dismal effort, on home turf against rival with playoffs ahead of them. The Bears are 14-6 ATS at Soldier Field after posting 10 or fewer points and are 8-0 UNDER as an underdog this season.
Minnesota covers if they have the kind of game plan that has them jumping all over the Bears early. Get Adrian Peterson wide, play action pass deep and use Shiancoe over the middle. The Vikings running game has produced 62 or fewer yards in two of the last three weeks, this is opportunity to fix things against 25th rated run defense. The defensive front four can dominate the Chicago offensive and keep Cutler’s miscues coming. Above all, Childress has to convince his team to play 60 minutes and finish their work, otherwise they could fall victim like the Saints or almost what happened to Philadelphia on Sunday.
Chicago covers if they can make Favre uncomfortable in the pocket. Over the last few seasons, the former Southern Miss product has not played well outdoors in the cold. After 12 touchdowns and no interceptions in November, Favre has just three TD’s and four picks in the final month of 2009. It’s going to be up to the defense to raise their level of play and force Vikings into mistakes. Chicago talk radio has brought up OC Ron Turner as a big part of offensive issues and Da Bears can’t be too quick to abandon the run, as long as they are within two touchdowns. Cutler is a good play-action passer, don’t leave him without options. Chicago must dominate the special teams to control field position.
Monday Night System – Play On a division team that outgained its opponent in earlier game by more than a 100 total yards. (18-5 ATS, 78.2 percent)
Steve Makinen of StatFox and College and Pro Football Weekly contributed to this article.