CHICAGO BEARS (5-10) AT MINNESOTA VIKINGS (12-3)
SERIES HISTORY: 113th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 59-51-2. Vikings are 35-21 at home against the Bears. They beat the Bears 20-17 at Soldier Field on Oct. 9. A victory at U.S. Bank Stadium would give the Vikings their fourth season sweep since 2000. It would be the second in coach Mike Zimmer's four seasons. The teams have met once in the playoffs, the Bears winning 35-18 at Minnesota during the 1994 season.
KEYS TO THE GAME: While Minnesota has clinched a playoff berth, the Vikings need a win over Chicago or a Carolina loss at Atlanta to clinch a first-round bye.
The Vikings will look to contain Jordan Howard, not turn the ball over and stay healthy as they take care of the bye themselves.
Howard is the NFL's fifth-leading rusher with 1,113 yards, a 4.2 average and nine touchdowns. If he gets rolling, the Vikings would lose the massive down-and-distance advantage they normally enjoy at home. If they can contain Howard, their talent and schemes will overwhelm rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
The second overall pick in last spring's draft, Trubisky has 2,015 passing yards and is now the top rookie passer in franchise history. But he still has a long way to go -- and will probably be making the trek with a new coaching staff next season.
"It's about growth and development, getting better each day, and I wouldn't have that without my teammates," Trubisky said. "I don't feel like I did anything special, just continue to get better each week and learn from my mistakes."
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Bears RB Jordan Howard vs. Vikings MLB Eric Kendricks. Kendricks will lead the Vikings in tackles for the third time in his three seasons with the team. No one has done that since Rip Hawkins did it in his first four seasons (1961-64). Kendricks has 132 tackles, 40 more than second-place Andrew Sendejo. Nose tackle Linval Joseph sets the tone for the team's second-ranked run defense, but Kendricks cleans things up. Howard ranks fifth in the league with 1,113 yards rushing. If he's able to get going, the Vikings could be in for an unexpected battle.
--Vikings LG Jeremiah Sirles vs. Bears DE Akiem Hicks. Sirles won't be the only offensive lineman responsible for the Bears' leader in sacks. But Sirles will be stepping in full-time for starter Nick Easton, who was placed on injured reserve with a broken ankle. Sirles has started three games this season because of other injuries to Easton. He also had to shift to right tackle during one game. Sirles is a solid, reliable backup. He's big enough to play tackle, so he should be able to stand up to Hicks physically. Center Pat Elflein also will play a key role in containing Hicks, who has 8.5 sacks as a 3-4 end.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--Doubtful: T Bobby Massie (knee), G Josh Sitton (ankle)
--Questionable: S DeAndre Houston-Carson (back), TE Adam Shaheen (chest)
--Out: CB Tramaine Brock (foot), C Pat Elflein (shoulder), LS Kevin McDermott (shoulder), DT Shamar Stephen (ankle)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Vikings FS Harrison Smith. Smith purposely didn't add a Pro Bowl incentive into his latest contract. He doesn't have much faith in the selection process. This year, he's considered the biggest snub of a Vikings player. The next game after the selections were announced was last Saturday's 16-0 win at Green Bay. Smith had two interceptions. The first one came in the red zone late in the first half of a game the Vikings led 10-0. The second one effectively ended the game late in the fourth quarter.
FAST FACTS: Chicago QB Mitchell Trubisky has 2,015 passing yards, most by a rookie in franchise history. ... RB Jordan Howard ran for two scores last week and has 262 scrimmage yards and four rushing TDs in his past three games. He has 413 scrimmage yards (137.7 per game) in three career games vs. Minnesota. Since entering the league in 2016, he ranks third with 2,426 rushing yards. ... RB Tarik Cohen ranks fourth among rookie RBs with 47 catches. ... WR Kendall Wright has 17 receptions for 188 yards in his past two road games. He leads the team with 54 receptions and 585 yards. ... DE Akiem Hicks had two sacks and three tackles for loss in his last game vs. Minnesota. ... CB Kyle Fuller ranks second in the NFL with a career-high 22 passes defensed. His six passes defensed in Week 16 were the most by any player in a game this season. ... Rookie S Eddie Jackson has an interception, forced fumble and two recoveries in his past two road games. ... The Vikings clinched the NFC North for the second time in three seasons and can clinch a first-round bye with a win. ... QB Case Keenum is 4-0 in his past four games vs. NFC North foes. Has 14 TDs vs. 4 INTs for 108 rating in past 7. Aims for 3rd in row at home with 100+ rating. ... RB Latavius Murray has 313 scrimmage yards (104.3 per game) and four rushing TDs in his past three at home. ... RB Jerick McKinnon has 342 scrimmage yards (114 per game) and four TDs in his past three games vs. Chicago. ... WR Adam Thielen ranks second in the NFC with a career-high 1,215 receiving yards. ... TE Kyle Rudolph recorded a career-high 11 receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown in his last home game vs. Chicago. He aims for a third straight game vs. Chicago with a TD. ... DE Everson Griffen ranks fourth in the NFL with a career-high 13 sacks. He has six sacks in the past seven home games.
PREDICTION: The Vikings have every reason to come out firing against the Bears, who really have no motivation other than professional pride to stop them.
OUR PICK: Vikings, 27-13.