Neither the Bears nor the Vikings have anything to play for, so Joe LaTengo explores why anyone other than the most die-hard supporters should care.
Are you a fan of the Chicago Bears or the Minnesota Vikings? If not, it isn’t immediately obvious why you should spend part of your Sunday watching this game. There are some compelling NFL matchups all kicking off at 1 p.m. Eastern time (10 a.m. Pacific): For one thing, the Jets will be playing for their playoff lives in Miami, and Tennessee also faces a must-win situation in Houston to even get into a complicated wild-card playoff tiebreaker scenario involving the Jets.
San Francisco is chasing a first-round bye and has a great chance of getting it in St. Louis, while the Panthers’ Cam Newton and the Saints’ Drew Brees will cap record-setting seasons in New Orleans. The Lions and Packers are both in the playoffs, but this will be Detroit’s last chance in the regular season to humble Green Bay’s vaunted scoring machine.
Then there are the Redskins-Eagles, Bills-Patriots, Colts-Jaguars and this tilt, all of which define the phrase “playing out the string.” The Bears and Vikings both go into it with losing records, both are out of the playoff hunt and both are missing their starting quarterbacks and top rushers. Their big weapons have been blunted by injuries and uninspiring performances.
But there’s more than just various contractual obligations to fulfill to the fans, the networks and the advertisers. For one thing, it will give Chicago’s Josh McCown and Minnesota’s Joe Webb another start at quarterback. For another, it will give Toby Gerhart more touches in the wake of the hideous ACL tear to Adrian Peterson; same thing for Kahlil Bell in the wake of Matt Forte’s season-ending injury. As a result, this game will likely be a lot closer than it would have appeared to be at the start of the season.
Whereas some might have declared this game over before it starts, it’s simply not the case anymore. The Bears should still come out of this ahead because their defense has remained essentially intact and performing at a comparatively high level, while Minnesota has had problems on both sides of the ball.
One of those issues has not been Webb, who has acquitted himself well in his appearances for the Purple and Gold. Last week was especially notable, as the second-year man from the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers came into the game on the second play of the second half against the Washington Redskins after starter Christian Ponder sustained a concussion during a sack. Webb ended up going 4 of 5 for 84 yards and two passing touchdowns in that game, and added five carries for 34 yards and a rushing TD. Those stats won’t remind anyone of Cam Newton or even Tim Tebow, but I’d rather have him behind center than, say, Caleb Hanie.
Speaking of Hanie, it appears he’s back to carrying the clipboard (for now) while Josh McCown will again call the signals for the Bears. Bell will again start as the feature runner in the Chicago backfield.
Of course, Minnesota head coach Leslie Frazier could decide to start Ponder on Sunday, and at the time this post was written the Vikings were still waiting on the results of the NFL’s mandatory concussion protocol. However, after three terrible weeks punctuated by the shot Ponder took in the Redskins game, it would seem like Webb has earned the final start of the season.
At the time of writing this post, the NFL betting on this game has it as a pick’em, with the over/under at 41. So of all the early games on Sunday with nothing at stake, this one promises to be the most evenly matched and closest of all … from this vantage point, anyway.
UPDATE: As of 2 p.m. Eastern time (11 a.m. Pacific time) on Wednesday, the line has moved to the Vikings as a slight favorite at -1, with the over/under at 40.5.