The Bears (5-10) look to close out the 2014 regular season on a high note when they visit their NFC North rivals, the Minnesota Vikings (6-9). Here's a preview of Chicago's Week 17 opponent:
What's new: Some rookies can hit a wall when the calendar flips to December, as they are no used to the lengthy grind of the NFL season. Others do the opposite and elevate their play as their comfort level with professional football grows. Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has done the latter, improving as the year has progressed, making December his best month so far. In his last three games, the first-round pick has completed 73.4 percent of his passes and averaged 294 yards, throwing five touchdowns. Bridgewater looks like he'll be in Vikings purple for a long time, with a promising career ahead of the 22-year old signal caller.
What's old: Even though he's been in the league just three years, free safety Harrison Smith is already a mainstay in the Minnesota lineup. Smith is having his best season in 2014, with 88 tackles, three sacks and five interceptions, which is tied for third in the league. The most recent of those picks came last week, when he made a leaping interception of Ryan Tannehill after deflecting the pass into his own arms in the backfield. He is the only player in the NFL this season with at least three sacks and three interceptions.
Last time out:** The Vikings jumped out to an early 14-0 lead at Miami last Sunday, but was unable to hold on, eventually losing 37-35. Minnesota was done in a by a late blunder after playing well for the majority of the contest. Bridgewater threw for a pair of touchdowns and Matt Asiata ran in two more, helping the Vikings offense to one of their best days of the season. However the Vikings defense was nowhere to be found, allowing four second-half touchdowns by the Dolphins. And in the end, it was poor special teams that cost the Vikings, as Miami scored on a safety after a blocked punt with less than a minute remaining, proving to be the difference.
Series history: Recent history in this series has tilted the Bears' way, but all-time, the Vikings still hold the edge. Minnesota has a 54-51-2 record against Chicago, as the two teams have been facing one another since 1961. In the last 10 meeting, the Bears have been dominant, going 8-2 in that stretch, including a 21-13 victory against the Vikings at Soldier Field on November 16. The teams played the first-ever NFL game at TCF Bank Stadium – where this Sunday's game will be played – on December 20, 2010. Chicago won 41-10 in what was the last game in quarterback Brett Favre's career.
Hometown connections: A trio of Bears will be making homecomings of sort this Sunday in the Twin Cities. Defensive end Jared Allen played six seasons with the Vikings, starting 96 games during the stretch. In his career with the team, he recorded 85.5 sacks, including a team-record 22 in 2011. Safety Brock Vereen will find TCF Bank Stadium familiar, as he played his college career at the University of Minnesota. Coach Marc Trestman is another former-Golden Gopher, as he played quarterback for the school from 1975-1977. Trestman also grew up just outside Minneapolis.
"You think about it, but I've been back so many times over the years to play games. It's where I was raised and grew up," Trestman said this week of the homecoming. "I'm sure it will cross my mind (being back on campus), but the focus is certainly on the team and the football game."
Injury Report: Minnesota was without one its top receiving targets – tight end Kyle Rudolph – in the loss to the Dolphins. Rudolph has been battling ankle and knee injuries all season long, and his status for the game against the Bears is unknown. The Vikings will be without their top draft pick, linebacker Anthony Barr, whose season ended when he suffered a left knee injury that required surgery.
Did you know?: Bears quarterback Jay Cutler returns to the starting lineup this week, and it is just in time. During his career, Cutler has thrived against the Vikings. In 10 career contest, he's thrown 23 touchdowns – his most against any opponent, by a wide margin – and has a rating of 93.2, well above his career average of 85.3. When the teams met earlier this season, Cutler threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns in the Chicago victory.