Free Pick: Chicago Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings Week 17
Chicago Bears (11-4 SU, 11-4 ATS) vs. Minnesota Vikings (8-6-1 SU, 8-6-1 ATS)
NFL Football Week 17
Date and Time: December 30 at 4:25pm ET
Where: US Bank Stadium
Point Spread: CHI +5/MIN -5
Over/Under Total: 40.5
Man that went fast. Sixteen weeks of the regular season are over in a blink, and we have just one last full slate of NFL games left to inflate our bankrolls. Week 17 is fraught with the intangibles of teams resting starters or sitting veterans to get looks at the youngsters which can turn some matchups into something more like what we see in the pre-season. That is thankfully not the case in Minnesota this week as the Bears square off against the Vikings with both teams having something to play for. It is a win-and-you’re-in scenario for Minnesota but they will have to earn it as Chicago can still earn a first-round bye by beating the Vikings and getting some help from the 49ers. That 49ers/Rams game is happening in the same time slot, so Minnesota is going to get Chicago’s full effort all day unless things get decided early in Los Angeles. Both of these teams have stronger rivalries with division-mate Green Bay, but this series is suddenly more meaningful now that the Packers are not the unquestioned king of the NFC North. This game could also be a preview of a WildCard matchup next week, which would be just the second time these teams have met in the postseason.
The Chicago rebuild took a huge step forward this year under first-year coach Matt Nagy. He is just the second coach in Bears history to win ten games in his first season (Halas), and the development of Mitchell Trubisky is only one key that led to Chicago winning the North. The additions of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton carried promise for the offense, and the pre-season trade for Khalil Mack (12.5 sacks) made a good defense a scary one. Chicago enters the week having won eight of the last nine and it appears that they have a handle on how to play the close game as each of their last six contests have been decided by single digits. The first meeting against Minnesota this season was similarly close with Chicago pulling out a 25-20 win after entering the fourth quarter with a 22-6 lead. They held Minnesota to just 22 rushing yards in that one and picked off Kirk Cousins twice, returning one for a touchdown. The expectation is for a similar game come Sunday as the early line (Minnesota minus-6.5) was bet down quickly and the relatively low over/under total is an acknowledgment to how good these defenses have been. Chicago has thrived in these grinder environments this season and they will probably feel rather comfortable despite the hostile setting of US Bank Stadium.
Still in Control
After last season’s NFC Championship game appearance and the addition of Kirk Cousins, the Vikings had very high expectations for this season. Many of them have failed to materialize, but Minnesota still has a potential path the greatness if they can get hot right now. Losses at New England and Seattle to start December had the Vikes in a bad spot, but they have run off two wins since to put themselves back in the picture. They have scored 68 points in victories over Miami and Detroit while the defense has held those opponents to 13 points per game. Despite the ups-and-downs of 2018, Minnesota poses a difficult task as they have beaten Chicago in seven of the last ten in the series and have standout offensive options in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. That duo has caught a combined 204 passes for 2,309 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Vikings even have an analog for Khalil Mack as Danielle Hunter, and his 14.5 sacks pace a defense that is No.1 in sacks heading into the week. The sportsbooks have cooled on Minnesota after the public jumped on the opening line, but there is no doubt that they are a rightful favorite despite the inferior record.
Who can Score?
Each defense is superior to its offensive counterpart on paper as both Minnesota and Chicago are top-5 in sacks for, third-down defense and QBR allowed. The Bears are 3rd in points allowed with the Vikings 7th, so the question is which offense will have the better answer? They are virtually the same in total yards per game gained, but Minnesota is 10th in passing yards while Chicago lags at 20th. Cousins may have an edge in using Thielen and Diggs as Chicago S Eddie Jackson is questionable with an ankle injury. Jackson is second on the team with six interceptions and has scored three of the Bears six defensive touchdowns. Neither team is likely to see success on the ground with both at 4.1 yards per rush, good for 30th in the league. The Bears have a backfield matchup to exploit if they can find a way to get Tarik Cohen the ball in space. Cohen leads the team in receptions and Minnesota may be without leading tackler LB Eric Kendricks. Cohen’s production is more meaningful this week with Allen Robinson potentially out with bad ribs. The Vikings could be without returner Marcus Sherels as well. He holds several franchise records on special teams and field position us often important in close games. With so much attention paid to guys like Cohen and Thielen, perhaps a secondary contributor swings the pendulum this week. Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph is fresh off a 9-122-2 game against Detroit, and Chicago’s duo of TE Trey Burton and WR Anthony Miller has combined for 13 scores. It seems like this is a hair-splitting exercise and further indication that these teams are very closely matched.
I think the game gets decided by the QBs and that is an edge for Minnesota. Cousins had a higher completion rate and thrown for more yards with fewer interceptions than Trubisky on many more attempts. The Vikings picked of Trubisky twice in Week 11 and held him to 165 yards at home. Chicago sped out to a lead and effectively sat on the ball for most of the second half but it is doubtful they see a big lead again. I also think that the Rams will handle their business against the 49ers and it will become clear to Chicago that they do, in fact, have nothing to gain. I am still taking Chicago and the points as they are too good, especially on defense to simply get run over here. The Bears lead the league in time of possession, so Minnesota is not going to get as many chances as they are accustomed to and the Bears just know how to play the Vikings close with a 6-4 ATS record in the last ten in this series. It just looks like a close game all around. Minnesota 21 Chicago 17
Ted Walker’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Viks win but Bears get the money! Speaking of money. Did you know that you can save as much as 5% per bet by betting at a reduced juice sportsbook? Check out 5Dimes for the best prices on all bets!