BEARS // VIKINGS OVERVIEW
While the early games on the slate give us a few spots with playoff implications (and a handful of additional spots with intriguing Week 17 plays), the eight games in the late slot give us the juiciest games to consider — with all eight games carrying moderate-to-strong playoff implications, including a few “win and in” or “win and earn a bye” scenarios. This three-hour stretch is annually one of the most exciting of the NFL season, and it is always a fun stretch of games to target in DFS, with all the teams involved either playing with their season on the line or playing with an opportunity to end on a high note by spoiling a strong opponent’s season in part or whole.
The first game we’ll explore in this section of the slate is the upstart, 11-4 Bears traveling to take on an 8-6-1 Vikings team that lost in the NFC Championship last year. The Bears have already locked down at least the 3 seed on the NFC side of the bracket, but they can grab a first-round bye if they win this game and the 49ers find a way to upset the Rams. The home Vikings, on the other hand, have nothing guaranteed at this point, with a win-and-in setup in this spot, and with a loss putting them at the mercy of the Eagles (who will be taking on the Redskins on the road in the same time slot). This game pairs two defenses that rank top eight in fewest points allowed, and has been awarded a low Over/Under of 40.5, with the Vikings installed as 4.0 point favorites.
Let the fun begin.
BEARS PASS OFFENSE
Minnesota has been one of the tougher pass defenses in the NFL this year, with the second lowest catch rate allowed, the eighth fewest yards per pass attempt allowed, and the fewest passing touchdowns allowed in the league. With a disciplined, assignment-strong defense across the board, the Vikings have allowed the sixth fewest receptions to tight ends and the fifth fewest receptions to wide receivers. There is also at least some risk (seemingly accounted for by Vegas, with the Bears installed as underdogs in this spot) that the Bears approach this game with a more vanilla game plan and/or take their foot off the gas down the stretch — resting players late in this game if the Rams grab a big lead in their home game against the 49ers. Ultimately, this is a challenging spot for an inconsistent Bears offense that is not guaranteed to play all-out from wire to wire.
If you feel compelled to attack this matchup anyway, the best way to gain upside from the Bears this year has been to roll with Mitchell Trubisky naked — hoping to capture the upside he can create with his arm and his legs in this well-schemed, spread-the-wealth offense. On the year, only the Bears and Bills have allowed fewer fantasy points per game to quarterbacks than the Vikings have allowed, and when these teams played earlier in the year, Trubisky threw for only 165 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, but this does not preclude him from finding a way to produce in this spot. A bet on Trubisky is a bet on him winning this difficult draw, but he does carry enough on-his-own upside to not leave you drawing dead if you choose to make that bet.
The primary weapon for Trubisky lately has remained Allen Robinson, with target counts of 8 // 7 // 8 since Trubisky returned from injury. Robinson missed practice on Wednesday with a rib issue and could conceivably be held out this week in a game that is ultimately unlikely to matter for the Bears, but if he is out there, he should have locked-in involvement once again. While this offense has become almost strictly short-area lately, Robinson is also still seeing one or two targets per game of 15+ yards. He remains slightly overpriced for his actual floor/ceiling expectations, but it’s not impossible for him to justify his salary.
Behind Robinson, target counts across the last three weeks for primary Chicago pass catchers have looked like this:
Cohen continues to function as an Upside option in tourneys, with five to eight carries on the ground most weeks to go with his involvement in the pass game — though as he showed last week, his floor remains low.
Burton has not topped even 40 yards since Week 7, though he theoretically has the upside to pop off with the usage he is seeing.
Miller and Gabriel are mere dart throws at the moment, with neither seeing anything approaching locked-in involvement.
BEARS RUN OFFENSE
With Trubisky struggling with consistency and the Bears’ defense playing at such a high level, this has turned into a run-heavy team of late — with the Bears throwing the ball on only 50% of their plays since Trubisky returned (which would rank 31st in the league across the full season). This has allowed Jordan Howard to notch recent carry counts of 19 // 19 // 13 — and while he has topped 82 yards only once all year (with only 19 receptions all season), he does have seven touchdowns, allowing him to produce decent point-per-dollar production from time to time. The matchup is not great against a Minnesota defense that ranks eighth in yards allowed per carry, with only four teams allowing fewer rushing touchdowns to the running back position, but as with Trubisky: you’re at least not drawing dead with Howard, if for some reason you feel compelled to go here.
VIKINGS PASS OFFENSE
The Vikings don’t have things much easier on offense this week (there is a reason, after all, why this game carries the third lowest Over/Under on the slate), with the Bears tied with the Vikings for the second lowest catch rate allowed on the year, while they have also allowed the third lowest yards per pass attempt and the ninth fewest passing touchdowns. Chicago is one of only two teams allowing fewer fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks than Minnesota. The Bears have gone nine consecutive games without allowing their opponent to produce even 340 yards of total offense. They have also gone nine consecutive games without allowing even 250 passing yards. Expectations are further lowered in this spot by the Vikings’ newfound insistence on leaning on the run, with Kirk Cousins notching only 21 and 28 pass attempts across the last two weeks (a far cry from the seven games he has this year with 40+ pass attempts — including two games of 50+). The Vikings want to win right now with defense, a strong run game, and a play-action passing game that produces a high completion rate and avoids mistakes. This has enabled Cousins to pick up five passing touchdowns and a stellar 9.55 yards per pass attempt mark across the last two weeks, but he has thrown for only 215 and 253 yards along the way. With pricing on his primary weapons in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen still artificially inflated by this team’s season-long pass-heavy binge, it’s tough to get excited about these pieces. Thielen has target counts across the last two weeks of 2 // 6. Diggs has gone 7 // 6.
If for some reason you feel compelled to go here, recognize that the Bears — with their stout run defense (more on this in a moment) and their ability to slow down both running backs and tight ends through the air — have faced the fifth most wide receiver targets in the NFL this year. With the fifth fewest wide receiver touchdowns allowed in the league, it is still difficult to come across spiked-week games against this squad, but there is at least a chance that the Vikings are forced to go more pass-heavy than they want to in this spot, and that Thielen/Diggs could push for eight to 10 targets apiece. While each guy is a tremendous wide receiver with strong hands and top-of-the-league route-running skills, Diggs continues to offer a clearer path to upside with volume uncertain on this team, as Thielen’s short-area role forces him to pick up heavy volume or run into a broken play in order to justify his price tag, while Diggs is used downfield often enough to hit for upside from time to time without heavy volume.
VIKINGS RUN OFFENSE
The Bears have been especially difficult on running backs this year, allowing the fourth fewest yards per carry in the league while giving up the fewest rushing touchdowns to the running back position (and the second fewest touchdowns overall to the position). Only six teams rank better than the Bears in adjusted line yards on defense, while only 10 teams have been worse than the Vikings’ offensive line in this category. Outside of a Week 12 breakdown against LeGarrette Blount, of all players — who gashed the Bears on runs to the left side, where Dalvin Cook has had the most success across the last few weeks — the Bears have been stout defending the run across all areas of the field. Working in Cook’s favor is his recent workload, with touch counts across the last three weeks of 18 // 20 // 19. Working against Cook is everything else.
While the late portion of the Sunday slate as a whole offers plenty of fun from both a DFS perspective and an NFL perspective, this game fills only the second category, with very little to comfortably bet on in DFS. While there are a few pieces you could target in this spot for upside (Trubisky // Cohen // Robinson // Thielen // Diggs // Cook), all of these guys come with more price-considered risk than I personally want to take on myself — and there is enough to like on this slate in other spots that I don’t expect to roster pieces from this game. If choosing to go here yourself, I would reserve this game for mass-multi-entry play in large-field tourneys, and I would bet on crazy game flow scenarios that might lead to some bursts of unexpected production. It’s certainly not impossible for a few strong scores to emerge from this spot, but the floor to get to those scores is low enough (and the certainty on those pieces is low enough) that I’ll be content to simply attack other spots myself, where there is a lot more to like.