VIKINGS // BEARS OVERVIEW
In a big game for the ultra-competitive NFC North, the 5-3-1 Vikings will travel to Chicago to take on the 6-3 Bears. These teams will meet again in Minnesota on the final day of the regular season, and there is a chance this division comes down to that game.
Since their embarrassing home loss to the Bills, the Vikings have gone 4-2, with their only losses coming against the Rams and Saints. The Bears, meanwhile, have won three straight since their 31-38 loss to the Patriots. The Bears are 6-0 against teams with losing records, while going 0-3 in their other games. The Vikings are 5-1 against teams with losing records, while going 0-3-1 in their other games.
Minnesota has played at the ninth fastest pace in the league, while the Bears have played at the sixth slowest pace. These teams also separate from one another in time of possession, where Chicago ranks sixth and Minnesota ranks 22nd. Only one team in football has thrown the ball more frequently than the Vikings, while only five teams have thrown the ball less frequently than the Bears.
While each team boasts a solid offense, there is a chance this game becomes a lower-scoring slug-fest. Chicago ranks first in drive success rate allowed, while Minnesota ranks third; each team also ranks top five in fewest yards allowed per game, while the Bears rank fourth in fewest points allowed per game (the Vikings rank 11th). Minnesota has really shined in the red zone, allowing the second lowest opponent touchdown rate in the league.
Vegas has given this game a moderate Over/Under of 45.5, with the Bears installed as early 3.5 point favorites at home. Only the Vikings’ games against the Packers, Rams, and Saints topped 45.5, though this is a good spot to drop a reminder that the Bears rank fifth in the NFL in points per game, and six of their nine games have risen above that early-week game total.
VIKINGS PASS OFFENSE
Chicago is strong against the pass — forcing a slightly below-average aDOT, while allowing a slightly below-average catch rate and tackling well enough after the catch. As the rare team that is above-average in all three areas, the Bears have allowed the third lowest yards per pass attempt in the league. This team leads the NFL in interceptions and sits only one sack behind the Packers, Chiefs, Vikings, and Steelers, who are tied for the league lead.
In better news for Kirk Cousins and company: the Vikings have a quick-out passing attack that is designed to minimize the impact of opposing pass rushes, while focusing on short passes — allowing this unit to somewhat neutralize the impact of the Bears’ strengths. From a DFS perspective: the Vikings are also the second pass-heaviest team in the NFL, and they are taking on a Bears team with a ferocious run defense that most opponents aim to avoid, leading to this defense facing the fifth highest opponent pass play rate. Volume should be on Cousins’ side — and when there is volume for Cousins, we know where the ball is going.
Taking away the Week 9 game that Stefon Diggs missed (a weird game to begin with, in that Cousins threw only 22 passes), Diggs and Adam Thielen have combined for 53.1% of the Vikings’ total targets. On the year, these two have combined for 67.0% of the Vikings’ air yards. In games the two have played together, target counts have looked like this:
:: Thielen — 12 // 13 // 19 // 12 // 10 // 13 // 10 // 7
:: Diggs — 6 // 13 // 10 // 15 // 11 // 4 // 15 // 11
Thielen ranks first in the NFL in targets per game. Diggs ranks sixth.
While the Bears are strong against the pass, the best way to attack them is with wide receivers. Only five teams have allowed fewer receptions to tight ends than the Bears, and only eight teams have allowed fewer receiving yards to running backs, but this team has been slightly below-average vs wide receivers, allowing the 11th most receptions and the 12th most yards to the position, on a middling completion rate of 63.3%. Expect double-digit targets for each of Thielen and Diggs — with Thielen carrying a much higher floor with most of his looks coming from the slot (and with so many of Diggs’ perimeter targets coming at the line of scrimmage to get the ball into his hands), but with Diggs carrying just as much upside.
Behind these two, Kyle Rudolph will likely stick to his typical range of four to six targets, in a difficult spot, while Laquon Treadwell (one touchdown on the year, zero games north of 50 yards) will continue to run into four or five targets per game given all the time he is spending on the field — but with almost none of these targets being schemed looks, making it difficult for him to hit for upside.
VIKINGS RUN OFFENSE
No team has been more difficult to run on than the Bears — and even with Chicago finally allowing their first running back rushing touchdown, their one rushing touchdown allowed to the position ranks first in the league, and their five total touchdowns allowed to running backs is the third fewest. Frank Gore is the only running back all season to reach even 60 yards on the ground against this team.
If you want to fade matchup in this spot: Dalvin Cook played 28 out of 49 snaps before the bye (57.1%), and he should be in for an increase in work this week — likely moving up to around 65% to 70%, with an outside shot at more. In his limited time on the field this year, Cook has been peppered with passes, seeing target counts of 7 // 5 // 0 // 4 in the games in which he has been active. Fourteen carries and six or seven catches would not be a shock here. Last week on 14 carries and six catches in this matchup, Kerryon Johnson managed only 89 total yards, but he provided strong value with two touchdowns. There are paths to a solid game for Cook on the Showdown if things break right. (Of course, there are more paths to a disappointing game.)
Behind Cook, Latavius Murray will clean up what’s left in the backfield, while possibly seeing the first crack at any goal line carries that materialize.
BEARS PASS OFFENSE
The Vikings’ defense has improved since their rough start to the season, and they have currently allowed the third fewest passing touchdowns in the league, while tying for the most sacks through the first 10 weeks. The communication issues that plagued this defense early have been taken care of, creating a below-average spot for opposing offenses.
Through the Bears’ first nine games, Mitchell Trubisky has shined in the box score in soft matchups (four games already this year of 300+ passing yards and three or more total touchdowns), while looking like a totally different quarterback in tougher spots (five games of 220 or fewer passing yards, with six total touchdowns across these five games). The four teams Trubisky smoked all ranked 20th or worse in DVOA against the pass. The five teams against which he struggled all ranked 11th or better in DVOA against the pass. Minnesota enters this game ranked 10th.
If fading matchup and betting on this well-designed offense, it is worth noting that only four teams have allowed fewer catches to wide receivers than the Vikings, only three teams have allowed fewer yards, and only one team has allowed fewer touchdowns. As noted a couple weeks ago before the Vikings’ game against the Lions: outside of the reputation-wrecking game against the Rams in which all three of Kupp // Woods // Cooks went for 100+ yards, the Vikings have not allowed any wide receiver to top even 81 yards (and it was Michael Thomas who hit that mark).
Meanwhile, the Vikings have allowed notable tight end lines of 5-90-0 (on nine targets) to George Kittle, 6-95-0 (on eight targets) to Jimmy Graham, 5-69-0 (on six targets) to Ricky Seals-Jones, and 4-42-1 (on seven targets) to Chris Herndon. Trey Burton has topped five targets only once all year, but this is a good spot for him to post respectable numbers on those looks, with an outside shot at his volume jumping up a bit.
At wide receiver:
Anthony Miller topped 50 yards for the first time all season last week, on the strength of a couple long catch-and-run plays. He is used almost exclusively in a possession receiver role, so he will need another couple broken plays to pop off in this spot.
Allen Robinson returned to the field last week after a three week absence and proceeded to be fed his second highest target count on the season (eight). Six to eight targets has been his range this year, and something like a 5-60-0 line is attainable on those looks, with upside for a touchdown or a broken play if things go just right.
Taylor Gabriel has taken a backseat lately (recent target counts of 4 // 6 // 5 // 3), and he has topped 52 yards only twice this year, with both of his touchdowns coming in a game against the Bucs. He’s a boom/bust play in a difficult matchup.
BEARS RUN OFFENSE
Todd Gurley is the only running back who has topped even 63 yards on the ground against the Vikings’ stout front (and he only went for 83 yards — the most any back has against this team all year), but the Vikings have had a few breakdowns in the pass game against running backs, giving up a 56-yard pass play to Kyle Juszczyk, a 55-yard pass play to Chris Ivory, and a 56-yard pass play to Todd Gurley, creating some hope for upside on the Showdown for Tarik Cohen. Cohen has played 59 out of 108 snaps the last two weeks (54.6% — outsnapping Jordan Howard in this stretch by three), even with the Bears controlling each game. Cohen has four games this year of seven or more targets, and another five games of four or fewer targets. He adds a steady five to six carries per game.
Howard has topped 14 carries only once in his last six games, and he has still not cracked 82 yards on the ground in a game. He has two total catches across his last six contests — making him the definition of a “yardage and touchdown” back.
This looks like one of the most challenging Showdown slates of the season, with a very narrow distribution of work on the Vikings, and with very little to like on the Bears.
On the Main Slate, Thielen is the only guy who would stand out — and this week, I would likely have him below Julio, Hopkins, and Beckham. Diggs would be in play for his tourney upside. Obviously, both guys stand out on the Showdown.
Behind these two on the Showdown, we have Dalvin Cook ceding some work to Latavius Murray and taking on the toughest run defense in football, with a low-upside player in Rudolph in a difficult matchup, and with Treadwell yet to top 50 yards in a game all season. On the Bears’ side: the running backs will be taking on a defense that has only allowed Todd Gurley to top 63 rushing yards, and the wide receivers will be taking on a defense that has only allowed the Rams to top 81 receiving yards. You’re on your own sorting through “favorite plays” from this bunch.
Naturally, the quarterbacks are in play on the Showdown, as are the defenses. It won’t be surprising if the kickers outscore most of the skill position players on this “slate.”