One man's prediction: Chicago 24, Vikings 20 The Vikings have enough in the tank to stay competitive until the end, but they still haven't proven they can be consistent and error-free on the road, as losses in Washington and Seattle showed. That includes quarterback Christian Ponder, whose decision-making and pocket presence will need to be perfect for an upset to occur.
Balance of power
With top receiver Percy Harvin out (sprained ankle), the Vikings offense must remember the balance it showed two weeks ago against Detroit. Coordinator Bill Musgrave will likely lean on Adrian Peterson early and often. But there must also be an effort to involve such playmakers as Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright and, most important, Kyle Rudolph. The second-year tight end will have to maximize his opportunities to get open against Chicago's safeties.
Still waiting on that feisty Bears defense to be over the hill? After all, the Bears have five starters older than 30 in Brian Urlacher (34), Lance Briggs (32), Israel Idonije, (32), Julius Peppers (32) and Charles Tillman (31). Yet Chicago has forced 30 turnovers, has 28 sacks and ranks fourth in yards allowed (311.9). Said Urlacher: "I'm tired of hearing it. The last four or five years, [people think] we've been old. But the same guys they keep calling old keep going to the Pro Bowl."
Devin Hester hasn't visited the end zone yet this year. But don't use that as an indictment of Chicago's splendid special teams, which have had Mike Priefer's attention for two weeks now. The Vikings special teams coordinator admires his counterpart in Chicago, Dave Toub, and notes the Bears rank first in kickoff coverage and second in punt coverage. "The pieces change every year," Priefer said, "and he keeps right on rolling." Plus kicker Robbie Gould remains ultra-dependable, the fourth most accurate kicker in history.
: MATCHUP TO WATCH
Vikings defensive end Jared Allen vs. Bears left tackle J'Marcus Webb
About Allen Torched Webb for 3 1/2 sacks in the 2011 season finale; has four multi-sack games against Chicago.
About Webb Inconsistent anchor of a shaky line that has allowed 34 sacks and 62 quarterback hits.
Who has the edge? Allen had his way with Webb on New Year's Day, and if the Bears devote extra help to slowing him, Brian Robison could quickly get loose against right tackle Jonathan Scott, who will replace Gabe Carimi in the starting lineup. Advantage: Allen