The Vikings will enter the playoffs on a two-game losing streak, featuring a quarterback who has never won a playoff game and a banged-up star running back.
But don’t let anyone tell you they didn’t make progress this year.
They did. They passed the Chicago Bears.
While that might not seem all that impressive today, it represents a reversal of fortunes.
On Sunday, the Vikings played their regular-season finale at U.S. Bank Stadium against the Bears, exactly a year after playing them in the 2018 regular-season finale.
On this Sunday, the Vikings lost 21-19, but it didn’t matter. They were going to be the sixth seed whether they won or lost.
A year ago, the Vikings lost, and it cost them a playoff berth and a load of self-esteem.
The Bears won that game 24-10 on Dec. 29, 2018, while quarterback Kirk Cousins argued animatedly with Adam Thielen on the sideline.
This year’s Vikings are better than last year’s. Cousins played well this season and no Vikings were seen screaming at each other on the sideline this time, but the best thing that happened to them this season had nothing to do with them.
The best thing that happened to the Vikings this season was that the Bears imploded.
The 2019 Bears will enter their offseason unexpectedly early, and with none of the promise they earned last year, when they won 12 games, dominated the division and lost a playoff only because of a yippy kicker.
Today, the Bears once again lack a starting quarterback. Mitch Trubisky isn’t good enough.
They don’t have a coach you can trust.
They don’t have a general manager who inspires confidence.
They no longer have a pass rusher who inspires fear.
When the Bears won at U.S. Bank Stadium last year, they were one of the NFL’s fastest-rising stocks. Khalil Mack was unblockable, Trubisky was the next modern dual-threat quarterback. (How quaint that seems, given the gap between Trubisky and Lamar Jackson of 2019.) Matt Nagy was the NFL’s next offensive innovator and Ryan Pace was the general manager who won awards for reviving the franchise.
Today, the Bears look like a mediocre team due to get worse before it gets better.
They traded two first-round draft picks, and two lower picks, for Mack. The Raiders used one of those picks to draft running back Josh Jacobs, who is a star. The Bears won’t have a first-round pick this spring, when they will need to draft a quarterback.
Instead, they’re stuck with Trubisky and Mack, who wasn’t nearly as dynamic this season as he was in 2018.
So today the Bears don’t have an NFL-quality starting quarterback or running back, or an offense comfortable moving forward. Nagy’s idea of a big play is throwing a quick pass behind the line of scrimmage and hoping a scatback will break eight tackles.
When these teams played in Week 4, the Bears throttled the Vikings’ offense to win, 16-6, and Chicago momentarily surpassed Aaron Rodgers as the Vikings’ greatest concern in the NFC North.
Since then, the Vikings have gone 8-4 and the Bears have gone 5-7. Had the Vikings played their starters Sunday, the Bears would have finished the season losing eight of their last 12 games.
Even with a two-game losing streak, the Vikings are far better off than they were a year ago. And the Bears are once again meandering through the NFL landscape, hoping to win a lottery or two.
After the game, Nagy was asked what he’s looking forward to in the offseason.
“For me, it can’t get here soon enough,’’ he said. “For me, 2020 starts right now, literally the second I walk off this stage. And I’ll do it the right way.’’
What we know now is that the Vikings’ 16-6 loss at Chicago on Sept. 29 was far more about Vikings’ ineptitude than Bears dominance. No other Bears opponent this year failed to score 10 points. The Vikings were lucky that such a horrid performance against a such a mediocre team didn’t cost them a playoff berth.