Let's start with what the Vikings-Bears game isn't, before we get to what it is.
It isn't a "must win'' game. Broadcasters have been calling Vikings games "must win'' for two months and they've been wrong every week. After a 1-5 start and an embarrassing loss to the Cowboys and a loss in the latest supposed "must win'' game in Tampa, the Vikings could lose to the Bears and still meander their way to the playoffs.
It isn't a "big'' game. Both teams are 6-7. If the Bears lose two more games, they might fire everyone, including the caddie who rakes the sand on what is charitably referred to as Soldier "Field.'' Two losing teams can play a meaningful game, but they can't play a big game, no matter how hard the NFL tries to sell it as such.
It isn't a proving ground for the Vikings' brain trust. No matter how many trolls try to make you believe that Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer are coaching for their jobs, there is no evidence to support such a notion. The Wilfs just extended their contracts this summer, tying them to a contract extension for quarterback Kirk Cousins that the team can't get out of until after the 2021 season, and maybe not until after 2022.
They're playing without their best player (Danielle Hunter) and premier free-agent signee (Michael Pierce). Spielman and Zimmer are not getting fired unless the team quits on them, and that hasn't come close to happening yet.
So what does this game mean?
Former Star Tribune Vikings beat writer Dan Wiederer, now covering the Bears for the Chicago Tribune, called it "seventh-seed seduction,'' and I wish I had thought of that first.
The reward for becoming the seventh seed is a matchup with a far superior team on the road, and a parade past boarded-up restaurants and a hug from a COVID denier.
Both teams remain in playoff contention because the NFL created a seventh playoff spot in each conference because of the pandemic.
As NFL bosses meet while considering adding a 17th regular-season game to the 2021 schedule, don't we all know what's coming next?
The seventh playoff spot becoming permanent. And maybe an eighth.
Without the seventh playoff spot, the Vikings and Bears would both be out of contention and Sunday's game would be meaningless. Add an eighth playoff spot and virtually every game played in December would be meaningful in some way, either because of playoff implications or the dreaded battle for the first pick in the draft.
The NFL sells itself as a sport league, which implies an emphasis on fairness and high standards, but it's really a television series that sells tickets. Games featuring playoff implications draw eyeballs and ticket buyers. Why would they not expand their playoffs?
Expanded playoffs means higher ratings during the season, more games to broadcast during the postseason and more engaged fan bases. If you're worried about tradition, well, don't. Any league that includes wild-card teams creates the possibility that a lesser team, a team that didn't win its division, could win it all. That's the NFL tradition.
What this game is really about, as so often has been the case for the past 28 years, is whether the Vikings or Bears will be the second-best team in the division. The existential question for these franchises is: Are we closer to the Packers, or the Lions?
The loser of Sunday's game will be Lions-adjacent in the standings. There may not be a bigger curse in modern professional sports than being Lions-adjacent.
There are stakes in this game, they're just not very high.
So enjoy the not-big, not-must-win competition for a jerry-rigged, previously nonexistent playoff spot between two losing teams that would love to draft Trevor Lawrence but can't because they're just not quite bad enough.
Jim Souhan's podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • email@example.com