Two 6-7 teams battling for the NFC's first-ever seventh seed is hardly a marquee matchup, but Sunday's game at U.S. Bank Stadium is a rarity among the many late-December snoozers the Vikings and Bears have made our fair state endure since 2005.
Yes, it has been 15 years since Mike Tice kicked off an NFC North tradition like no other.
On Jan. 1, 2006, he beat the Bears on the field and lost his job in the locker room. It was the first of way too many meaningless Minnesota-Chicago meetings.
Tice's 34-10 triumph was the first of 11 times in 16 seasons the Vikings and Bears were scheduled to play in Minnesota during the final three weeks of the season. Seven have come in the Week 17 regular season finale, including the past four seasons.
Guess how many of those 11 meetings featured both teams in playoff contention and realistically playing for a better seed.
Three: 2007, 2015 and Sunday.
That equals the number of times one of the head coaches has been fired right after the game. Besides Tice, Bears coaches Marc Trestman and John Fox got whacked after season-ending losses in 2014 and 2017, respectively.
In 2007, the Vikings were 7-6. The Bears were 5-8 and mathematically alive until the Vikings won 20-13.
In 2015, the Vikings were 8-5 and driving toward Mike Zimmer's first NFC North championship. The Bears again were 5-8 and barely alive until the Vikings snuffed them out 38-17.
Now comes Sunday. The Vikings and Bears hold the NFC's eighth and ninth seeds, respectively, and are chasing the Cardinals (7-6). The Vikings won the first meeting 19-13 at Soldier Field.
Good luck predicting Sunday's winner. The Vikings and Bears have spent this season going in opposite directions and then reversing course.
The Bears started 5-1. The Vikings started 1-5.
The Bears lost six straight. The Vikings went 5-1.
Then came last Sunday and another sharp pivot. While the Vikings were in Tampa losing a game and all remaining confidence in kicker Dan Bailey, the Bears were at home using the lowly Texans to score a season-high 36 points, allow a season-low seven points and thank their lucky stars for kicker Cairo Santos.
With two more successful swings on Sunday, Santos has now made 18 consecutive field goal attempts going back to Week 3. And, just like that, the Bears' once comically inept kicking situation is rock solid while the Vikings' is, well, not so much.
In fact, Bailey's four misses on Sunday were one more than Santos has missed all season.
Santos is 21-for-23 on field goals. That, by the way, is a 91.3% success rate that would set a team record. For a team that's been around since the league started in 1920.
On PATs, Santos is 27-for-28. Bailey has missed three of his past four.
"[Santos] has always been very calm, cool and collected," Nagy said Monday. "I think now that he's kind of been able to get used to the wind and just kind of the temperature of our home games at Soldier Field and some of these other games, he's done a really good job. We have a lot of confidence in Cairo that these kicks are going to go through."
Ouch, Vikings fans.
"He's made some big ones this year, and we just want to keep that going," Nagy added. "He's in a good place right now."
Meanwhile, last week was also the Bears' most complete game of the season. Linebacker Khalil Mack was back to being one of the league's most disruptive defenders while embattled quarterback Mitchell Trubisky threw three first-half touchdown passes, didn't turn the ball over and posted the fourth-highest passer rating (126.7) of his career.
Yeah, it was Houston. But momentum is a big deal in December.
"We've had two totally different streaks this season," Nagy said. "But we're now in a position where we need to do whatever we can to get into the playoffs. … We got a big game this week against Minnesota. And we control it."
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org