Stuck in a battle for the NFC's final playoff spot, every game is a must-win for the Minnesota Vikings.
After surviving by the skin of their teeth against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Vikings will head to Chicago on Monday night for a matchup with the Chicago Bears.
Entering a place where the Vikings have traditionally struggled, it's hard to predict what could happen. But as always, we'll give you five things you can count on when the Vikings go under the lights.
1. Christian Darrisaw's return
After missing the past two games with an ankle injury, Darrisaw is expected to make his return on Monday night. By taking over for Oli Udoh at left tackle, the offensive line may finally be at full strength.
Garrett Bradbury has been more aggressive in recent weeks and Mason Cole has at least solidified the right guard position. With Brian O'Neill and Ezra Cleveland holding down their spots, the Vikings have a chance to build some continuity in the trenches.
That would be huge for Monday's game where they'll go up against Akiem Hicks. Hicks has been a bully with 16 pressures and three sacks over his last four games against Minnesota. The Vikings will also go up against Robert Quinn, who is third in the NFL with 13 sacks.
If Darrisaw doesn't have lingering effects from his latest injury, it should help the Vikings neutralize the Bears up front.
2. Mike Zimmer dominating a rookie quarterback
During last year's draft, the Vikings reportedly made an attempt to trade up for Justin Fields. While that storyline has the makings of a potential revenge game, it's unlikely thanks to Zimmer's track record against rookie quarterbacks.
In 11 games against rookie quarterbacks, Zimmer has compiled an 8-3 record since coming to Minnesota. The numbers aren't pretty either, as said quarterbacks have thrown for 184.6 yards per game, a 47.4 completion percentage and a 57.6 passer rating in those games.
A good strategy for the Bears would be to utilize Fields' mobility but Andre Patterson mentioned in his press conference that the Bears don't use Fields on designed runs. With Allen Robinson on the COVID-19 reserve list, this could be a game where Zimmer flexes on another rookie.
3. The Vikings attacking through the air
Last week, the Vikings ran Dalvin Cook through wide-open holes to help him collect 205 yards on the ground against the Steelers. Although running the ball is the foundation of the Vikings offense, Monday's matchup may have more benefits if they use the pass to set up the run.
The Bears come into the game allowing 7.8 yards per attempt through the air, tied for the seventh-highest clip in the NFL. Chicago has also allowed 24 passing touchdowns (T-4th) and gave up 341 yards and four touchdowns to Aaron Rodgers last week.
By comparison, the Bears are only allowing 4.3 yards per carry (T-15th) and opponents have -4.21 expected points added on running plays this season.
The absence of Alexander Mattison doesn't mean much because the Vikings are going to use Cook as a workhorse down the stretch. But if they're smart, they can open up a big lead and use him to cruise to an easy victory.
4. Cameron Dantzler getting an opportunity
The Vikings shocked everyone when they released Bashaud Breeland on Saturday. Although his release gets rid of another body in the secondary, it opens an opportunity for Dantzler to step in and seize the starting role.
Dantzler struggled during the preseason and found his way into Zimmer's doghouse. But since the season started, Dantzler has been one of the Vikings' best cornerbacks.
According to Pro Football Focus, Dantzler has allowed a 77.2 passer rating when targeted, which is not only the lowest on the team but is the only player on the roster whose rating isn't over 100. He also owns the highest coverage grade for the Vikings, which begs the question of why he wasn't playing over Breeland.
The Bears won't have many weapons at their disposal due to COVID protocols but this gives Dantzler a chance to shine.
5. Another exorcism of the Vikings' demons in Chicago
The Vikings struggles' against the Bears have been well documented. Purple Insider's Matthew Coller noted that the Vikings are 5-15 at Soldier Field since 2000 and have covered the spread just five times in those games.
They've also lost to the likes of Chad Hutchinson while also coming this close from suffering another random loss to Nick Foles. In other words, if the rumors about a new stadium in Arlington Heights come to fruition, no Viking fan will shed a tear if Soldier Field is burned to the ground.
But this Bears team has so much going against it. With Matt Nagy sitting on the hot seat, the morale in the locker room has slipped. That prompted an interesting quote from cornerback Jaylon Johnson this week, who suggested half the locker room "is starting to go into the tank."
That doesn't sound like a team that's going to win some games but we have no idea what to expect from the Vikings either. This is a team that built a 29-0 lead against the Steelers only to watch it come down to the final play of the game. Honestly, it's wild.
Maybe we should start calling this article "5 things you should count on but hey it's the Vikings." But all things considered, they should win this game.
PREDICTION: Vikings 27, Bears 20