Vikings, Bears destined for tight finish atop NFC North

Chicago has a much easier schedule through the end of the season.
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With seven games left in the regular season, the Vikings have complete control of their playoff fate so long as they beat the Chicago Bears when they return from their bye. 

Minnesota (5-3-1) is off this week before playing at Soldier Field against the Bears (5-3) on Sunday Night Football (SNF), a showdown the NFL is intrigued enough by to flex it from a noon kickoff to a 7:20 p.m. prime-time game on NBC. 

A victory would improve the Vikings to 6-3-1 and drop the Bears to 6-4 or 5-5, depending on what they do this Sunday against the Lions. No matter, Minnesota can reclaim the top spot in the NFC North simply by beating 'da Bears.

But there are potential pitfalls in thinking Minnesota can hold onto the top spot beyond the Chicago game. 

First, consider the Vikings' schedule Thanksgiving weekend onward: 

  • Sunday, Nov. 25: Packers (home, 7:20 p.m.)
  • Sunday, Dec. 2: Patriots (road, 3:25 p.m.)
  • Monday, Dec. 10: Seahawks (road, 7:15 p.m.)
  • Sunday, Dec. 16: Dolphins (home, 12 p.m.)
  • Sunday, Dec. 23: Lions (road, 12 p.m.)
  • Sunday, Dec. 30: Bears (home, 12 p.m.)

Those opponents have a combined record of 27-22-1. Throw in the reality that beating Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson in consecutive weeks won't be easy, perhaps even unlikely considering Brady is nearly unbeatable at home in December, and there's ample opportunity for the Vikings to stumble.

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The Bears play on Thanksgiving Day at Detroit and from there their schedule gets pretty tame with only two games against teams with winning records (Rams, Vikings). 

  • Thursday, Nov. 22: Lions (road, 11:30 a.m.) 
  • Sunday, Dec. 2: Giants (road, 12 p.m.)
  • Sunday, Dec. 9: Rams (home, 12 p.m.)
  • Sunday, Dec. 16: Packers (home, 12 p.m.)
  • Sunday, Dec. 23: 49ers (road, 3:05 p.m.)
  • Sunday, Dec. 30: Vikings (road, 12 p.m.)

Bottom line: The Vikings need to beat the Bears, probably twice, to keep them from running away with the division. 

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