The Minnesota Vikings enter Sunday's home game against the Chicago Bears as slight favorites. Discounting the home-field advantage, however, the Bears are the favorites. And if you ask many Vikings' fans, this is a game in which the Bears could win big.
The impressions of the Bears as a team that could run up the score on the Vikings is based, in part, on performance to date. In two games, the Bears have destroyed their opponents by a combined score of 60-7. That suggests not only dominate defense, but an added offensive capability the likes of which the Bears have not had since the pre-Shoop era.
While the Bears were waltzing through their first two opponents, the Vikings were scraping and clawing for their two victories--both decided by field goals at or near the end of the game. That the Vikings have allowed twenty-two points more in two games than have the Bears is cause enough for concern for a Vikings' team now facing a Bear's team that has averaged more than double the points of either of the Vikings' first two opponents. Throw in the fact that the Vikings have averaged one-half the points that the Bears have averaged this season and the prospect of a Vikings' victory over Chicago on Sunday seems highly implausible.
When Numbers Lie
But numbers often betray--or at least mislead. And in the case of the Chicago Bears' offense, the numbers suggest a conclusion that is not yet warranted.
While the Vikings were earning their keep playing Washington and Carolina, the Bears were whiling away the first two weeks of their 2006 season against Green Bay and Detroit--two teams currently residing at the bottom of the league. And that reality suddenly suggests a different perspective on the Vikings'-Bear's tilt on Sunday.
The Vikings have had difficulty running all season. Though the final statistics have looked decent, the difficulties running have been evident at critical junctures in the first two games. Most notably, the Vikings have been unable to pick up first downs on third and short, bringing up the rear in league-wide third-down conversion rate.
The Vikings have been able to off-set their running problems and their abysmal third-down conversion rate by not turning the ball over and by controlling field position--the fruits of conservative play-calling, reasonably solid defensive play, and key opponents' injuries.
On Sunday, the Vikings will need to play better than they have in the first two weeks to beat the Bears, who will have all of their players. That means being called for fewer penalties, particularly in the red zone, blocking better in both the rushing and passing game, and exploiting a suspect Bear's secondary--particulary Mike Brown and Charles.
In their first two games, the Vikings allowed an average of 330 yards but held their opponents slightly below their expected point totals of 21 and 24, respectively. That's a tribute to strong red zone defense and solid, if not spectacular, overall defense.
While rolling over the currently winless Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, the Bears averaged 370 yards of offense and allowed an average of 250 yards. That suggests an average expected margin of victory for the Bears of 24-17. And that suggests that the Bears' 30-3 average margin of victory over two games is highly inflated.
With the Vikings holding their opponents to nearly a touchdown less than their expected point total, wielding what appears to be a tougher defense than Chicago has faced against either Green Bay or Detroit, and showing the propensity to score at least at their expected production level when controlling for penalties, there is every reason to expect that the Vikings and Bears will have a close game on Sunday.
Add to the mix the fact that Chicago usually loses in Minnesota and the Vikings have some good karma on their side. And it never hurts to be playing the team possessed of so many players willing publicly to express their impression that their team is nearly unbeatable.
Avoiding penalties in the red zone, the Vikings defeat the Bears 17-16. And if the Vikings are able to pick apart Brown and Tillman with Travis Taylor and Troy Williamson, the Vikings might even emerge with their largest margin of victory under head coach Brad Childress, 24-16.
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