LAKE FOREST – The vibes around the Bears and Vikings will be different when the teams meet at Soldier Field on Sunday compared to when the division rivals played in Minnesota in early October.
In Week 5, Minnesota was 3-1 and the Bears were 2-2. The Bears overcame a 21-3 deficit before losing 29-22. Now heading into the regular-season finale, the Vikings (12-4) are NFC North champions with a chance to move up to the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs, while the Bears are 3-13, trying to avoiding setting a franchise record for losses in a season.
The Bears have lost three straight and four of their past five games against the Vikings. Minnesota is likely to wind up as the No. 3 seed in the NFC, but could move up to No. 2 with a win and a 49ers loss to the Cardinals.
The Bears, meanwhile, could pick up the No. 1 overall draft pick if they lose and the Texans beat the Colts. Sunday’s finale kicks off at noon at Soldier Field and will be broadcast on Fox.
Here’s what to watch for.
1. Peterman time
The Bears ruled out quarterback Justin Fields, who suffered a minor hip injury in last week’s loss to Detroit. Coach Matt Eberflus said the injury is not a long-term concern. Instead, backup quarterback Nathan Peterman will start.
In his last NFL start, as a member of the Buffalo Bills in 2018, Peterman threw three interceptions in a 41-9 loss against the vaunted 2018 Bears defense. Peterman has appeared in only four NFL games since then, including two this season with the Bears.
In two brief appearances with the Bears this season, Peterman has completed 3 of 6 passes for 25 yards with one interception. Peterman will start this week after a relatively light week of practice.
“Nate’s ready to go,” offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. “Those guys know Nate is ready to go. Nate’s a pro now.”
2. What to expect from the Vikings?
The Vikings are expected to play their starters, including quarterback Kirk Cousins. They are, however, already guaranteed a home playoff game and they do not have a shot at the No. 1 seed and the sole bye through the first round. So it would seem likely that the starters might be pulled at some point.
The Vikings want to get rid of the awful taste that last week’s loss, 41-17 to the Green Bay Packers, no doubt has left. They just lost starting right tackle Brian O’Neill to injury last week. These could be important reps for an offensive line that needs to foster some cohesiveness ahead of the postseason.
3. Young Bears to watch
This game is pretty much meaningless for the Bears. It is not meaningless for some of the young talent on the roster. This will be the last impression that Bears players can make on their coaches and the front office.
Velus Jones Jr. has quietly become one of the best kick returners in the league. He nearly broke free for a touchdown on one kick return last week and ranks 11th in the league with 525 yards on 18 kickoffs, averaging 29.2 yards a kick return.
The rookie will try to end the season on a high note after a few tough moments to start his career.
4. Bears corners try to stop history
The Bears’ third- and fourth-string cornerbacks will try to stop Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson from making NFL history Sunday. The third-year wideout needs 194 receiving yards to break the NFL’s single-season receiving record set by Calvin Johnson.
They’ll need to do it because most of the Bears’ starters are out. Jaylon Johnson (finger) and Kindle Vildor (ankle) are both already on injured reserve, and the Bears listed Jaylon Jones (concussion) as out and Kyler Gordon (groin) as questionable against the Vikings.
Michael Ojemudia and Breon Borders will lead a group of corners who will try to stop Jefferson, despite neither having played this year. Jefferson shined in his first game against the Bears, bringing in 12 receptions for 154 yards, his fourth-highest total of the season.
5. Can Houston hand the Bears the draft’s No. 1 overall pick?
Bears fans might watch Houston’s finale against Indianapolis as much, if not more, than they will watch the Bears-Vikings game Sunday. If everything goes right, the Bears could have the 2023 draft’s No. 1 overall pick, the first time in franchise history.
The Bears currently hold the No. 2 slot but could jump the Texans if the Bears lose and Houston (2-13-1) wins. The current draft order will remain the same if the Bears lose or tie and the Texans win. The Bears will lose ground if they win, earning the No. 3 pick if they win, Arizona wins and Denver loses and the No. 4 pick if the Bears win and both Arizona and Denver lose.