The Minnesota Vikings ruled out leading tackler Eric Kendricks and leading rusher Dalvin Cook for the regular-season finale Sunday vs. the Bears — and the smart money is on that star pairing being joined on the sideline by a number of key teammates.
Kendricks suffered a quad injury Monday night, when Cook was inactive with a shoulder injury, and Minnesota fell 23-10 at home to the rival Packers, which locked up the division for Green Bay and the sixth and final playoff seed in the NFC for the Vikings.
Thus, in addition to resting their best linebacker and arguably most dangerous playmaker on offense, the Vikings are expected to sit QB Kirk Cousins, likely in addition to Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen on offense and Pro Bowlers Harrison Smith and Danielle Hunter on defense, among others.
"It is always a catch-22 because you always want to go out and you always want to play well," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, not confirming multiple reports that Cousins will rest while Sean Mannion makes his first Vikings start. "These guys like to play. You don’t want to get anybody hurt. You want to start focusing on the new season that is coming up here in a week. There has been a lot of consternation, I guess, on trying to figure everything out."
Assuming the Vikings rest their key guys, it would create an interesting juxtaposition from a year ago, when the Bears visited Minnesota in the regular-season finale with their playoff seeding secure, while the Vikings needed a win to earn a wild card. No matter, playing their starters for nearly the entire game, the Bears maintained their upper hand on Kirk Cousins and Co, sweeping the season series with another mauling of the Vikings offensive line that kept Minnesota out of the postseason.
Of course, with the 7-9 Bears set to watch the playoffs from their couches, how they balance playing time between their starters and veterans could be the most interesting viewing aspect Sunday, when they'll try and avoid a losing season and remain undefeated under Nagy against the Vikings. Starters Akiem Hicks (elbow), Eddie Goldman (concussion) and Taylor Gabriel (concussion) are officially out, and OL Bobby Massie (ankle) and Rashaad Coward (knee) are listed as doubtful, meaning they almost assuredly won't play, either.
"If you hear the [Vikings] say [they're resting starters], we’re just going to go about it playing our guys, and again, if there’s a position here or there that we feel like we want to take a look at, we might do that, but big picture wise, we’re going there to play," Matt Nagy said Friday following the final practice of the 2019 season.
One of the positions where the Bears could be compelled to look more closely is right cornerback, where Prince Amukamara (hamstring) was listed as questionable after being limited the final two practices of the week. With no guaranteed money remaining in the final year of his contract in 2020, Amukamara at the very least would continue to rotate with Kevin Toliver, and it wouldn't be stunning if the Bears opt to give the whole game to some combination of Toliver, Michael Joseph and Duke Shelley.
Coward's likely absence should open the door at another position requiring closer evaluation and likely to be hotly contested this offseason — right guard — where undrafted rookie Alex Bars is set to make his first NFL start. Veteran Ted Larsen replaced Coward in the second half vs. the Chiefs, but Matt Nagy said this week that the decision to go with the veteran over the rookie was based on the sudden nature of the change. With a full week to earn some first-string reps, one of the Bears more promising undrafted rookies will get the call for the first time in the NFL, and under the tutelage of former Notre Dame OL coach Harry Hiestand, who holds the same title in Chicago.