Bears vs. Vikings preview: 5 things to watch in the Week 18 matchup

Chicago Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney advances the ball off a pass from quarterback Justin Fields against the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 20, 2021, in Chicago.

For the fifth time in six years, the Bears will end the regular season with a trip to U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The Bears have won three consecutive games against the Vikings in Minnesota. They will be looking to end the 2021 season on a three-game win streak.

Minnesota won the first matchup this season with a 17-9 win over the Bears on Dec. 20 at Soldier Field. The Vikings haven’t swept the season series from the Bears since 2017, the final year of the John Fox era.

Bears starting quarterback Justin Fields will be sidelined by COVID-19 and veteran backup Andy Dalton is expected to start Sunday. Neither team has any shot at the playoffs, but there’s still plenty of storylines to keep an eye on.

Chicago Bears Head Coach Matt Nagy comes out of the tunnel for his last home game of the season Sunday, Jan. 2, 2021, against the New York Giants at Soldier Field in Chicago.

1. End of an era?

The NFL appears to be heading toward a quieter coaching carousel than last year, when seven head coaches were fired. But Sunday’s matchup might feature two of the coaches who could be on the way out.

Bears fans have been eagerly awaiting word from chairman George McCaskey about what the Bears are going to do with head coach Matt Nagy. Vikings fans appear to be fed up after eight years with Mike Zimmer running their team. A meaningless January game probably won’t sway the ownership of either team in one direction or the other. But one more win certainly would pad the resume for either coach.

There’s a chance Sunday is the last time either of these coaches roams the sideline for his team.

2. What can the Bears learn from the first meeting with the Vikings?

The Vikings’ win over the Bears on Dec. 20 will go down as Justin Fields’ final game of his rookie season. It was also a stellar defensive performance from a Bears defense that was without its entire starting secondary due to COVID-19. The Bears effectively limited receiver Justin Jefferson and the Vikings passing attack with their backup cornerbacks and safeties.

They know they can slow the Vikings. The bigger question will be what did the Bears offense learn from the first go-around with the Vikings? The offense failed to score a touchdown on its first four trips to the red zone on Dec. 20. If Dalton and the Bears can finish drives, they should have a shot in this game.

3. Milestones on the line

Bears receiver Darnell Mooney needs 71 receiving yards to record the 18th 1,000-yard receiving season in team history. That’s a reasonable, reachable number for a guy who has been the team’s top target this season. It helps that this game is indoors.

If teammate Allen Robinson makes one catch Sunday, it will mark the 100th consecutive game Robinson has appeared in during which he made at least one catch. That streak spans his entire NFL career.

Meanwhile on defense, Robert Quinn needs one more sack to tie his career high with 19, which he did in 2013 with the Rams. Any sacks he records Sunday will just keep adding to his Bears’ single-season record.

4. Who stays and who goes?

Only about half the Bears’ roster is under contract for the 2022 season. Akiem Hicks might have already played his final game with the Bears. The team ruled him out Friday due to an ankle injury.

Key players set to become free agents that will be playing in Sunday’s game include Robinson, defensive tackle Bilal Nichols and right guard James Daniels. Center Sam Mustipher is an exclusive rights free agent, meaning the Bears have first dibs to bring him back. Tight end Jimmy Graham and safety Tashaun Gipson, two key veteran contributors the past two seasons, could also be playing their last games as members of the Bears. Dalton is also set to become a free agent.

5. Cousins last hurrah?

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has returned from the COVID-19 list after missing last week’s game against Green Bay. He’s expected to start Sunday, even though the Vikings have nothing to play for.

Could this also be Cousins’ last game with the Vikings? If Minnesota does go for a fresh start with a new coach, it’s possible they try to move Cousins over the offseason. Any team that trades for him would have to take on $35 million on its salary cap in 2022, but there’s enough quarterback-needy teams in the NFL that someone might be willing to pull the trigger.

The Bears, no doubt, have enjoyed playing against Cousins. They’ve sacked him 20 times and intercepted him five times in the six games that he has played against the Bears since joining the Vikings.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.