Week 14: Bears-Vikings preview

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

Chicago at Minnesota
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Mall of America Field, Minneapolis, Minn. - TV: FOX; DirecTV: 707
*TV announcers: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
*Keys to the game: Chicago counts heavily on Brandon Marshall to keep its passing game relevant and the Vikings know from their first-hand trial and error two weeks ago that he's not easily double-teamed. Jay Cutler trusts him to provide a soft landing for risky throws. The Vikings are a better pass-rushing team in their home dome, but need a quick start to truly test Cutler's reconfigured line. RB Adrian Peterson continues machine-like production for the Vikings even without the offense threatening regularly with the passing game in Percy Harvin's extended absence. Harvin (ankle) has been inactive for three consecutive games, but Peterson more than picked up the slack with at least 120 rushing yards in five of his past six games. The Bears were slow to react to the Seahawks' outside runs last week and lost MLB Brian Urlacher (hamstring) in overtime. His status is uncertain. C John Sullivan will need a hand to escort Bears DT Henry Melton out of inside running lanes and to keep QB Christian Ponder's sight lines clear for short throws to TE Kyle Rudolph. If Harvin returns, it'll likely be against Charles Tillman. Chicago could be without CB Tim Jennings (shoulder), who leads the NFL in interceptions.
*Matchup to watch - Bears LT J'Marcus Webb vs. Vikings DE Jared Allen: Allen had 1.5 sacks last week. He is a marked man and not just because he ended OG Lance Louis' season with a questionable block after an interception in the Nov. 25 game at Soldier Field. He has terrorized Cutler in his career and must be occupied on third downs.
*Player spotlight - Bears C Roberto Garza: The constant stronghold in an ever-changing offensive line, Garza was the catalyst in the Bears' running game against Seattle, pulling repeatedly to lead Matt Forte on the power off-tackle plays coordinator Mike Tice repeated ad nauseam with good success.
*Fast facts: Cutler has been sacked just twice in his past three games, one of which was the result of him recovering a fumble. ... The Vikings are 5-1 at home, 1-5 on the road.
The Bears emerge from a rugged overtime loss with a lot on the line as part of a jumbled second tier in the NFC playoff picture and a make-or-break game with the Packers on deck. If their injury list lightens before they visit the Twin Cities, the Bears complete the season sweep.
*Our pick: Bears 24-20