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'Monday Night Football' preview: What to watch for in Vikings-Bears

Minnesota Vikings
2021 · 6-7-0
Chicago Bears
2021 · 4-9-0

8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) | Soldier Field

The Vikings enter Week 15 with a chance to hop into a wild-card spot with a win and a Washington loss on Tuesday. The Bears, meanwhile, come into the contest playing for pride amid the first losing campaign of the Matt Nagy era. A first-time meeting with Justin Fields brings an element of unpredictability that Mike Zimmer's squad must stay sharp against if they are to improve their playoff odds and avoid adding to the legend that is Kirk Cousins' 1-9 record on Monday Night Football.

Here are three things to watch for Monday night when Chicago hosts Minnesota:

1) Will Dalvin cook the Bears? If the NFL is indeed a week-to-week league like everyone says, Dalvin Cook spent Week 14 looking like the best running back on the planet. After missing the previous game due to a shoulder injury, Cook returned in a blaze of glory to lift Minnesota to victory over Pittsburgh on a short week. The bruising back’s 27-carry, 205-yard, two-touchdown effort also helped him maintain his No. 3 ranking in total rush yards, which he’s earned despite missing three games. Cook’s power, combined with a solid run-blocking O-line expecting Christian Darrisaw back, figures to create an ample opportunity for him to feast once more against a banged-up unit that’s struggled to defend the run all year.

2) Will Justin Fields finally earn his first prime-time W? Week 15 marks Fields’ third game on a big stage and his second start in a month because of injury. His Week 14 return from a two-game absence produced a mixed bag big enough to make up for the lost time. Facing a game Packers defense at Lambeau, Fields again flourished (18-of-33, 224 yards, two TDs) in some moments -- and flopped in others (fumble, INT, pick six) -- as Chicago lost its seventh game in eight tries. With Nagy back to calling plays (for at least a week) and a postseason berth out of reach, the Bears are essentially playing with house money against a D that’s given up 28 or more in their last four. Despite his recent struggles, Darnell Mooney will likely draw extra attention from a secondary that lost one of its starters over the weekend, which could allow Fields and David Montgomery to exploit Minnesota underneath to great success.

3) Can Cousins continue his clean play? Save for a shoddy showing in Week 14, the Vikings quarterback has been on a roll as of late, tossing 11 touchdowns and one interception while completing over 60% of this throws in Weeks 9-13. On Monday night, he’ll face a back end that's given up eight TD passes over their last three and will be without six key pieces, including Eddie Jackson and Jaylon Johnson (COVID list). The lack of depth makes them prime targets for Cousins and Justin Jefferson, a.k.a. the league’s best downfield passing tandem. The star receiver ranks first in receptions (45) and yards (1,002) on passes of 10-plus air yards, per Next Gen Stats. The return of Adam Thielen (ankle) could cut into Jefferson’s workload if he's cleared but the speedster should still be in for a big game; he needs just 68 receiving yards to pass Odell Beckham for the most all-time through a player’s first two seasons.

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