The Minnesota Vikings are still in good shape for a playoff berth and the NFC North crown remains well within reach.
A short-handed defense, however, could make it difficult for them to earn a key victory in Sunday's visit from the Chicago Bears.
Minnesota (8-5) has a two-game lead on a postseason spot even after back-to-back losses and is just one game behind Green Bay in the division. The Vikings end the regular season with a visit to the Packers on Jan. 3.
Article continues below ...
They'll first try to return to their winning ways against a team that's on the verge of elimination.
It's unknown how many defensive starters will be healthy enough to face Chicago (5-8) after Minnesota had four missing in a 23-20 loss in Arizona on Dec. 10: linebacker Anthony Barr (groin/hand), nose tackle Linval Joseph (foot), and safeties Andrew Sendejo (knee) and Harrison Smith (hamstring).
Joseph missed a second straight game and backup linebacker Brandon Watts was also out with a rib injury.
Sendejo, Smith and Watts reportedly practiced this week, but the statuses of Barr and Joseph are a little murkier and now defensive end Everson Griffen (shoulder) didn't practice Wednesday.
“The reason you have a football team, that you comprise a football team of two and three deep is because there's injuries,” said cornerback Terence Newman, who moved to safety against the Cardinals. “There's 100 percent injury rate. So, the coaches do a good job of finding guys that are able to fit in to what they like to do; guys that, first off know what to do and know how to do it.”
The Vikings were also forced to use rookies Anthony Harris and Trae Waynes in the secondary, and first-year defensive tackle Edmond Robinson made his first start.
“I think guys grew a little bit of confidence, the guys who went out there and stepped up,” Harris said. “It's just all about believing in one another. I feel like guys definitely believed in us going out there. It brings a little more to it, I think.”
Minnesota is close to securing its first playoff berth since 2012, and there's an outside chance the Vikings could clinch one Sunday. That would begin with getting a win or tie against Chicago and the completion of some complicated scenarios involving losses or ties from Tampa Bay, Washington, the New York Giants, Atlanta, Philadelphia or Seattle.
The Bears, meanwhile, are on the verge of elimination following back-to-back losses that featured missed field goals from the usually reliable Robbie Gould. The veteran kicker, who has converted at 85.1 percent for his career, missed a tying 50-yard try with 1:40 remaining in a 24-21 loss to Washington last Sunday.
Gould missed from even closer – 36 yards – in the final seconds of regulation in a 26-20 overtime defeat to San Francisco on Dec. 6.
“My teammates rely on me, and the last two weeks I just haven't got it done,” he said.
Gould went 2 for 3 against Minnesota last month and converted a season-best 55-yard attempt, but a 51-yard miss in the third quarter proved significant in a 23-20 loss.
Blair Walsh's 36-yarder as time expired gave the Vikings their second win in the past 15 trips to Chicago and a chance for their first season sweep since 2007.
Adrian Peterson had 103 yards on 20 carries in the first meeting and faces another favorable matchup with a Bears defense that allows an average of 4.7 yards per carry to rank 30th in the NFL.
The Vikings have won the last three home meetings and the past four in Minnesota have been decided by a combined 18 points. Teddy Bridgewater's 44-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter proved key in a 13-9 win Dec. 28.
That was Chicago's final game under Marc Trestman, and current coach John Fox is 2-2 there all-time. He's also led the Bears to three consecutive road wins and put them on the verge of their longest road streak since a five-game run in 2010.
Fox's team is also dealing with ailments on the defensive side with safety Antrel Rolle (knee) going on injured reserve Monday. Linebacker Pernell McPhee didn't play against Washington because of a nagging knee injury.
Marquess Wilson sat out with an ailing foot, and fellow receiver Kevin White officially will have to wait for his NFL debut. The No. 7 overall pick is remaining on the physically unable to perform list because of a stress fracture in his left leg.