Preview: Finale against Bears could be Vikings' farewell to Metrodome
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Who: Chicago Bears (7-8) at Minnesota Vikings (3-12).
When: Noon Sunday.
Where: Mall of America Field at the Metrodome (capacity: 64,111), Minneapolis.
Line: Vikings by 1½.
Coaches: Vikings -- Leslie Frazier (1st year, 6-15); Bears -- Lovie Smith (8th year, 73-59).
Series: Vikings lead 52-47-2, including 31-20 at home.
Last meeting: The Vikings benched Donovan McNabb late in a 39-10 blowout at Soldier Field on Oct. 16, dropping them to 1-5 and ushering in the Christian Ponder era.
At stake: All that's left is solidifying draft position. The Vikings' first-round pick could end up as high as No. 2 and as low as No. 6, depending on the outcome of this game and others.
Vikings: CB Chris Cook (not injury related) is out. TE Mickey Shuler (ankle) was injured in Friday's practice and is doubtful. RG Anthony Herrera (low back), S Jamarca Sanford (shoulder), CB Asher Allen (shoulder/concussion), QB Christian Ponder (concussion) and CB Benny Sapp (shoulder) are probable.
Bears: HB Marion Barber (calf) is doubtful. MLB Brian Urlacher (knee) is questionable. OLB Lance Briggs (ankle), TE Kellen Davis (illness), WR Devin Hester (ankle), LB Nick Roach (shin), G Chris Spencer (back) and DE Corey Wootton (concussion) are probable.
Five things to watch
End of an era?: The last game on the Vikings' original 30-year lease at the Metrodome could be the last professional sporting event in the building they've called home since 1982. Optimism remains high about securing public funding for a new stadium, with the Dome site the most likely to gain approval -- meaning the Vikings might begin a three-year stint at TCF Bank Stadium as soon as 2012. Nothing is certain, of course. Only 3½ weeks remain until the state Legislature reconvenes, and everything from the site to the funding source remain up in the air. But it's more than a slim possibility that three decades of memories could exit the tunnel along with the Vikings on Sunday afternoon. The lease expires on Feb. 1.
Jimmy's goodbye: Either way, it appears this is the last game for longtime Vikings TE Jimmy Kleinsasser -- the last player in the locker room who recalls the Dennis Green era, the January 2001 NFC championship game and Korey Stringer's passing. Players wore "Fear the Beard" T-shirts featuring Kleinsasser's scruffy likeness under their jerseys for Saturday's walkthrough, and Frazier made no secret about the team's intention to give Kleinsasser the ball in a goal-line situation on Sunday. The offensive starters surely will be introduced before kickoff to allow fans one more salute.
One more shot: Facing increased scrutiny and strong play from his backup, Ponder has one more chance to put a positive stamp on his rookie season. He played better last weekend at Washington before getting knocked out early in the third quarter, then sat in the locker room as QB Joe Webb led four consecutive scoring drives in a win over the Redskins. But Ponder continues to seem anxious in the pocket and hasn't exactly been fitting the ball into tight windows. The loss of HB Adrian Peterson to major knee surgery likely will put more on the quarterback's shoulders when the 2012 season begins, too, and even those who strongly support Ponder within the organization surely want more evidence he can handle the load.
Another black eye: CB Benny Sapp's alleged altercation with Children's Hospital security early Friday morning led to two misdemeanor citations and more embarrassing headlines for a franchise that has had too many over the past year. Signed in part because Cook is on paid leave while awaiting trial on felony domestic assault charges, Sapp was disciplined two weeks ago for missing a team meeting. Will Frazier bench him for at least a couple of snaps again? It probably won't matter in terms of the outcome either way. The plan all week was to start Cedric Griffin and Allen at the outside cornerback spots, with Sapp playing the slot in nickel.
Record run: The odds are stacked against RE Jared Allen recording the four sacks necessary to equal Michael Strahan's decade-old record of 22½ in a season. But never say never against a Bears protection unit that has allowed 42 sacks -- sixth-most in the NFL, five fewer than the Vikings (47) -- and ranks 25th in the NFL in sacks allowed per pass play. Allen has 9½ sacks in seven career games against Chicago and probably will need at least a couple to hold on for the NFL sack title. Philadelphia's Jason Babin and Dallas' DeMarcus Ware each have 18.
The Bears are only eight days removed from a fifth consecutive loss, dashing their playoff hopes for good. The Vikings have been out of contention so long they've gotten used to the letdown. The edge goes to the home team here.
Prediction: Vikings 27, Bears 20.