Monday Night Football

Minnesota @ Chicago
Vegas Projected Score: Vikings 23.25, Bears 17.75

Vikings-Bears is an epic mismatch, pitting a ferocious Minnesota pass rush against a vulnerable Chicago pass-protection unit dealing with injuries to LG Josh Sitton (ankle) and RG Kyle Long (triceps) and once again quarterbacked by rogue agent Jay Cutler, who was dropped for eight sacks in a little over six quarters to begin the season before suffering a thumb injury that temporarily cost Cutler his starting job. He returns to face a Vikings defense that ranks third in the NFL in both quarterback hits per game (7.0) and sacks per game (3.2), and is well aware he is no longer wanted by the Bears’ organization. Asked Monday if he feels he still has the support of coach John Fox, Cutler replied, “He doesn’t have a choice, I guess, at this point.” It’s a mouth-watering spot for Minnesota’s fantasy D/ST. … Not only is running back usage entirely up in the air with Jeremy Langford (ankle) returning and Jordan Howard’s role diminishing in favor of Ka’Deem Carey, this is a brutal matchup for Chicago’s ground game as a unit. The Vikings rank No. 7 in run-defense DVOA and have limited enemy backs to a combined 109-404-1 (3.71 YPC) rushing line. Carey has been Chicago’s most explosive runner (5.16 YPC) over the past two weeks and would probably be the best dart throw, but ultimately this is a fantasy situation to avoid. Howard’s snap rates over the past three weeks are 95% > 69% > 46%. I still think Howard would be the best option for the Bears’ lead back role, but his on-field performance hasn’t warranted that lately.

Only two opposing wide receivers have scored touchdowns against Minnesota’s shutdown secondary through six games, and only two have cleared 65 yards. Beyond perhaps Alshon Jeffery, I would put no faith in Bears pass catchers until we see Cutler perform. Jeffery posted stat lines of 4-105 and 5-96 on target totals of 6 and 7 in Cutler’s Weeks 1-2 starts. Unfortunately, Alshon is very likely to be shadowed by Xavier Rhodes, who has shut down Kelvin Benjamin (0-0) and Odell Beckham (3-23-0) over the last month. DeAndre Hopkins did come away with 5-56-1 in Rhodes’ Week 5 coverage, although almost all of Nuk’s production occurred in garbage time of Minnesota’s 31-13 drubbing of Houston. I’m approaching Jeffery as a risky WR3 play. … Cameron Meredith was a thing with Brian Hoyer at quarterback, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll be a thing with Cutler. For most of Monday night’s game, Meredith will match up with ageless Vikings LCB Terence Newman, whom Pro Football Focus has credited with the NFL’s fifth lowest passer rating (49.1) allowed among 116 qualified cornerbacks. (At 37.3, Rhodes has the NFL’s third lowest.) … The Vikings have checked Delanie Walker (3-42-0), Jared Cook (4-31-0), Greg Olsen (6-64-0), Will Tye/Larry Donnell (4-43-0), C.J. Fiedorowicz (4-61-0), and Zach Ertz (1-14-0). Miller’s stat lines in Cutler’s Weeks 1-2 starts were 3-14-0 and 4-33-0. I’d rather chase a tight end streamer. 

Sam Bradford has an average to above-average Monday night matchup with the Bears, who rank No. 18 in pass-defense DVOA, No. 17 in sacks (15), and No. 22 in quarterback hits (32) while yielding top-eight fantasy quarterback performances in three of their last five games. Bradford’s fantasy results have been extremely uneven (QB12 > QB24 > QB16 > QB9 > QB28) since he replaced Shaun Hill in the starting lineup, but this is a good spot to tee him up in two-quarterback leagues. With six teams on bye, Bradford isn’t a terrible QB1 streamer. … Jerick McKinnon suffered what was rumored to be a high ankle sprain in the second quarter of last week’s loss to Philadelphia, returning to the game only to aggravate the injury. He was spotted at the Vikings’ facility in a walking boot Thursday and ruled out Saturday. As Ronnie Hillman is the only other back on Minnesota’s roster beyond McKinnon and Matt Asiata, Asiata looks destined for a heavy workload against a Bears run defense that ranks 20th in DVOA and is allowing 27.1 run plays per game, the NFL’s tenth highest clip. Over the course of his career, Asiata has amassed 15-plus touches 13 times, averaging 83.8 total yards per game with 11 touchdowns. Asiata is the definition of a plodder with 4.87 speed at 5-foot-11, 229, but he can be leaned on heavily in the passing game and will be a strong bet to hit pay dirt on Monday night. He is a rock-solid RB2 option. 

Bradford’s target distribution with Stefon Diggs in the lineup this year: Kyle Rudolph 36; Diggs 30; Adam Thielen 17; Cordarrelle Patterson 14; Asiata 12; McKinnon and Charles Johnson 9. … Despite an early-season bye, Rudolph ranks third among NFL tight ends in targets (48) and has earned every-week TE1 treatment in season long-leagues, even in tough matchups such as this. Improved at inside linebacker by the additions of Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan, the Bears have given up the NFL’s tenth fewest fantasy points to tight ends, most notably checking Julius Thomas (2-28-0), Eric Ebron (4-42-0), and Jason Witten (2-25-0), but yielding productive games to Dwayne Allen (6-50-1) and Trey Burton (5-49-1). … Diggs has frustrated since his fast start, but he dusted Bears DC Vic Fangio’s secondary twice last year (6-95-1, 3-55-2) and simply got swallowed up in a tough game last week wherein the Eagles’ pass rush dominated, hitting Bradford on a whopping 16 occasions with six sacks. Bradford’s pocket should be much cleaner on Monday night. Diggs isn’t the borderline WR1 he looked like in Weeks 1-2, but he is an upside WR3 play at worst against a Chicago back end that was torched by Davante Adams (13-132-2) and Randall Cobb (11-95-1) last time out. … Patterson’s chronological snap rates over the Vikings’ last four games: 9% > 49% > 61% > 67%. His corresponding target totals: 1 > 6 > 6 > 7. In a week with six teams on bye, Patterson needs to be taken seriously as a WR3/flex. In DFS contests that extend into Monday night’s game, I like Patterson as a correlation play along with the Vikings’ D/ST. Patterson has four career kickoff return touchdowns, and you will get double points if he takes one to the house.

Score Prediction: Vikings 24, Bears 13

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