Bears at Vikings -- Week 14

Where: Mall of America Field at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis, Minn. (indoors)

When: Sunday, 1 p.m. (Fox)

Spread: Bears by 3

Records: Bears (Overall: 8-4, NFC North: 2-1); Vikings (Overall: 6-6, NFC North: 2-2)

Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Nov. 25, 2012, Bears 28, Vikings 10; Jan. 1, 2012: Bears 17, Vikings 13. Vikings lead the series 52-49-2. The Bears have won the teams' past six meetings. Minnesota has won three of the last four played in the Metrodome.

What matters: The Bears are tied with Green Bay for the NFC North lead, two games ahead of Minnesota and would be the fifth seed if the playoffs started today. A win would set up what could be a showdown for the NFC North title next week with Green Bay. A loss would mean Chicago not only need to beat the Packers next week, but would need help from Detroit or Minnesota against Green Bay in coming weeks because they would have two division losses and Green Bay hasn't lost in the division. The Bears are 5-3 against the NFC, which is a key tiebreaker for wild cards. The Bears won the earlier matchup just two weeks ago behind 15-of-17 first-half passing performance by Jay Cutler in his first game back from a concussion, and had a 25-3 halftime lead. The defense, which still leads the Aikman rating system as top overall NFL defense, held Adrian Peterson to 25 first-half rushing yards and he fumbled twice before going over 100 yards during garbage time. Though the Vikings are without WR Percy Harvin for the second straight time against the Bears, Minnesota scored 34 points and had 403 yards against Detroit's defense in the Metrodome without Harvin.

Who matters: Without middle linebacker Brian Urlacher out due to a pulled hamstring and cornerback Tim Jennings out with a shoulder sprain, the defense will be severely challenged. The Bears haven't handled missing Urlacher in the past very well, compiling a 7-15 record including a 36-10 loss in 2009 to the Vikings at the Metrodome. ... Cutler comes into the game with a 98.8 career passer rating against the Vikings (144 of 216, 1,552 yards, 16 TD, 7 INT). Since returning from a concussion, he has been hot, with a 101.57 passer rating (40 of 57, 421 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT). He'll play behind a makeshift offensive line that includes OT Gabe Carimi at right guard, waiver wire pickup Jonathan Scott at right tackle and reserve left guard Edwin Williams. The group gave up just one sack last week. ... Strongside LB Nick Roach replaces Urlacher in the middle and the Bears are 1-2 in games he has started in the middle. He hasn't played middle in the regular season since 2009. ... Geno Hayes makes his first start with the Bears at strongside LB. Hayes started 13 games last year for Tampa Bay. ... CB Kelvin Hayden makes his first Bears start as Jennings' replacement, moving over from nickelback.

Key matchups: Brandon Marshall vs. Vikings CB Antoine Winfield. In the teams' last meeting, the Vikings tried a combination approach and extensive zone coverage, keeping a couple safeties back most of the time. It only prevented Marshall from getting big yardage, but he caught 12 passes for 92 yards with underneath routes. So it wouldn't be surprising for Minnesota to put its best corner on Marshall all over the field. Winfield had a pick in the last meeting on a deflection. It could be a risky maneuver, since Winfield is 5-9 and Marshall is just under 6-5. ... Bears LT J'Marcus Webb against Vikings DE Jared Allen. The Bears skipped over this matchup to a large extent in the teams' last meeting by: 1. Providing chipping help or even double teams using tight ends; 2. moving Cutler in the pocket with bootlegs; 3.throwing off more short drops than they have in any game this season. They'll probably do the same because Allen gets tougher on the artificial surface in the noisy dome with Webb trying to go on a silent count. Allen has 8 1/2 sacks, including five at home this year. But he hasn't had more than two in any game. ... Hayes against Vikings FB Jerome Felton. The Vikings will send Peterson behind their 246-pound blocking back, and Felton will find Hayes, who at 220 is undersized to be taking on fullbacks regularly at strongside linebacker. Hayes has to sacrifice himself in this scheme by plugging holes at all costs. He wasn't particularly good at this while he played with Tampa Bay, and was on the field this year when the Bears reserves allowed an 80-yard TD run to Tennessee's Chris Johnson.

Injuries of note: WR Earl Bennett had a concussion last week and has been ruled out, so he'll join Urlacher on the sidelines. An injury to watch for is a hamstring pull suffered by Carimi that forced him to go through a couple limited practices. If this becomes worse, the Bears may be forced to go to Chris Spencer, whose knee sprain still hasn't healed 100 percent, or newly acquired Andre Gurode. It's uncertain whether Devin Hester will resume full return duties coming off a concussion. He practiced this week and is ready to go but could split time with Eric Weems.

Inside stuff: The Bears will play more single-safety formations than possibly any game this year, going with the eighth man in the box. They can do it with more confidence this week than against Seattle last week because FS Chris Conte is healthy. He left last week's game early in the first half due to illness. ... The Bears' passing game will throw more back shoulder routes and go downfield more with Alshon Jeffery available. Two taller receivers keeps the defense from cheating deep on Marshall.

Connections: Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice was a player or coach for the Vikings for 14 years, including head coach for four-plus seasons. ... Bears CB Zack Bowman was with the Vikings in training camp before being cut and returning to the Bears. ... Vikings head coach Les Frazier was a Bears CB from 1981-86 who suffered a torn ACL on a trick punt return in Super Bowl XX that eventually cost him his career. ... The Vikings special assistant to the head coach is Bears Hall of Famer Mike Singletary. ... Vikings WR Devin Aromashodu was with the Bears from 2008-10.

Stat you should know: For the second straight week, the Bears play in a game pitting the worst passing offense in the league (Vikings, 32nd, 180.6 yards per game) against the 31st-ranked passing team (Bears, 318.3). ... Though Lovie Smith claims his team is built to play fast on artificial turf, the Bears are 19-21 on artificial turf under Smith ... The Bears have given up 100 yards rushing or more six straight games, while Peterson has rushed for more than 100 yards in six straight games.

Record watch: Marshall needs 10 catches to set the Bears all-time record for a single season with 101. ... Hester still one return TD away from tying Deion Sanders for the top in all-time NFL return TDs of any kind (interceptions, fumbles, punts, kicks, field goals).

Looking ahead: The Bears host Green Bay at 1 p.m. ET on Dec. 16.

Prediction: Bears 19, Vikings 17

Follow Bears correspondent Gene Chamberlain on Twitter @CBSBears.