- Associated Press - Sunday, November 14, 2010

LAKE FOREST, ILL. (AP) - Here’s some drama the Minnesota Vikings wouldn’t mind: jumping back into the NFC North race.

All they have to do is beat the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field and follow that up with a win at home against Green Bay.

If that seems like a tall order, well, it might be.

And as big as that two-game stretch is for the Vikings (3-5), the Bears (5-3) are at an important point, too. They have a chance to tie the Packers for the division lead and maybe regain some momentum after an awful skid.

So Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler wasn’t exactly exaggerating when he said, “It’s a huge game for us; a huge game for them.”

The idea of the Vikings contending seemed far-fetched not too long ago, and even now, the odds aren’t exactly in their favor. Yet if they pull out these next two games, they’ll be right there despite all the off-field headlines involving Brett Favre, Randy Moss and Brad Childress.

The Vikings seemed just about out of it before their stirring rally to beat the Cardinals last weekend. Now, there’s some hope. Seven of the remaining eight games are against the NFC, none bigger than the next two, but if their coach is thinking about the possibilities, he isn’t saying.

“I’m a real ‘keep it right here’ guy,” Childress said. “They are what they are. They’re NFC games. Seven of the next eight are those. Everybody in the building understands that and it makes it that much more important because they’re divisional games; you’re knocking somebody down and stepping ahead. Everybody gets that and can do the math. But we’re best served looking at the Chicago Bears.”

They’re looking at a team that just escaped with a 22-19 win over winless Buffalo in Toronto and got a reprieve after dropping three of four. Then again, they’ve played one of the weakest schedules.

Four of their wins were against last-place teams in Buffalo (0-8), Carolina (1-7), Dallas (1-7) and Detroit (2-6). The only one that really looks impressive at the moment came against Green Bay in September when Chicago took advantage of a team-record 18 penalties by the Packers to win 20-17.

Now, the schedule’s about to get tougher. Philadelphia, New England and the New York Jets, not to mention a rematch with Green Bay and two games against Minnesota are looming.

A loss last week might have unraveled the Bears‘ season. The same might have happened to the Vikings but Favre made sure that didn’t happen.

He threw for a career-high 446 yards, and Minnesota rallied from 14 down in the final four and a half minutes to beat Arizona 27-24 in overtime and possibly save its season.

The comeback capped another tumultuous week for the Vikings that started with Childress deciding to cut Moss, stunning players, management and ownership. That raised questions about the coach’s job security, and he nearly came to blows with Percy Harvin in practice.

It all steered attention away from Favre, who’s still nursing two fractures in his left foot and has the NFL checking into claims that he sent messages and lewd photos to a former New York Jets employee two years ago.

Yet his string of consecutive starts is now at 317 including playoffs. And now comes a chance to climb back into the division race.

“The potential is there,” Favre said. “We know we can do it. Every game that we have played we have either had a chance to win, were in it up until the last few plays or whatever. It’s not like we have played our best football in each and every game and just lost. We can play better, which will give us a chance to win, even though we’ve had chances.”

It would help if they had Sidney Rice. He’s been sidelined all year after undergoing hip surgery, and his status for Sunday was not clear.

Either way, the Vikings need to stop a road losing streak that stands at eight, including the NFC championship game at New Orleans last year.

The Bears have their issues, too, be it weak blocking or a nonexistent running game. Cutler has a jaw-dropping 28 sacks. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz has been blasted for his perceived stubbornness, but there were some promising signs last week even if they came against a winless team.

Cutler got sacked just once after going down 19 times in his previous three games. There was more balance, with the Bears rushing for 105 yards on 31 carries, and although the average wasn’t good, the defense at least had to be ready for the run.

Cutler (five carries, 39 yards) had the most success, but Matt Forte (14 attempts, 49 yards) and Chester Taylor (10 for 13 yards) were at least involved. Taylor will now get a shot at his former team.

“We need to get a streak going,” coach Lovie Smith said. “It’s a big game for us, as big a game as we’ve had in a long time around here.”

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