Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings
Site: TCF Bank Stadium (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Raise your hand if you had this game as the Seahawks most important game of the season when the schedule came out. After three consecutive games at home the Seahawks hit the road for two straight games. Up first is a huge conference matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. The Seahawks are 6-5 and are coming off a huge win over Pittsburgh a week ago. The Vikings were a team that many experts said to keep an eye on at the start of the season and they are proving the experts right. Minnesota holds an impressive 8-3 record and are currently the leaders of the NFC North. Seattle leads the all-time series 8-5. In their last meeting the Seahawks crushed the Vikings 41-20 in Seattle and the Seahawks eventually went on to win the super bowl. This could very well be a preview of a potential playoff matchup next month. Here is what I will be watching for.
The Minnesota defense allows an average of only 17.6 points per game, second best in the league. It is imperative for the Seahawks offense to be able to stay on the field and drive deep into Vikings territory. Thomas Rawls will face his biggest challenge of the season and I will be keeping close tabs on his yardage coming on first down opportunities. If he can gain at least 4 yards on first down it will put the offense in a good position to gain first downs and keep drives alive. In the passing game I will be focused on the blocking by left tackle Russell Okung and left guard Justin Britt. The right side of the Vikings front seven consists of lineman Everson Griffen as well as linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr. These three players have combined for 14 of Minnesota’s 25 sacks this season (56 percent). I expect Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to take care of the ball just like how he did a week ago against Pittsburgh but he must be more aware of his blindside in this game. If Okung and Britt struggle to block it would not be surprising to see Wilson get hit and fumble the ball multiple times. Quick passes to Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, and Luke Willson may be the best way to attack the Vikings through the air this week.
If there was one game this season where I wish we still had Red Bryant it would be for this game. Priority number one for the Seahawks defense this week will be to stop Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. It will be up to Brandon Mebane and Ahtyba Rubin to lock down the middle of the line of scrimmage. Given the solid play of Minnesota’s offensive line penetrating the line will be difficult. Good fundamental tackling will go a long way to limiting Peterson’s production. One guy on defense that may see more playing time than usual is Jordan Hill. In an attempt to limit Peterson’s presence it may not be surprising to see Hill, Mebane, and Rubin all play on the line at the same time.
The Minnesota Vikings have the top ranked rushing offense in the league. In contrast they also sport the league’s second worse pass offense. At age 30 Adrian Peterson is still as productive as ever and the Vikings offense is only as effective as he is. Peterson leads the league in rushing yards with 1,164 and has rushed for over 100 yards six times this season. The Vikings are 6-0 in those games. My worry is that the Vikings will use other ways to move the ball on the ground in an attempt to avoid throwing towards the Legion of Boom. My X-Factor Player to Watch for the Vikings this week is one of the better young quarterbacks in the league and the man that makes the entire Minnesota offense work, Teddy Bridgewater. Although Bridgewater has not thrown for many touchdowns, he is a very conservative passer who tries to move the ball in small chunks to wear out the opposing defense. Bridgewater has had a completion percentage of over 65 percent in six games. In those games he has thrown only two interceptions. The main reason why he is my X-Factor this week is the threat of him keeping the ball and running. Although he has not nearly put up the type of rushing stats as Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick of seasons past, Bridgewater is one of the faster quarterbacks in the league and he will scramble and take off if he feels the pressure and does not have any open receivers. Peterson may be the number one priority of the Seattle defense but Bridgewater also contributes to that top ranked rushing attack. Plain and simple, shut Peterson and Bridgewater down on the ground, win the game.
Something that is not garnering the attention that I believe it should is one fairly significant advantage the Seahawks have in this game. Gone are the days of playing the Vikings at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which was one of the better home field advantages in the NFL. It would be a tougher challenge for the Seahawks if we were playing at the Metrodome. Instead the Vikings are playing the second of two seasons at TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota while their brand new stadium is under construction. The stadium seats just over 51,000 which is the smallest capacity of any current NFL stadium and crowd noise will hardly be a factor.
Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will wear white jerseys and wolf grey pants. Seattle is 0-4 all-time in this combination. The Vikings will wear purple jerseys and white pants… Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch will have the play-by-play and commentary respectively on FOX. Pam Oliver will report from the sidelines… Terry McAulay will be this week’s referee… I briefly considered hitting the road for this game but ultimately decided to go to Dallas instead. The reason behind that decision was the potential weather in Minneapolis. Being a December game I thought there was a realistic possibility of it being below freezing and snowing. Hindsight is 20/20 and in that vein it looks like it will be a nice day for football. The high temperature on Sunday will be in the low 40’s and it will be sunny. That is exactly the kind of weather we have experienced in Seattle the past two weeks… After this week the combined record of the Seahawks next three opponents is 10-23. Translation: If the Seahawks beat the Vikings, you will be extremely hard-pressed to make the argument that Seattle will miss out on the playoffs.
Seahawks Playoff Outlook: The Seahawks currently hold the #6 seed in the NFC playoffs and with a win we are locked into this spot for at least another week; we cannot move up but a loss may knock us out of the current playoff picture. Seattle is three games behind the Arizona Cardinals for first place in the NFC West. Here are games to keep track of that may have NFC playoff implications this week. Teams to note are bolded.
Arizona (9-2) at St. Louis (4-7)
Atlanta (6-5) at Tampa Bay (5-6)
Prediction: The Seahawks are 12-2 in games played in December with Russell Wilson at quarterback. Each of the prior three seasons our December success has carried us to the playoffs. With the win last week we will be riding some serious momentum into this game. Thomas Rawls will run for over 125 yards and score two touchdowns. Wilson will also throw a touchdown to Luke Willson. The game will come down to Minnesota’s final drive. After a punt by Jon Ryan pins the Vikings at their own 2-yard line, Bridgewater will have to drive 98 yards for a game-tying touchdown. On the first play of the drive Minnesota will be penalized for holding in the endzone, giving the Seahawks a safety and in-turn, clinching the game for Seattle. We will improve to 7-5 and be in the driver’s seat for an NFC wild-card berth.
Seahawks 26, Vikings 17