Matchup: (6) Seattle Seahawks at (3) Minnesota Vikings
Site: TCF Bank Stadium (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
On December 6th the Seahawks rolled into Minneapolis and delivered a monumental beat down to the Minnesota Vikings 38-7. One month later the Seahawks will look to do the same thing in order to keep their season alive. The Seahawks travel to TCF Bank Stadium once again on Sunday as they take on the NFC North champion Vikings in an NFC Wild-Card playoff game. The Seahawks enter as the number 6 seed and a win will punch their ticket to Charlotte for the NFC Divisional playoffs. The Vikings are the number 3 seed and a win will send them to Arizona to play the Cardinals next week. Of course the loser of this game sees their 2015 season come to an end. The theme in this game is “different.” There will be multiple things that will be different this week from the last time these two teams faced off 5 weeks ago. For the Vikings, several things will have to be different in order to advance to next weekend. Here are a small handful of differences I will have my attention on in this game.
Last time around Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson completed 78 percent of his passes for 274 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Seahawks also added 101 yards and a touchdown on the ground by running back Thomas Rawls. Rawls is on injured reserve and this week the Seahawks will start someone who was not even on the roster back in week 13, running back Christine Michael. Michael will be thrust into the starting role after the unexpected breaking news Friday night that Marshawn Lynch, who practiced all week and seemed ready to go, ruled himself unable to play. Michael has an opportunity to completely change critic’s opinions of him as an NFL player with a strong performance in Minnesota. Establishing the run on first down will remain important but do not be surprised to see more passes called on first down than runs. If Michael can get going early and be able to put up at least 80 yards on the ground it will take pressure off of the passing game and the Seahawks offense will be able to control time of possession, putting Minnesota at a disadvantage.
In my preview of our regular season matchup against the Vikings I talked about how important it was for the Seahawks defense to corral Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson. This is the one and only constant I will be focused on this week. It is the same story as last time: shut him down, win the game. Peterson was held to his worse stat line of his season against the Seahawks, rushing 8 times for 18 yards. In the 4 games to end the season after playing Seattle Peterson averaged 21 carries for 76 yards and recorded 3 touchdowns. Linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright combined for 17 tackles against the Vikings in the regular season so look for Kris Richard to stuff the box to help defensive tackles Brandon Mebane, Ahtyba Rubin, and Jordan Hill out.
One of the biggest reasons this game will be different for the Minnesota Vikings is unlike in our last meeting, Minnesota’s defense is close to full strength. Multiple players who were inactive or hurt during our matchup five weeks ago will be on the field this Sunday. This includes safety Harrison Smith and linebacker Anthony Barr. I am putting my X-Factor spotlight on another one of those players who may be back on the field on Sunday. My X-Factor player to Watch for the Vikings this week is defensive tackle Linval Joseph. Joseph’s absence was a contributing factor in the Seahawks being able to accrue 173 total rushing yards on December 6th. He is one of the best interior defensive linemen in the game and I believe he is extremely underrated, much like Brandon Mebane is for Seattle. Right before he got hurt he was putting up big numbers in the tackles category, averaging just over 6 tackles per game in his last 5 games. He has also recorded 7 tackles for loss this season. Against an average Seahawks offensive line Joseph could be poised for a huge game statistically. If the Seahawks run Christine Michael up the middle look for Joseph to make a big impact.
Something else that must be talked about is the weather conditions for Sunday’s game. In our last meeting in Minnesota the temperature was in the high 30’s; an abnormally warm temperature for that time of year. This week brings a completely different story as the Seahawks will be playing in the coldest game in franchise history. The temperature at kickoff is projected to be no higher than 3 degrees but I have seen reports from the national weather service over the past few days that claim the temperature at kickoff could be as low as -20 degrees plus wind chill. It will be painfully cold and the weather could absolutely play a factor in how the game plays out. I remember two seasons ago the San Francisco 49ers traveled to Green Bay to play the Packers in an NFC wild-card game. The 49ers were no doubt the better team but because the temperature was so low it allowed the Packers to play San Francisco tough almost to the point of them upsetting them. It will be harder to throw, harder to tackle, harder to kick, and harder to score. These circumstances could give the Vikings an advantage that is difficult to overlook.
Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will wear white jerseys and college navy pants this week. The Vikings will wear purple jerseys and white pants… Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth have the call for a rare NBC matinee broadcast this week… Walt Coleman is our referee in this game… I find it very interesting the NFL decided to have both NFC wild-card games on Sunday rather than one on Saturday and the other on Sunday. It makes sense going from week 17 into the postseason but one team playing this weekend will lose a day of preparation for next week because they will have to play Arizona the following Saturday… Many people approached me over the past week and asked me if I was going to Minneapolis for the game. I would love to be there even with the weather being what it is, but unfortunately I will not be there. Hopefully I get to make at least one more road trip before the end of our season… I am not a fan of the morning start in the playoffs. That’s the price we pay for going on the road I guess.
Prediction: It will not be a blowout and the weather will be a factor, but I still believe the Seahawks will punch their ticket to the Divisional round. Russell Wilson will throw touchdowns to Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett. A late touchdown run by Adrian Peterson will keep things close but the Seahawks will be able to convert third down opportunity with under two minutes left to seal the win. The Seahawks will come home and get ready for an NFC Divisional playoff against the Carolina Panthers.
Seahawks 27, Vikings 17