For many Seahawks fans, it is easy to draw comfort from the fact that Seattle soundly defeated the Minnesota Vikings just a month ago.
The team Seattle clobbered 38-7 in Week 13 looks nothing like the one the Seahawks will face Sunday in the playoffs, however.
Back healthy for the Vikings are defensive tackle Linval Joseph, outside linebacker Anthony Barr and free safety Harrison Smith, three of Minnesota's best players on either side of the ball and a trio who have blossomed under head coach Mike Zimmer.
Pete Carroll acknowledged the talent returning for Minnesota.
"Yeah, they get some really good guys back, and some guys healthier too," Carroll said. "Anthony Barr is going to be healthier than he was, he had something wrong with his hand, and their safeties back. They're going to be better. I'm sure they're excited about that. They played really good in the game yesterday from what I can tell."
Losing the trio left Minnesota vulnerable up the middle in the running and passing game, alike, in Week 13. The Seahawks rushed for 173 yards and two touchdowns in the blowout win, with Thomas Rawls contributing 101 yards and a score. Two of Russell Wilson's three touchdowns went to Doug Baldwin but much of the damage Seattle inflicted came up the middle in targets to tight ends Luke Willson and Cooper Helfet and running backs Rawls and Fred Jackson, who combined to catch eight passes (on 12 targets!) for 84 yards and a score.
At 6-4, 329 pounds, Joseph is certainly the most imposing of the group. He's developed into a stout run defender, leading the Vikings' defensive linemen with an impressive 56 tackles.
Carroll mentioned Barr by name, which isn't surprising considering that he recruited him and coached against the former UCLA Bruins star. Barr doesn't have the eye-popping statistics one might expect with "just" 67 tackles (including 3.5 sacks) but he's a proven playmaker, whose fluidity and explosive closing speed make him a turnover magnet. Barr leads the Vikings with three forced fumbles (after recording two last year) and also has an interception. With Barr and rookie Danielle Hunter rushing off one corner makes former Carroll disciple Everson Griffen all the more dangerous off the other.
Like Joseph, Smith is sometimes overlooked by the national media but he's emerged as one of the league's better all-around safeties. He's a hitter with very good instincts, range and ball-skills. He has 12 career interceptions, four of which he returned for touchdowns.
Carroll spoke Monday of the Seahawks' confidence in facing the Vikings due to the familiarity brought with playing them earlier in the year.
"...I'm glad that we've played them," Carroll said. "I'm sure [the Vikings] are too, so that we are familiar, so that you can really feel like you can really dig into a plan. We'll try to max it out and see what happens."
The Seahawks can't afford to become over-confident based on the success it had a month ago, however, with this Vikings squad not only healthier but looking for revenge.
Fortunately for the Seattle faithful, the Seahawks appear to be getting healthier, as well. After missing at least one of the past several games, the Seahawks are hopeful that left tackle Russell Okung, strong safety Kam Chancellor, running back Marshawn Lynch, tight end Luke Willson and right guard J.R. Sweezy might all be back against the Vikings.