The last time the Minnesota Vikings had a statement game against one of the powerhouse teams of recent NFC vintage, the statement they made wasn’t the won they wanted, losing big at home to Green Bay.
This week, it’s the two-time defending conference champion Seattle Seahawks on the docket. At 6-5, Seattle needs to run the table just to contend with Arizona for the NFC West title and needs every win it can get simply to make a return to the playoffs.
Losers of the previous year’s Super Bowl often struggle the following season, but the Seahawks won’t go down without a fight in defense of their conference championships.
These are the 10 points of emphasis that will play critical roles in deciding who wins and greatly improves their playoff standing and who loses and takes a big step backward in December.
Road Worriers – The Seahawks have been a dominant home team and, over the past two seasons, were very impressive on the road – posting a record of 11-5 away from Seattle. This year, however, the Seahawks are 2-3 on the road, with their only wins coming against 3-8 Dallas and 3-8 San Francisco. Last time we checked, the Vikings were 8-3, not 3-8. With the Vikings have won seven of their last eight games at home, that could loom heavily in Minnesota’s favor.
The West Coast Sack Exchange – Few teams have more firepower up front defensively than the Seahawks. Their three top sackers have combined for 18½ sacks – 7½ from DE Cliff Avril, 6½ from DE Michael Bennett and 4½ from OLB Bruce Irvin. The Vikings will be hard-pressed to keep them off Teddy Bridgewater, which will be a key theme throughout the game Sunday, since Teddy has taken a beating in games where teams have elite pass rushers on the outside.
Isn’t That Special? – Both the Vikings and Seahawks have a kickoff and a punt return for touchdowns. Marcus Sherels brought back a punt 65 yards for a TD in a win over Chicago and Cordarrelle Patterson brought a kickoff back 93 yards for a touchdown in a win over Oakland. For Seattle, Tyler Lockett had a 57-yard punt return for a touchdown against St. Louis and he also brought a kick back 105 yards for a score against the Bears. In a game that could well be decided by one score, a big play on special teams could make all the difference in winning or losing.
Wilson Pick-It – Russell Wilson has seven interceptions this season. In the five games he hasn’t thrown an interception, Seattle is 4-1. In the six games in which he has thrown an interception, the Seahawks are 2-4. The Seahawks aren’t a team built to come from behind, so to win, they need to keep turnovers to a minimum. When they come, so do losses for Seattle.
Stop the Streak – In two career games against the Vikings, Wilson hasn’t put up gaudy passing numbers (completing 29 of 42 passes for 403 yards), but has five touchdowns and no interceptions and Seattle has won those games by scores of 30-20 and 41-20. If the Vikings are going to get their first win against a Wilson-led offense, those numbers will have to change.
Run, Run Rudolph – In the last two games, tight end Kyle Rudolph has had his two best games of the season, catching 13 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown. Seattle has lockdown corners that can take away wide receivers, but have had their share of struggles against tight ends. With Rudolph emerging as a go-to target in the offense, he may need to have another big day if the Vikings are going to win.
You’ll Never Find Another Back Like Mine – Thomas Rawls was an undrafted rookie free agent, but may well be the most valuable player for Seattle. In the five games that Rawls has had to replace Marshawn Lynch, he’s topped 100 yards three times, including games with 169 and 209 yards. If the Vikings can’t stop Rawls consistently, he will keep getting the ball.
Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better – The Seahawks have the second-ranked rush offense in the NFL. The only team ahead of them? The Vikings. Adrian Peterson leads the NFL with 1,164 rushing yards – 126 more than second place Doug Martin and 332 more than third place Jonathan Stewart. A.P. has six 100-yard rushing games, including four in the last five. He has eight rushing touchdowns, including five in the last four. The Vikings have found the formula for success and that’s giving the ball to Peterson 20-plus times. If both teams can do what they’ve been doing so successfully, the game could be over in 2½ hours.
Start Halves Strong – Of all the stats that have been in the Vikings favor, one that can be attributed to coaching preparation and adjustments deals with scoring in the first and third quarters. Teams come into games with scripted plays to start and adjustments to game plans made at halftime. In the first and third quarters, the Vikings have outscored their opponents 107-48. If the Vikings get off to a fast start at the beginning of the first and second half, they could be hard to beat.
Get the Point? – The Vikings have allowed the second-fewest points in the league with 194 (17.6 per game). Seattle is eighth, allowing 222 points (20.2 per game). Both teams have allowed opponents to settle for field goals – Minnesota allowing 19 touchdowns and 20 field goals and Seattle allowing 22 touchdowns and 22 field goals. With all the big names on offense and defense for both teams, the two that may the key to winning and losing could be kickers Blair Walsh and Steven Hauschka.