It didn’t come as any surprise when the early odds came out on the Minnesota Vikings-Seattle Seahawks playoff game that Seattle was installed as the biggest favorite of the four games on wild card weekend.
The rationale makes sense. Seattle just pounded the Arizona Cardinals. They’ve been a dominant road team the second half of the season, including a 38-7 humbling of the Vikings.
But, as they meet for the second time, the Vikings are looking to flip the script on both sides of the ball. For an offense that got overwhelmed by Seattle’s pressure pass rush, guard Mike Harris knows that seven points just won’t get the job done.
“The last game, they totally dominated us,” Harris said. “They were able to rush the quarterback pretty well and, as an offensive line, we have to do better than that. We’re up to the challenge. It’s going to be a playoff environment, but, as an offense, we have to score points on this team. We know what their offense can do. If we can do that (score points), we’ll be fine.”
One significant difference the Vikings will have Sunday is that they are likely going to be at full strength for the first time in two months. In the first meeting with Seattle, the team was without run stuffing defensive tackle Linval Joseph and lost both Harrison Smith and Anthony Barr to injury in the first quarter.
With three of their most important defensive players all expected back in the lineup, the Vikings are going to have a much different look than they did a little over a month and Sharrif Floyd said there won’t be a lot of questions about the game plan going in. Both teams are known for imposing their will defensively and he expects to see a war on the freezer known as TCF Bank Stadium.
“The biggest thing coming into this game is we have to stay together, stick together and understand what Seattle is trying to do to,” Floyd said. “This is the healthiest we’ve been all season and our strongest all season. We’ve got to try to keep it that way. We know the Seahawks are going to be them – that’s what we expect – and we’re going to be us. It’s going to be a battle and we’re going to fight down to the end.”
Mike Zimmer has spent much of the season challenging his players to achieve things their predecessors haven’t been able to accomplish, such as winning division games, winning on the road, winning in prime time and taking the NFC North title away from the Green Bay Packers.
The 2015 Vikings have accomplished all of those things. Their only real embarrassments this season were their season opener and home games against the Packers and Seahawks. The Vikings were able to rectify the Packers game with a win and Everson Griffen said Zimmer’s mantra coming into this week is making good on erasing the bad memory of their first meeting.
“His message was just to go out there and play the style of ball we play,” Griffen said. “Go out there and play better than we did the last time and execute our assignments and figure out a way to win this game.”
Although most of the football world sees it as a foregone conclusion that the two-time defending NFC champions are going to roll over Minnesota, the Vikings defense is playing about as well the last three weeks than it has at any time during the season.
Their confidence is high, they’re peaking at the right time and, while they know Seattle is probably the toughest wild card opponent any of the eight teams playing this weekend, if they can play fundamentally sound on offense, defense and special teams, the 12th win of the season over the team famous for the 12th Man is not just possible, it’s attainable.
“We’re clicking right now,” safety Andrew Sendejo said. “We’re playing some good ball. We’re going to need to continue to do those things – not turn the ball over, create some turnovers, play well in the kicking game. You have to have all three phases going at the same time when it gets to playoff football to make the run you want to make.”
For fans and media types, the storyline remains not only that Seattle will beat the Vikings at The Bank, but how convincingly they beat them. Minnesota was able to learn from that drubbing and have come together as a team. Almost to a man, they relish the chance to get a second crack at Seattle and this time they’re coming in angry about what happened in December and vowing not to have a repeat performance.
It won’t be easy, but the Vikings have all the confidence in the world that it’s Seattle that is stepping into the hornet’s nest, not the Vikings.
“Our mindset is different,” Griffen said. “We’re on a run right now and our goal is to stay on this run. We’ve got to go out and win the field-position battles, win third downs, we’ve got to create turnovers. We’ve got to do all the small things we didn’t do the first game. We all know Seattle. They’re a good team and we’re going to have to play our best ball for four quarters to beat this team.”