The Minnesota Vikings will be playing in their first playoff game since 2012 and their first home playoff game since 2009 Sunday when they host the defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks. In their first meeting, Seattle throttled the Vikings, scoring 35 unanswered points to start the game on its way to a blowout win.
With the rematch back in the chilly environs at TCF Bank Stadium, these are the 10 factors that could go a long way to determining who advances out of the wild card round and who sees their 2015 season come to an end.
Baby, It’s REALLY Cold Outside – Most Vikings fans have become a little tired of hearing nothing but how cold and brutal the weather is going to be Sunday. The footballs are going to be like bricks and could add a layer of drama that wouldn’t have been part of the storyline heading into Sunday’s game. It could make timing passes, punts, field goals and kickoffs an adventure that is nearly impossible for a team to prepare for. Can it become a home field advantage? It had better. The Vikings practiced outside this week to prepare for it, although it wasn’t as cold as is predicted for Sunday.
Get Off to a Fast Start – The Vikings and Seahawks gave up the least points of any teams in the NFC – Seattle allowed 277, the Vikings allowed 302 – and Seattle was especially tough in the first quarter. In 16 games, the Seahawks allowed just 40 points in the first quarter – an astonishing average of 2.5 points per game. The last thing the Vikings need is to fall far behind early and, given their history, first-quarter points are going to be at a premium for the Vikings.
Make Them Pay All Day – Adrian Peterson led the NFL in rushing and the Vikings were 10-1 in games he ran 18 or more times. But in their first meeting Peterson had his worst statistical game of the season against the Seahawks, rushing eight times for 18 yards and a 2.5-yard average – all representing season lows for Peterson. The Vikings are going to have to find a way to do what few teams were able to do – control the game on the ground against the league’s top run defense.
Bring the Heat In the Cold – One of the few weak spots for the Seahawks this season was that Russell Wilson was sacked 45 times, which ranked Seattle 28th in the league in sacks allowed per pass play. The Vikings finished ninth in the same statistic. Whether it’s through blitzes or pressure from the front four, the Vikings defense will need to win the battle in the trenches to get the sacks needed to kill drives and keep the Seattle offense freezing on the sideline.
Putting the Band Back Together – When the Vikings and Seahawks met a month ago, the Minnesota defense was without Linval Joseph and Andrew Sendejo and lost Harrison Smith and Anthony Barr in the first quarter. This time around, the Vikings will be at full strength, and if Seattle is going to beat them it’s going to be against the front-line defense, not the next men up.
Work You, Patter Son – The Vikings may require a big game-changing play to win Sunday and they come from different sources. Last week, it was two plays from Adam Thielen that tilted the momentum in the Vikings-Green Bay game. In a game expected to be dominated by defense, Cordarrelle Patterson may play a key role. One play can sway a close game and, in his last nine games, Patterson has kickoff returns of 41, 42, 52, 70, 93 and 101 yards. His 101-yarder provided the only points the Vikings scored in the first meeting. Considering he was a first-round draft pick, his contribution may be small, but may need to be like Percy Harvin’s was for the Seahawks in their Super Bowl win.
Extra! Extra! – Nobody likes negative stats. But in a game that could be decided by kickers, Blair Walsh and Steven Hauschka have combined to miss just 7 of 70 field goals – regardless of distance. Yet, on 81 extra point attempts, they’ve missed 8 of 81. Just sayin’.
It Always Comes In Threes – Most Vikings fans have attempted to erase the memory of Vikes vs. Hawks I because it was a painful memory. If there need be a reason to explain a 35-0 deficit, it came on third-down defense. Seattle converted on 9 of 13 third-down attempts – a gaudy 69 percent. On one of the four third-downs they missed, they converted on fourth down. That has to change.
It’s a Grand Old Flag – The Vikings were arguably the most disciplined team in the league in 2015. They were the least penalized team for almost the entire season. As bad as it was that the Vikings only gained 125 yards of offense, they gave 95 of those yards back in penalties. While flags are hard to predict, nine penalties are simply too many for a team that needs to play mistake-free to take out the two-time defending conference champs.
Frosty the 12th Man – Seattle is famous for its 12th Man tribute to its fans. While it can be argued that most fan bases have similar passion, the fans that spend four hours in the cold Sunday to help provide a home-field advantage will be hard-pressed to provide the noise and discomfort for the visiting offense. The only certainty Sunday is that fair-weather fans won’t be enduring the elements, leaving more seats open for die-hard fans willing to take one for the team. If the Vikings ever needed their own frozen 12th man to represent, it will be Sunday.