Two Coaches at a Crossroads

Today's game with the Vikings and Seahawks could be a matchup of two division champs, two wild cards or neither. But, for the coaches, today may be the watershed moment of the current coaching resumes.

To say there is a lot on the line when the Vikings and Seahawks meet today would be redundant. But, today could mark the beginning of the end for one of the two coaches involved. Both teams came into the season expecting a three-way dance between themselves and the Eagles for the NFC entrant into the Super Bowl. The Eagles have lived up to their end of the bargain. Neither the Vikings or Seahawks have.

In Seattle, the discontent over Mike Holmgren's job performance is well-documented. Viewed as the second-generation architect of the West Coast Offense, two seasons ago, four of Holmgren's assistants – Jon Gruden, Steve Mariucci, Andy Reid and Mike Sherman – all win division titles, while the ‘Hawks languished. Last year, Seattle makes it in as a wild card, takes Green Bay to overtime at Lambeau and leaves ready to make things right this year.

Similarly, the Vikings blew out of the gate last year and had fans thinking Super Bowl after opening 6-0. A 10-game collapse in which they went 3-7 made history as far as teams starting 6-0 and not making the playoffs. After a 5-1 start this season, the Vikings have gone 2-4 since and have awakened the demons of '03 – planting the idea that a similar collapse may happen this season. Vikings fans don't like losing and don't accept it. Sunday will be the 1,002nd game in franchise history and the 699th regular-season game. The Vikings as a franchise have been a consistent winner in both respects. Failure is not an option.

There is still a very good chance that both the Vikings and Seahawks will make the playoffs this year, but that may not be good enough for Holmgren or Mike Tice. After the 2002 scenario, Holmgren was stripped of G.M. powers and told to concentrate simply on coaching. Tice, while proving himself on draft weekend, needs to show his team can run the table in December before he has job security. As big as today's game is for the players, it may be bigger for the coaches involved.

* If the experts mean anything, chew on this. Between the Sporting News experts poll and a similar projection from Pro Football Weekly, they have 19 NFL observers casting their votes on games. All 19 picked the Vikings to beat the Seahawks and all but one picked them to cover the 4-point spread.
* Seattle has 19 interceptions this year – tied for most in the NFL. The Vikings have five – tied for last in the NFL.
* Look for the Vikings to put eight men in the box (hello, Corey Chavous) to try to stop Shaun Alexander. Why? In the four games he has rushed 25 times of more, Seattle is 4-0. In their others games, they're 2-6.
* Word out of Seattle is that, if the Seahawks are convinced early that Randy Moss is close to 100 percent, they will spy CB Marcus Trufant – whom Moss scorched for two TDs last year – on him.
* Stat of the week: Nine different Vikings have been credited with kickoff returns this year -- six of them assigned to kick return duties.
* Even though this won't be the home game Vikings fans look forward to vs. the Packers, it will have a Packer with Holmgren – who went 5-9 as a coach with Green Bay vs. the Vikings – and defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes, who came up with the schemes that let most of those losses happen. Call it a Favre preview if you must.
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