In the clouded NFC playoff picture, the Vikings currently sit atop the NFC North while Seattle hold the conferences’ sixth seed. The Vikings have benefitted from an easy schedule until now, and must beat fellow playoff contenders in order to be seen as serious players in the race for the NFC. The Seahawks are coming off a big home win against Pittsburgh. Russell Wilson and Seattle’s offense carried the game despite the defense struggling. With both sides of the ball now looking strong, the Seahawks look like a safer bet to return to the playoffs. Minnesota are riding Adrian Peterson and a strong defense to a playoff berth. But the Vikings are a young team who still need to prove themselves against the NFC powerhouses. This weekend’s clash with Seattle could decide whether the Vikings make the postseason as a divisional champion or a wild card.
Three Keys to the Game:
1. Can Seattle stop Adrian Peterson?
Adrian Peterson seems to have hit his stride down the stretch. Peterson is the centrepiece of the Vikings’ offense, averaging 126.8 rushing yards per game over the past five weeks. The Seahawks’ defense has been almost as good as ever this season, particularly upfront. Seattle has not allowed a 100 yard rusher all season, allowing just 92.9 rushing yards per game. If Adrian Peterson can’t break through, then the Vikings will struggle.
2. Stopping Russell Wilson
Wilson has quietly been having another strong season despite Seattle’s early struggles. The Steelers thought they could beat Wilson by keeping him confined to the pocket last week. He responded with 345 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions en route to a 39-30 win. The Vikings have a more complete defense than Pittsburgh, but even they could struggle to keep Wilson in check. Linebacker Anthony Barr and defensive tackle Linval Joseph did not practice, while safety Harrison Smith is limited. Without their three best playmakers, Minnesota’s defense will struggle to beat the Seahawks.
3. Protecting Teddy Bridgewater
The Vikings have struggled in the passing game for much of the season, despite the emergence of Stefon Diggs and good play from tight end Kyle Rudolph and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Part of the reason is that Bridgewater faces too much pressure behind a sub-par offensive line. Bridgewater is a skilled scrambler, but does not help matters when he doesn’t slide as often as he should to protect himself. The Seahawks are a famously hard-hitting defense, which doesn’t bode well for Teddy.
Matchup to watch: Thomas Rawls vs Minnesota’s front seven
Thomas Rawls has been electric for the Seahawks this season. The undrafted rookie has outplayed Marshawn Lynch, averaging 122.2 yards per game in his five starts. The Vikings rank 21st against the run, allowing an average of 110.6 yards per game. They will also likely be missing Anthony Barr and Linval Joseph, two of their best run stuffers. Rawls should have another big game this week.
Prediction: Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks look as if they’re on their late-season playoff surge. Last week’s win over Pittsburgh showed what the offense can do when they play well and the defense has been good once again. Against a weakened Vikings team this weekend, it should be another big game for the defending NFC champions.