He said / she said — Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings
The Hit Job editors Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath preview the Wild Card matchup between the Seattle Seahawks (10–6) and the Minnesota Vikings (11–5).
When: 10:05 a.m. PT Sunday, Jan. 10
Where: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Min.
Rogers: Based on previous results, the hot-again Seahawks could not have scripted a better first-round playoff opponent than the Vikings, whom they destroyed 38–7 only a month ago. True, they won’t have Thomas Rawls’ 101 rushing yards on 19 carries to lead the rushing game. Instead, the Seahawks expect the return of the man he replaced, Marshawn somebody-or-other from yesteryear … unless they don’t. Uh, scratch that. The Beast has been scratched as of late Friday, Jan. 8.
As hot as Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin have been in the latter half of the season, the Seahawks proved that if the running game isn’t firing on all cylinders (see the St. Louis Rams game, week 16), the offense will sputter. Jess, is there any factor in this game that would lead you to conclude the Seahawks won’t handily win this late-season rematch?
Ridpath: On paper, Seattle has the clear advantage — even if the offense sputters a bit. While it’s true that a standout performance on defense — especially by defensive player of the week Everson Griffen (six tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble) and rookie linebacker Eric Kendricks (nine tackles) — earned the Vikings their division-clinching victory over the Packers last week, the offense was wholly unimpressive.
Sure, Minnesota showed us was some razzle dazzle on special teams (fake punt!) and made a concerted attempt to mix things up on first down (a whopping seven passes, compared to six in the previous two weeks combined). But league-leading rusher Adrian Peterson logged just 67 yards, and Teddy Bridgewater posted his lowest numbers of the season (99 passing yards, 52.6 completion percentage, and 45.7 QB rating).
Given how masterfully Seattle’s defense manhandled Minnesota’s offense in week 13, I don’t see any emerging sparks that would suggest the Vikings are in a better position to score points against the Seahawks this time around.
The problem with this optimistic view is that football games aren’t played on paper. One of the biggest factors in this game may end up being the weather: It’s gonna be downright frigid. Recent predictions put the game-time temp at near zero degrees. Fahrenheit. The Seahawks have never played in such brutal cold — not even close. The coldest game in franchise history came in December 2006 on a 16-degree day in Denver. Seattle won that game 23–20.
The bad news? It’s their only victory in the mere seven games they’ve played with the mercury below 28 degrees. Home-field advantage takes on a whole new meaning when you can’t feel your fingers.
Julian, what’s your take on the role the Old Man Winter will play in this game? And what can Seattle do to prepare for such frostbite-inducing conditions?
Rogers: Near-zero cold is a special kind of cold. Nobody — not even the host Vikings — will be prepared for it. Some players will be able to block out the discomfort (and peril) of the cold better than others. It’s difficult to predict which ones can and will. But you are right — the weather is a factor in a way that did not impact play the last time the two teams met.
All ball-handling will be extra difficult to secure. Whether it comes in hand-offs, passing motion or reception of contested balls, expect to see the ball on the ground more often than most games. Both teams will look to emphasize the run and will plan to ride their lead backs, Christine Michael (?) and Peterson.
As a former Alaska resident, let me also assert that this kind of cold also takes your breath away. You just don’t breathe as well. The two lead backs will need to get breathers (and warm up) from time to time, so expect to see a lot of defensive emphasis on hitting, holding up and stripping substitute running backs (Bryce Brown, Fred Jackson for Seattle and Jerick McKinnon, Matt Asiata for Minnesota) when they are asked to step between the frozen white lines.
Another thing to watch out for is the Seahawks’ high-flying passing game, which has been a decided advantage for six of the past seven games (week 16 excluded). Wilson will be challenged in new ways to complete passes to his receivers. There is no way to completely simulate catching a zero-degree flying rock in the practices leading up to this game. Same goes for throwing one with numb fingers.
The good news for the 12s is this will likely be a defensive team’s dream scenario. Both defenses are planning on dominating this game. The statistics say the Seahawks (1st-ranked rush defense, 2nd-ranked passing defense, 1st-ranked in points given up) are better suited to dominate the Vikings’ offense, which you noted had its difficulty moving the ball against the Packers last week. The gadget plays they successfully won with in Green Bay will be in the forefront of the Seahawks’ minds.
Whichever defense can force the opposing offense into shutting down their passing game first will carry the day. My hunch is that it will be Seattle that can more quickly snuff out the Vikings’ 31st-ranked passing attack. However, there is a wild card in this Wild Card prediction: If the Seahawks become one-dimensional, will the offensive line revert to its early-season and week 16 error-prone ways?
Betting against that, I predict a defensive battle in Minneapolis: Seahawks 22, Vikings 14.
Ridpath: Wild card, indeed. Predicting which incarnation of Seattle will show up on Sunday is most definitely a betting (wo)man’s game.
Even though I’ve lost track of the number of times in the past week that I’ve read or heard “the Seahawks are the most dangerous team in football,” I can’t quite shake the memory of their week 16 clunker against the Rams. That game served as a poignant reminder that Seattle would have won nearly every game that wound up in their “L” column this year — had it not been for all the costly mistakes and stupid penalties (on both offense and defense) that sabotaged them.
And therein lies the rub: Which Seattle team will we see this Sunday? The red-hot squad that won five straight and saw Russell Wilson catapult to elite QB status? Or the mistake-prone team that dominated the season’s first half and reared its ugly head again two weeks ago?
In all the Seahawks’ disappointing losses this season (and especially in week 16), you could see the wheels coming off early in the game. The possible return of left tackle Russell Okung (calf) and strong safety Kam Chancellor (pelvis) may provide some much-needed glue to help hold things together. The downside of this week’s developments? Not having Lynch available is a major development. Not having tight end Luke Willson (concussion) also doesn’t help. Both Tyler Lockett (hip) and Michael Bennet (toe) missed practice on Wednesday. And let’s not forget that the Seahawks have no idea what it feels like to play football at zero degrees.
The key for Seattle will be to demonstrate (and to believe) that the wheels are securely on from the outset of the game, especially on defense. If the Seahawks can score first — and I’m betting they will — this game is in the bag. Prediction: Seahawks 20, Vikings 10.
Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week.
What he got right: I said one team was highly motivated and the other wasn’t. I just had the wrong jerseys.
What he got wrong: The game winner — big time. I’m 10–6 on the season.
What she got right: The game winner. That means I’m 11–4 (or 5) on the season. And that means I win the inaugural he said / she said regular season game-prediction showdown. My counterpart even said something on Twitter about bowing down to me and my superior prognostications. But who am I to gloat?
What she got wrong: Along with the rest of the football world, I expected Arizona to make a game of it. Instead, they looked more like spectators with the best seats in the house.
© Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath
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