The race for the two NFC Wild Card spots heats up on Monday night at CenturyLink Field as the Seattle Seahawks and the Minnesota Vikings meet in a critical contest for both teams.
Russell Wilson completed 11 of 17 passes for 185 yards and four touchdowns as Seattle (7-5) routed San Francisco 43-16 last Sunday. The Seahawks did a nice job of running the ball to produce a balanced attack, including 168 rushing yards on 29 carries. One point of concern is on defense as Seattle let Nick Mullens throw for 414 yards and couldn’t slow down Dante Pettis, who burned the Seahawks' secondary for 129 yards and two touchdowns on just five receptions.
Minnesota (6-5-1) is coming off of a tough 24-10 loss on the road against the New England Patriots. Kirk Cousins was inconsistent as he threw two interceptions and continued to give ammunition to those who question his ability to win spotlight-type of games. The defense also had its issues, as Tom Brady completed 24 of 32 passes for 311 yards and the Vikings weren't able to slow New England down on the ground either. Life on the road has not been easy for the Vikings, who 2-3-1 away from U.S. Bank Stadium. Things won't get any easier this week up in the Pacific Northwest as Minnesota aims for a potential season-defining road win.
Minnesota at Seattle
Kickoff: Monday, Dec 10 at 8:15 p.m. ET
Spread: Seahawks -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Seahawks' running attack vs. Minnesota defensive line
This battle will go a long way towards deciding who wins on Monday night. Seattle is averaging No. 1 in the NFL in rushing at 148.8 yards per game while the Vikings are seventh against the run, limiting teams to just 99.2 yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry. The Seahawks' offensive line has been a big reason why the ground game has taken off, but will likely be without D.J. Fluker, who is listed as doubtful with a first-degree hamstring strain. Jordan Simmons will likely step in for Fluker and will need to perform as he did in Week 10 when Seattle posted 273 rushing yards in a loss to the Rams. For Minnesota, Danielle Hunter leads the team with 11.5 sacks and you can expect him to be turned loose to try and harass Russell Wilson in the pocket all night long. Sheldon Richardson will get a shot at his former teammates and it will be up to the Seattle offensive line to neutralize Richardson to free up the running game.
2. Vikings' offense vs. Seahawks' defense
Minnesota offensive coordinator John DeFilippo has plenty of weapons to throw at the Seattle defense. Adam Thielen is having a great 2018 season with 1,166 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Stefon Diggs is another big-play wide receiver who has caught 84 passes for 839 yards and six scores. As for the Seahawks' defense, they have come up with timely plays in the red zone but have allowed more than 450 yards in each of their last two games. Bobby Wagner has collected 99 tackles on the season and had a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown last week against the 49ers. Seattle is going to need Wagner to carry the mail again this week until the secondary can get back on track and stop giving up big plays.
3. Sustaining and finishing drives
Another underrated key to victory for both teams will be the ability to extend drives. Minnesota is the best in the NFL at third-down defense, limiting teams to a 29.9 percent conversion rate. The Seahawks rank ninth in the NFL on third down, holding teams to a 37.3 conversion rate. So, for both offenses, it will be very crucial to avoid unnecessary penalties and to keep their quarterbacks upright to stay ahead of the sticks. If Wilson can get the ball in hands of Tyler Lockett and Jaron Brown, it will slow down the Vikings' defensive line enough to give the Seattle offense a shot to succeed. Finishing drives and not settling for field goals will be important as well as the weather is calling for a chance of scattered showers, which could potentially affect the kicking game a little bit. The Seahawks rank eighth in the red zone in touchdown percentage, while the Vikings are 22nd.
The Seahawks have won five straight games against the Vikings, including the epic 10-9 victory in the NFC Wild Card back in January 2016. If Seattle can take care of the football and grind out about 120 yards on the ground, the Seahawks will be in great position to get their eighth win. Minnesota will need to survive the initial wave of crowd noise and emotion of the primetime setting. If the Vikings can get the game into the fourth quarter they should be able to hang in until the very end. But look for the Seahawks to create a key turnover in the second half with the offense securing the victory via a game-winning drive in the final minutes.
Prediction: Seahawks 27, Vikings 23
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.