Seattle Seahawks (-5, 40.5 o/u) at Minnesota Vikings
“No one wants to play the Seattle Seahawks!” That seems to be the rallying cry of every peripheral football fan entering the NFC playoffs. But thanks to the Minnesota Vikings (11-5, 6-2 Home) stunning win over the Packers in Week 17, the Seahawks (10-6, 5-3 Away) were relegated to the sixth-seed in the conference. For the layperson, that means the ‘Hawks, who only have two road wins in their entire playoff history, will need to take three-straight away from home in order to make a third-straight Super Bowl.
The Seahawks long road back starts this weekend against those very same Vikings in what should be a frigid game at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday (1:05 PM Eastern).
The latest forecasts show a high of just 1°F for Minnesota this weekend, which sounds like perfect weather for ground-and-pound football, a strategy both these teams are comfortable employing.
When you think of the Seattle ground game, your mind is immediately drawn to “Beast Mode” (and still lingering questions of why they didn’t hand Marshawn Lynch the ball). But the Hawks have largely operated as a next-man-up system this season, with rookie Thomas Rawls stepping in after Lynch was injured in Week 10 and leading the team with 830 yards rushing. Since Rawls was lost in Week 14, it’s been Christine Michael’s backfield.
The word is that Lynch will be back starting this week, but Micheal should be ready to shoulder some of the load in this game and help the NFL’s third-best rushing attack (141.8 YPG).
For Minnesota, there’s no confusion over who leads this ground game: Adrian Peterson just wrapped up his third rushing title in his eighth full season as a pro with 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns. He will need to improve on the eight-carry, 18-yard performance he put up when the Vikes hosted the Seahawks just one month ago. With the Minny ground game struggling throughout that one, Seattle throttled Minnesota 38-7, partly explaining why the Hawks are decent-sized road favorites this weekend.
Peterson will be in tough to do much better on Sunday. He is laboring through a nagging back injury (cue carrying the offense jokes) and Seattle finished the year first in the NFL in rushing defense (81.5 yards against per game).
The big difference in these teams is what happens when their run game isn’t working out. When the game is put squarely on Teddy Bridgewater’s shoulders, the Vikings tend to flounder. They’ve gone just 1-5 when the team rushes for under 100 yards, averaging a meager 11.8 points a game.
Seattle always seems to find a way to run the ball, thanks to Russell Wilson’s ability to take off at any moment. But Wilson also might have been the NFL’s best passer in the second half of the season. In the last seven games, “DangeRuss” has completed nearly 71-percent of his passes for 24 touchdowns and just one interception! The biggest beneficiary of this new found success was Doug Baldwin, who caught 11 TDs over that stretch.
When it comes to the Vikings passing game, their is no real go-to threat at receiver. For a brief period this year, that role appeared to belong to rookie Stefon Diggs. But after starting his career at a torrid pace, he’s now been held to four or fewer catches in eight of the Vikes’ last nine games.
Even though the takeaway numbers haven’t been there for the Seahawks defense this season, they still finished tops in the league in points allowed and second in yards. They also had a solid pass rush, with the duo of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril combining for 19 sacks this year.
Of course, neither team was particularly adept at pass blocking this season. The Seahawks allowed 46 sacks on the year while the Vikings gave up 45. But Minnesota’s young o-line has started all 16 games this year, and showed little improvement for it. The Seahawks have had injuries along the line and attempt far more passes than the Vikes. They also could have Russell Okung back at left tackle this weekend, which would provide a massive upgrade.
The Vikings defense should be much healthier than the first time these teams met: a game in which they lost Harrison Smith and Anthony Barr and started without Linval Joseph. But if the D truly wants to leave its mark on the game, they’ll need to get the ball back for their offense on short fields. The Seahawks only have six turnovers in the last eight games and three of those came against the Rams; not surprisingly that was their only loss over that stretch.
Minnesota was the best team against the spread in the regular season, making loyal bettors rich by going 13-3. But the playoffs are a whole new game and siding with Bridgewater seems like a one-way ticket to disappointment.
Seattle hasn’t been one-and-done in their last seven playoff appearances, winning at least their first game dating back to 2004. They also finished the year 6-1 ATS in their last seven. While it likely won’t be another 31-point smackdown, Seattle should emerge victorious in Minnesota again, comfortably enough to cover.
Pick: Seahawks -5.
(Photo Credit: Keith Allison (Originally uploaded to Flickr. Photo has been cropped.)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/])