Coming off of a hard-to-swallow defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Minnesota Vikings are heading into a must-win game against the Seattle Seahawks that could make or break their season.
Currently standing at 5-3, the Vikings are sitting pretty at second place in the NFC North with the possibility of a Wild Card spot in the playoffs still a realistic option for their future. Falling to 5-4 with the 5-3 Green Bay Packers nipping at their heels, though, could bring a swift end to their hopes of sniffing the postseason.
That is why a win against the Seahawks is so crucial. If they hope to put another notch in the win column and keep their impressive 2012 season going, though, they’ll need to get through Seattle’s sneaky offense and stout defense.
The biggest threat that the Seahawks offense has to offer is running back Marshawn Lynch. One of the NFL’s best ball-carriers, Lynch brings a constant home-run threat to the field that the Vikings will have to account for on every play. Look at it this way: there’s only one running back that has more rushing yards this season than Lynch, and he’s a Viking. The Seattle workhorse is a menace, and seeing as Minnesota only offers the No. 16 run defense in the league, things could get ugly on the ground. The fact that they won’t be overly worried about the pass should allow the Vikings to play more defenders close to the line to slow down Lynch and the ground game.
What could work out in the Vikings’ favor, though, is the Seahawks lackluster passing attack. Although rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has played admirably this season, the production has been subpar at best. The Seahawks boast the No. 31 passing offense in the league, managing only 171 yards per game. That’s a great matchup for the Vikings, whose upgraded pass defense is ranked No. 12 in 2012. Expect pass rushers Jared Allen and Brian Robison to get after Wilson and force the youngster to make mistakes.
Last week, Allen gave the Vikings defense life. If they hope to keep the running game contained and Wilson on his heels, they’ll need to feed off of his energy and play like every down is their last.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Vikings are going to need some improved production from second-year quarterback Christian Ponder, who has been struggling as of late after a strong start to his sophomore season. Facing a talented Seattle secondary, though, he’ll need to be smart and avoid costly turnovers. Using all of his available options, including tight end Kyle Rudolph, will be crucial to Ponder’s success.
The reason the Vikings will have to rely on Ponder is the Seattle run defense, which is No. 5 in the league. Although Minnesota will likely go to league-leading running back Adrian Peterson early and often, it’s going to be tough sledding against a defensive front that is giving up a measly 84.9 rushing yards per game in 2012.
The intriguing matchup to watch for will be former Vikings wide receiver Sidney Rice going up against cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Josh Robinson. Rice has been somewhat ineffective this season, but should be looking to show up his former team. Expect the Vikings, however, to provide help over the top with a safety and keep him contained.
The X-factor for the Vikings will be, as usual, Percy Harvin. With Harvin having already asserted himself as one of the most electrifying players in the NFL this season, expect the Minnesota coaching staff to build their offensive game plan around getting No. 12 the ball. Whether or not Harvin can turn some of his routine touches into touchdowns could be the deciding factor in what’s sure to be a close game.
With two strong defenses facing two inconsistent offensive attacks, this battle between the Vikings and Seahawks could turn into a low-scoring, last-drive kind of affair. Assuming that Ponder can deliver a quality outing, though, the Vikings should find a way to come out on top.
My prediction: Vikings win 20-17