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Matchup Index: Vikings vs Seahawks Wildcard Weekend

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The Daily Norseman dives into the deep end of player statistics and team metrics to determine who has the matchup advantages between the Vikings and Seahawks in their wildcard playoff game.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

In dramatic fashion the Vikings finished the season at 11-5 and winners of the NFC North division, which means the season gets to continue!  As a division winner and the #3 overall seed in the NFC, the Vikings get to host the #6 seed in the upcoming Wildcard weekend, and that just so happens to be the Seattle Seahawks.  As most fans know we faced the Seahawks at home once already this season, and the Vikings came out flat in a very underwhelming performance.  It was a game that most fans would like to forget as the Seahawks completely controlled all phases of the game in a 38-7 blowout.

The Vikings haven't been to the playoffs since 2012 and this is only their second playoff appearance since the fabled Brett Favre 2009 season.  So this is a team that is largely inexperienced when it comes to the playoffs.  In fact, there are only 20 players (less than half) that are still with the team since that 2012 season.  Granted some of the veteran free agents we've brought in have had playoff experience, but as a team they are certainly less experienced than the Seahawks who have made the playoffs each of the last four seasons, including winning the Super Bowl in 2013.  This will be a tough matchup for the Vikings, so let's break it down.

Vikings Offense vs Seahawks Defense

The Vikings offense does one thing pretty well: run the ball.  We have the 7th best rushing offense according to Football Outsider's DVOA metrics.  Football Outsiders ranks our offensive line 10th best in "adjusted line yards" which tries to account for the amount of yards gained on rushing plays by the offensive line's run blocking.  In addition Adrian Peterson not only won the rushing title for most rushing yards this season, he averaged a respectable 4.5 yards per carry on the year, and our running backs as a whole ranked 4th best in yards generated according to Football Outsiders.

On the flipside, the Seahawks rush defense has been historically very good, and this past season was no exception.   They have the 4th best run defense according to Football Outsiders DVOA metric.  While their defensive line is ranked 12th best in adjusted line yards allowed, as a defense they allowed the fewest rushing yards per game of any team in the NFL this season (only 81.5).  In other words, their defense is built to counter the very thing our offense does the best.

The Vikings passing offense leaves a lot to be desired.  They averaged literally the fewest passing attempts in the NFL, which lead to them only racking up the 2nd fewest passing yards.  However, Teddy Bridgewater was a pretty efficient quarterback when he did throw the ball as our offense averaged 7.1 yards per attempt, 18th best on the year.  Teddy had an average QB rating of 88.7, but made plenty of plays with his legs, and was exceptional on third down and when facing pressure.  ESPN's Total QBR ranked Teddy 13th best among signal callers as a result.  The offensive line did him no favors though, as they were ranked 29th in pass protection with an 8.8% adjusted sack rating having allowed 45 sacks on the year (8 more than the league average).   In other words, the Vikings offense is a run-first style team that doesn't rely too much on the passing game, but it can be effective occasionally when needed.

On the flipside, the Seahawks passing defense is still very good.  With a secondary led by Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas they allowed the second fewest passing yards per game, and Football Outsiders ranked them 6th best in passing defense DVOA.  Opposing quarterbacks only averaged a 78.1 passer rating when facing the Seahawks this season as well.  Their defensive line is surprisingly ranked only 15th best in adjusted sack rating, notching only 37 sacks on the year (league average).  The table below outlines some of the overall statistics the Vikings offense and Seahawks defense held during the regular season (overall ranks are in parenthesis to provide context).

Average Stats

Vikings Offense

Seahawks Defense

Points Per Game

22.8 (16th)

17.3 (1st)

Overall Yards per Game

321.2 (29th)

291.8 (2nd)

Rushing Yards per Carry

4.7 (3rd)

3.6 (3rd)

Passing Yards per Attempt

7.1 (18th)

6.6 (3rd)

3rd Down Conversion %

38% (19th)

34% (4th)

As you can see from the table, the Seahawks defensive rankings are equal to or better than every Vikings offensive ranking, giving them a sizable advantage.  So if the Seahawks can stifle Peterson and the Vikings rushing attack, they should be able to completely neutralize our offense.  And that is exactly what happened in the regular season when these two teams met in Week 13.  The Vikings offense managed only 125 yards of total offense, and was held to 31 rushing yards on 16 team attempts.  Peterson only saw 8 attempts, most of which came in the first half and he got only 18 yards (2.3 ypc).  The Vikings only points were from a kickoff return touchdown from Cordarrelle Patterson late in the 3rd quarter.  The Vikings are simply going to have to play better on offense than they did in Week 13 (and better than their season averages too) if they want to have a chance to win this playoff game.  The numbers suggest it will be an uphill climb on offense, and the evidence is certainly there from the last time these two teams met.  Hopefully Norv Turner and Mike Zimmer have some creative answers for beating this formidable Seahawks defense.

Vikings Defense vs Seahawks Offense

The Seahawks offense has been clicking as of late, which is a little surprising given that Marshawn Lynch has missed the last 7 games, and even his backup Thomas Rawls has missed the last three games.  In addition their big off-season acquisition, Jimmy Graham, is on IR having not played the past 4 games.  No matter, Russell Wilson stepped up in a big way connecting with Doug Baldwin for 724 yards and 12 touchdowns in their past 8 games.

On the whole the Seahawks passing offense is ranked 3rd best in the NFL according to Football Outsider's DVOA metrics.  They are averaging 8.3 yards per pass attempt, 2nd best in the NFL and Wilson has the best passer rating in the NFL this season at 110.1.  The Seahawks have traditionally been a run-first team, but with Lynch and Rawls out they turned to Wilson to lead the team and he has been more than up for the challenge.  In fact, Football Outsiders ranks Wilson as their 3rd best quarterback in DYAR (Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement).  All that said, Wilson is getting it done primarily on his own, as the Seahawks offensive line is ranked near the bottom in adjusted sack rating from Football Outsiders having allowed 46 sacks (1 more than the Vikings).  Regardless, any way you slice it this Seattle passing attack is very good.

On the other side of the ball, the Vikings passing defense is pretty average, ranked 12th in passing yards allowed per game and 15th in yards per attempt allowed.  With a secondary led by Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes and Terrance Newman, the Vikings defense allows a passer rating of 90.0 ranked 15th best, which again all suggests a rather average passing defense.  Football Outsiders ranks our passing defense 11th best in their DVOA metric, so perhaps we're a little better than the traditional stats would lead us to believe.  Our defensive line is very good ranked 10th best in Football Outsiders adjusted sack rating.

The Seahawks calling card the past few seasons has been their rushing attack, and this season has been no exception despite the injuries to Lynch and Rawls.  The Seahawks average the 3rd best rushing yards per game (1 spot higher than Minnesota), but are doing so with quite a few more attempts.  They average a respectable 4.5 yards per carry, ranked 7th best.  They have a great run blocking offensive line that is ranked 4th best in Football Outsiders adjusted line yards, which again, quantifies the rushing yards attributed to offensive line's run blocking.

The Vikings run defense has been improved from last year, but is still not an elite unit.  They allowed an average of 109.2 rushing yards per game (17th best) and 4.3 yards per carry (21st best).  Football Outsiders ranks our run defense only 18th best in DVOA and our defensive line is ranked only 24th best in adjusted line yards allowed.  In other words, this Vikings run defense is beatable.  The table below outlines some of the overall game statistics in how our defense stacks up against the Seahawks offense.

Average Stats

Vikings Defense

Seahawks Offense

Points Per Game

18.9 (5th)

26.4 (4th)

Overall Yards per Game

344.2 (13th)

378.6 (4th)

Rushing Yards per Carry

4.3 (21st)

4.5 (7th)

Passing Yards per Attempt

7.2 (15th)

8.3 (2nd)

3rd Down Conversion %

34% (5th)

46% (4th)

Like the other table above, the Seahawks offense is formidable, besting the Viking defense in overall rankings in every category.  While their rankings are certainly close in points per game and 3rd down conversion, this Seahawks offense appears to have a significant advantage against our defense.  In our first meeting, the Seahawks generated 433 total yards and Thomas Rawls and Russell Wilson went wild combining for 152 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, with Wilson adding on another 274 passing yards and three touchdowns through the air.  Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett caught 184 combined receiving yards with Baldwin hauling in two touchdowns.  Their offense completely steam-rolled our defense.  Granted, we were without three key defenders as Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr and Linval Joseph were all out by the 2nd series of the game.  So it's possible that our defense can do a better job of containing Russell Wilson and taking advantage of their poor pass blocking to collect a few sacks.  But even with all those starters back in the lineup, our defense is going to have to play much, much better this time around, and better than their season averages too.

So where does all of this leave us?  Well, I've decided to break it all down for you in yet another chart, because there can never be enough charts.

Matchup Index

Phase of Game

Advantage

Vikings Run Offense vs Seahawks Run Defense

Seattle Seahawks

Vikings Pass Offense vs Seattle Pass Defense

Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks Run Offense vs Vikings Run Defense

Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks Pass Offense vs Vikings Pass Defense

Seattle Seahawks

Overall Advantage

Seattle Seahawks


In looking at all of the efficiency metrics and overall team statistics, this looks like a very bad matchup for the Vikings on paper.  The Seahawks are a team that is built just like the Vikings with one big difference: their passing offense is light-years ahead of ours, and they do everything else we do better than us.  The Seahawks are the favored team to win as Vegas has given them a 5.5 point spread (which is the highest of the four wildcard games this weekend).  I'd love to put on my purple glasses and say that this team has as good a chance as any playoff team to make it to the Super Bowl, but it's really tough to believe that, especially with the way the Seahawks completely dominated us the first time around.  I think our defense can do a better job than the last time with them being more healthy, and perhaps our offense finds a spark or two that wasn't there in the game earlier in the year.  But, I still expect the Seahawks to be in control most of the game and beat the Vikings this weekend by a score of....lets say, 27-13.