The Seahawks have been playing well for at least the last month or so, and are on a 3-game win streak with narrow victories over the Packers and Panthers before blowing out the hapless 49ers last weekend at home.
Century Link field, home of the 12th man, is also a tough venue for opposing teams to venture and come away with a win. Russell Wilson, like Tom Brady, has never lost to the Vikings. Wilson also has a winning percentage around .750 in home games, and in December, and on Monday night.
A big part of the reason he hasn’t lost to the Vikings in three matchups is because his average QB rating against the Vikings has been a whopping 142.0, with 8 TDs and no interceptions.
And yet, despite the Vikings not having played their best recently, and playing a good Seahawks team with one of the best QBs in the league on the road in prime time, I suspect this is a game the Vikings will win.
The Vikings are like that. But it’s also about the match-up. Let’s have a look.
Vikings Defense vs. Seahawks Offense
Russell Wilson, for all the fanfare and current 115.5 passer rating on the season (career high), he still only averages 226 passing yards a game. He’s only had one game this year where he’s thrown for over 300 yards. He has spread the ball around a lot - with his top receiver Tyler Lockett getting only 18% of his targets. But the main thing is he’s been able to pass for money - 29 TDs - 8.9% of his attempts- and only 5 interceptions.
But one of the reasons Wilson hasn’t had a lot of passing yards is because the Seahawks haven’t had a decent offensive line in many years, and this year is no different. Worse, they just lost their best pass-blocking guard in DJ Fluker during the 49ers game last weekend, and he is unlikely to play against the Vikings on Monday. Russell Wilson, despite his Tarkenton-esque scrambling ability, has been sacked 37 times through 12 games - about 3 times a game.
The other reason Wilson doesn’t pass for a lot of yards is because the Seahawks run the ball a lot- more than any team in the league. The Seahawks lead the league in both rushing attempts and rushing yards, despite not having a top 10 rusher. They go with a committee approach led by Chris Carson with just over 700 rushing yards and a 4.5 yard/attempt average.
In general the Seahawks have gotten their yards rushing despite their offensive line, which Pro Football Focus (PFF) ranks only 28th in the league. Instead they have relied on the elusiveness and breakaway ability of their running backs. That suggests the Vikings will need to tackle well to prevent a strong rushing game from the Seahawks.
So, for the Vikings defense to stop the Seahawks, they will need to both stop the run and prevent Russell Wilson from passing for TDs. And this is where they match-up well. The Vikings have allowed the fewest passing TDs in the league this year, and are 5th best in average rushing yards per attempt. The Vikings defense is the top-ranked in tackling in the league this season by PFF. In terms of advantage in the trenches in the running game, PFF gives the Vikings defensive front the biggest advantage of any team playing this week.
In terms of situational football, the Vikings also have the best defense on 3rd down and 2nd best in the red zone this season. Moreover, they have been trending in the right direction in red zone attempts allowed per game - allowing only 2.3 per game over the last three games. The Seahawks are ranked 19th on 3rd down and 8th in the red zone this season, and have averaged 3.3 red zone attempts per game (14th in the league).
The other thing in terms of the Vikings - Seahawks match-up is turnovers. Looking at Seattle’s wins and losses this year, they have won only one game when they’ve tied or lost the turnover battle - a narrow victory over the Packers at home. Turnovers have always been an important factor in who wins in the NFL, but for the Seahawks this season even more so. They’ve need to win - not just tie - in the turnover battle to win the game.
This is where the Vikings need to be careful with the ball. Both teams are similar in takeaways per game, but the Seahawks have the fewest giveaways in the league, averaging 0.8 per game, with only 4 turnovers in the past 10 games, and six games with no turnovers. The Vikings by contrast have averaged 1.5 turnovers per game.
Overall the Seahawks average turnover margin per game is +0.9 - tied for 2nd best in the league. The Vikings turnover margin is +0.1 per game.
But as impressive as the Seahawks turnover stats have been over the past 10 games - Wilson has just two interceptions and the Seahawks have lost just two fumbles - those are the kind of stats that are difficult to sustain. Seattle has averaged 1.1 turnovers per game for several years now - a pretty low number - but having only 9 turnovers in 12 games and only 4 in the last 10 games - isn’t likely to continue.
The Vikings simply need to take care of the ball against a Seattle defense that hasn’t made a living on generating takeaways - with only one in the entire month of November before having three against the hapless 49ers last weekend.
Vikings Offense vs. Seattle Defense
Seattle had a dominant defense for many years, but the loss of most of the key players in the Legion of Boom has brought them down from a top 3 defense to a top 10 one. But they have given up 408 yards a game on average since their bye-week. And while the Seahawks have allowed an average of 3.3 red zone attempts per game, that trend has been worsening in recent games - allowing 4.3 attempts per game over the past three games which is tied for worst in the league.
In general the Seahawks have relied on a bend-but-not-break defense to keep them in games. But against better offenses they’ve tended to give up more points - around 28 on average since their bye-week - 6 more points on average than the Vikings defense over the past three games against the Patriots, Packers and Bears.
In terms of match-ups, the Vikings offense is helped by the fact that the Seahawks’ pass rush isn’t that good overall - ranked 27th overall by PFF. That, combined with match-up advantages of Diggs and Thielen against the Seahawks secondary (which they didn’t have against the Patriots) and the passing game overall looks very advantageous for the Vikings.
In the run game, the Seahawks are ranked 13th overall against the run. The Vikings, however, are ranked only 28th in the league. This of course is in part because the Vikings don’t run the ball much - but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Vikings do run the ball more against the Seahawks - despite the match-up advantages in the passing game.
The big man on the Seahawks defense is Bobby Wagner - the best linebacker in the league this season. He can do it all. But beyond that there aren’t many match-up advantages for the Seahawks defensively. There should be opportunities in both the run and passing game against the Seahawks defense - the key will be converting in the red zone.
A weak Seahawks offensive line, made weaker by the loss of DJ Fluker, should allow the Vikings to pressure Russell Wilson with just four. I would not be surprised if Mike Zimmer employed a spy on Wilson as well. That should make life difficult for Wilson in the passing game.
Against the run, the Vikings remain a top defense against the run, and aren’t likely to lose the battle in the trenches. What remains is to tackle well (and they are ranked the best tackling defense in the league by PFF) to help stymie the Seahawks’ top rushing attack.
Offensively, the Seahawks are also weak in the trenches, and don’t have the top corners to match-up against Diggs and Thielen. That augers well for the Vikings passing game. But don’t be surprised if the Vikings go with a balanced attack and stay with the run game more than in the past (which isn’t hard to do). I expect at least 20 - 25 rush attempts by the Vikings on Monday night, and some good success against a Seahawks defense that’s allowed 5.1 yards per attempt.
That leaves turnovers. If the Vikings can eliminate any turnover advantage for the Seahawks, I expect their advantages on offense and defensive will be enough to beat Russell Wilson’s magic.
So, while the Seahawks appear to have the momentum and home field advantage, I like the Vikings to upset Seattle at home, and come away with a key win and advantage over Seattle in the playoff pecking order.