That the Vikings have been one of the most disappointing teams in the NFL so far this season isn’t exactly news at this point. As post-season hopes have faded, the season for fans has been more about individual player performances than championship prospects.
Starting the season 0-3, before beating an already defeated and winless Texans team that had lost faith in their head coach doesn’t really leave much hope for a post-season birth for the Vikings, let alone a deep playoff run.
But could beating the Seahawks turn the Vikings season around?
A Big Win Could Right the Ship
Setting aside for a minute the likelihood of the Vikings beating the Seahawks on Sunday night, beating the undefeated Seahawks in prime time could be a transformational win for the Vikings - giving them confidence and putting their ugly start further into the rear view mirror.
For a team with many young players that haven’t seen a lot of success so far, coming up with a big win against a contender in prime time would likely fill their sails- giving them the confidence that they can play and get it done against tough competition.
For the many veterans, including the coaching staff, beating the Seahawks would get a big bugaboo off their shoulders, as they’ve never beaten the Seahawks - even with better teams than they have at the moment. Bringing that tortuous losing streak to an end may provide some renewed vigor for the rest of the season, and some optimism that the post-season may not yet be out of reach.
It’s not unusual for a key win (or loss) to have an outsized impact on a season for an NFL team, particularly for a team dealing with key changes in their roster. Getting a win against a team they’ve lost to several times previously can’t help but lead to positive comparisons and more confidence, justified or not.
The big question is whether this Vikings team can actually beat the Seahawks, when previous teams haven’t, especially when the prospect looks no better, and probably worse.
What It Would Take to Beat the Seahawks
First and foremost, for the Vikings to beat the Seahawks, they need to at least match the Seahawks’ intensity and energy. In nearly all of the previous matchups in the Zimmer era, the Vikings have not been able to do that for 60 minutes, and more than once have come in particularly flat and uninspired.
Secondly, the Vikings’ defense would likely need to have their best performance of the season, in order to keep Russell Wilson and the Seahawks’ top offense in check. That would mean a step-up in performance from the Vikings’ secondary, improved run defense, and a solid performance by one or more pass-rushers, most likely Yannick Ngakoue.
Third, the Vikings offense will need to build and extend on the success they’ve had at times over the first four games, put up at least 30, and maybe over 40 points, to give them a chance to win.
In the course of accomplishing the above, the Vikings also need to win or tie the turnover battle, keep it close in terms of time of possession, and play a relatively clean game in terms of penalties.
It’s a tall order, and one that hardly any pundits, oddsmakers, prognosticators, or fans are expecting to be fulfilled.
Kirk Cousins outdueling Russell Wilson in primetime? LOL.
Why It Could Happen
A big reason why the Vikings could come away with a win Sunday night would be that they caught the Seahawks in a bit of a trap game. The Seahawks are riding high, 4-0, playing at home, Wilson has always been great in prime time games, and has played outstanding so far this year. They’re heading into a bye-week afterward, and they’re playing a diminished 1-3 Vikings team they’ve never lost to before. All that could cause them to come in a little blasé, or simply looking ahead to their bye-week and getting healthy again for the rest of the season.
Another reason it could happen is because the Seahawks’ pass defense isn’t good. In fact, it’s dead last in the league in terms of yards allowed, and 28th in yard per attempt allowed. The Seahawks are also 30th in 3rd down conversion % allowed, last in total yards allowed, 21st in points allowed, and 17th in red zone touchdown % allowed. The Seahawks’ PFF team pass rush grade is 31st in the league. The Vikings’ offense, and pass offense in particular, could have success against this defense.
Defensively, things could hinge on how well the Vikings’ defense holds up on 3rd down and in the red zone. Despite being terrible in most defensive metrics, the Vikings have managed to emerge as #2 in the league in 3rd down conversion % allowed, and red zone touchdown % allowed. The Seahawks’ offense is only ranked 23rd on 3rd downs, but is best in the league in the red zone. So, if the Vikings’ #2 red zone defense can stall the Seahawks’ #1 red zone offense half the time, or get off the field on 3rd down at their current clip, that could be enough with a good offensive performance to pick up a W.
Russell Wilson has been on-fire so far this season, coming in with a 136.7 passer rating. But against Mike Zimmer, Wilson has underperformed his average passer rating. Wilson’s combined passer rating against Mike Zimmer’s Vikings is 90.5, and in the last two matchups Wilson’s passer rating was 98.9 and 37.9 in 2019 and 2018 respectively. So, it’s not such a stretch to imagine Wilson has a bit of an off-game passing against the Vikings defense, and perhaps enough for the Vikings pick up an unexpected victory.
The injury situation is still fluid on both sides, but one player we know will be out (and not already on IR) is safety Jamal Adams for the Seahawks. That is a notable loss for the Seahawks D, as he has been a key element across the board - coverage, run defense, and as a pass rusher. The Seahawks have a long injury list, with a number of players either not practicing Wednesday, or limited, and with a bye-week ahead, the Seahawks could be looking more toward getting everyone healthy rather than risk aggravating an injury against the Vikings.
Lastly, while this is technically a road game at the Clink, traditionally one of the more difficult venues for road teams, that advantage has been somewhat neutered as the 12th man is MIA due to pandemic precautions. Not having their traditional home field advantage could make it more difficult, if the Seahawks come out a bit flat, to feed off the crowd’s energy.
The Vikings are 7 point underdogs against the Seahawks Sunday night, and not only are 99% picking the Seahawks to win, the vast majority (73%) are picking them to beat the spread as well. And why not: the Seahawks have beaten better Vikings teams by at least 7 points the last three regular season meetings.
But upsets happen every week, often multiple times, and so the Vikings slipping past the Seahawks isn’t out of the realm of possibilities, and may not even be all that noteworthy around the league in another month or so.
But for the Vikings, it could give them some well-needed street cred, and potentially even turn their season around.