The Vikings have finally once again asserted themselves as the best team in the NFC North, after a marque victory over the Green Bay Packers. The one thing to keep in mind with their win, is that this Packers team is nowhere near the caliber it has been in previous years, with their struggles to get any semblance of a passing game started. One team that has absolutely no problems in the passing game lately is the team they are meeting in the Wildcard Round, the Seattle Seahawks, led by a Russell Wilson, who has posted a 132.8 passer rating over the past seven weeks (per ESPN).
There will be a number of key match-ups to look at during this game, which occur all over the field on both sides of the ball. Comparisons between the sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with an elite-looking Russell Wilson must be made, along with one between two great RBs of this generation, the legendary Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch who is finally returning to the field for the playoffs. How these players execute against two strong defenses will be major factors in deciding the game.
Russell Wilson in the past few games lost the ability to rely on his workhorse Marshawn Lynch and the impressive UDFA rookie RB Thomas Rawls. This only allowed Wilson to throw even more, which allowed Doug Baldwin to make huge plays and end the regular season tied for most receiving TDs in the league (per ESPN). As Wilson becomes an even more proficient passer with guys like Baldwin, the always-impressive Jimmy Graham, and the impressive rookie Tyler Lockett, who was the highest rated rookie receiver the second half of the season (per PFF), this passing offense is incredibly dangerous.
The Vikings passing offense on the other hand is not nearly as impressive, and the most surprising part of that is they pass just as much as the Seahawks. Teddy had a 65.3% completion percentage on 447 attempts, compared to Wilson’s 68.1% on 483 attempts, but Teddy accounted for 800 less passing yards and 20 less TDs. Both of these teams put most of their work in through the running game, but when it comes time to rely on your quarterback to make plays it seems Teddy is nowhere near as efficient as Wilson. This is expected when you have a future HOF back running for you in Adrian Peterson, but this is something the Seahawks will most likely plan for, and rely on the skills of their secondary to lock up all of Teddy’s options.
When looking at Marshawn’s stats on this season they are relatively unimpressive, with 3.8 average yards/carry on 111 carries, and he hasn’t even played since November 15. But keeping this injury-riddled year aside, Lynch has always been one to put the Seahawks on his back, especially during the playoffs. We can’t expect much from Lynch in his first game back in almost two months, but Seahawks fans can hope having him back on the field will have an immediate impact for a roster of athletes who are always very vocal about the respect they have for him.
Adrian Peterson is arguably carrying the torch as this generation’s best RB since LaDainian Tomlinson left the league, and he is putting up huge stats this year after not being able to play for the majority of last season. Having close to 70% of his team’s total rushing attempts shows that the Vikings’ offense relies heavily on Peterson to do his thing and make plays to keep the team in games. He’s racked up close to 1500 yards and 11 TDs during the regular season, but the Seahawks have the top ranked rushing defense in the league to try and keep AP in check during their match-up.
The Seattle Seahawks have the number two defense in the league, only slightly behind the absolutely dominant defense of the Denver Broncos. More important than being the number two overall-ranked defense is that Seattle has the top-ranked rushing defense in the league, allowing only 81.5 rushing yards/game (per ESPN). This is the most important key in stopping Adrian Peterson and ultimately slowing down the entire Vikings offense.
The key to the Vikings’ defense slowing down Seattle this weekend is to get pressure on Russell Wilson quickly, and not allow him to do what the Seahawks are best at, scrambling. The pass rushers of Minnesota have to get to him quick and not allow him to make throws on short routes, which is what has made the Seattle passing game to successful over the second half of the regular season.
Players To Watch
For the Seahawks look to the RBs besides Marshawn Lynch to make a splash in this game. Christine Michael put up some pretty good stats against a strong Cardinals defense this past week as the lead back. This means that while the Vikings concentrate on stopping Lynch, Michael may be able to get some decent runs. If the Seahawks can control the tempo through their running game, Russell Wilson will have that much easier of a time making big pass plays against the Viking’s average secondary.
Though I just said that the running game will be the most important part of the Seahawks’ offense this week, stopping Wilson from making quick passes will makes the Vikings defense look much better than it is. The constant pressure put on Rodgers stopped him from making the comeback in week 17, so players like Tom Johnson and Everson Griffen who combined for 11 hurries, 4 hits and 3 sacks on Rodgers will be the key for the Vikings to survive and give the offense a chance to win the game for them.
Final Prediction: Seahawks Win
Photo Credit: http://www.seahawks.com/news/2014/12/23/bobby-wagner-earns-overdue-pro-bowl-recognition