SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (10-6) at MINNESOTA VIKINGS (11-5)
10 a.m. Sunday, TCF Bank Stadium TV: Ch. 5 Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM
Russell Wilson had the best regular season any Seahawks QB has ever had, and one of the best latter halves of a season in NFL history. He’s the first to throw for 4,000 yards, rush for 500 yards and throw for at least 30 touchdowns in a season. Teddy Bridgewater had just 99 yards passing last week in Minnesota’s win at Green Bay. No one in the league throws down the field less.
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Marshawn Lynch was about to start his first game in nearly two months after abdominal surgery — until he decided Friday he couldn’t play. So it’s Christine Michael, Bryce Brown and Fred Jackson to run on a frigid day conducive to more rushing. Adrian Peterson won the NFL rushing title at age 30 with 1,485 yards. He says Lynch is the league’s second-best runner — behind himself, of course.
Doug Baldwin went nuts over the last half of the season, finishing with a Seahawks-record 14 touchdown catches to tie for the NFL lead. Jermaine Kearse has been big in the playoffs. Rookie Tyler Lockett is an emerging, deep-threat star. Stefon Diggs led Minnesota with 52 catches. But the Vikings’ receivers don’t control games. Jarius Wright said after Minnesota’s 38-7 loss to Seattle on Dec. 6 “we were kind of embarrassed.”
Jimmy Graham is out for the year from knee surgery and the Seahawks’ No. 2, Luke Willson, may not play because of a concussion. So it’s Cooper Helfet, usual fullback Will Tukuafu and recently re-signed Chase Coffman as Seattle’s fill-ins. Kyle Rudolph is the Vikings’ top touchdown receiver and one of the better tight ends in the league.
The unit that U-turned Seattle’s season from disaster. LT Russell Okung comes back from a calf strain and RG J.R. Sweezy returns from a concussion. Center Patrick Lewis has been a revelation. Four different Vikings blockers allowed sacks when the teams met a month ago. Minnesota’s line is maligned, but its 45 sacks allowed is one fewer than Seattle’s surrendered.
Michael Bennett, playing with a painful, gnarly, big toe on his right foot, Cliff Avril and rookie Frank Clark steamrolled Minnesota’s line last month. Tackles Brandon Mebane and Ahtyba Rubin are key to controlling Peterson and the Vikings’ run game again. End Everson Griffen leads the Vikings with 10 1/2 sacks. Anchor tackle Linval Joseph is back from the injury that kept him out of the first meeting. Minnesota’s line had eight sacks in two games last month.
Seattle’s middle man Bobby Wagner is in the Pro Bowl again, but weakside LB K.J. Wright had the more dynamic season and should be there, too. Bruce Irvin has played more LB than rush end lately on passing downs. These could be his last Seahawks games. Anthony Barr is Minnesota’s playmaker here. He got hurt in the last meeting.
The Seahawks’ vaunted “Legion of Boom” has struggled with deep passes, especially down the middle to tight ends. But the release of former starter Cary Williams and change to Jeremy Lane and DeShawn Shead has steadied the back end. Strong safety Kam Chancellor returns from missing three games with a bruised tailbone. Harrison Smith is the key Vikings defender. He is aggressive against the run and prominent against the pass. He also got hurt in last month’s Seattle win in Minneapolis.
Tyler Lockett’s returns often change Seahawks games. Steven Hauschka last weekend missed just his second field goal in 44 tries through last postseason. He’s missed four extra points at the league’s longer distance this season. Cordarrelle Patterson returned a kickoff 101 yards for Minnesota’s only score last month against Seattle. The Vikings’ Blair Walsh has rebounded from having the league’s lowest field-goal percentage last season to its most makes this season (34). He’s made 12 in a row.
Pete Carroll is 7-3 in the playoffs leading Seattle, with a Super Bowl title and a player-fun way like none other in the NFL. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, getting huge credit for Seattle’s record-breaking offense, called Minnesota’s plays from 2006-10. This is Mike Zimmer’s second season and first playoff game as a head coach for Minnesota (18-14), after 14 seasons as a defensive coordinator for Dallas, Atlanta and Cincinnati. Norv Turner is the Vikings’ run-first offensive coordinator.
The expected near-zero temperatures and Minnesota’s defense having four starters healthy that were hurt the last time these teams played means Seattle won’t pile up yards and points at will again this time. Expect the Vikings to run Peterson far more, even if the Seahawks are stopping him. But Seattle’s defense has thrived making one-sided offenses like Minnesota decisively one-dimensional. The Seahawks will do it again.