The Seahawks are in the playoffs. Forget everything you know about the regular season. Teams are different now – more invigorated, motivated, and destined to reach sports' largest stage. With a win against the Cardinals and a Packers loss – the Seahawks are headed to the subzero Minnesota tundra to square off against the Vikings. Recent weather predictions have game temperatures at a high of 0 degrees and a wind chill of -10 to -15 degrees. According to local Minnesota weather agencies, there is also a very low chance of snow – below 10% (that’s good news!).
This game is going to be cold. Really cold. The cold will make the ball harder to catch, players harder to tackle, and the ball harder to throw. The last time the Seahawks matched up with the Vikings, Minnesota was down their three best defensive starters (for most of the game, if not all the game). Linval Joseph, their best run defender, was ruled out before game time. Anthony Barr, their stud linebacker, left the game early. And lastly, Harrison Smith – their primary safety – experienced an injury in the first couple drives of the game. This time around, all three of these defensive players for the Vikings are slated to start. The Vikings will be at full strength – and it looks like the Seahawks will be too.
As of Wednesday (and when I’m writing this), Marshawn Lynch, Russell Okung, J.R. Sweezy, and Luke Willson all seem to be practicing in full. Jeremy Lane also appears to becoming back after being knocked out of last week’s game. This is phenomenal news for the Seahawks – as they seem to be getting healthy at just the right time.
Per Football Outsiders, Seattle has a 15% chance to win the Super Bowl. Vegas, on the other hand, gives Seattle a 5-1 ratio to win the Super Bowl. Those chances will undoubtedly rise with a win over the Vikings.
Without further ado, let’s dive in to three things to watch.
Teddy and the short passing game
Let’s just call it as it is: the Vikings’ offensive line sucks. As a result, Teddy is pressured on nearly 50% of drop backs – the most in the NFL. Due to their lapses in pass protection, plays are not able to develop and Teddy is not given enough time to complete passes to his receivers. Thus, explosive and deep plays are not frequent occurrences for the Vikings’ offense.
This is not a good matchup for Minnesota – as Seattle bolsters one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. Seattle is excellent at both stopping the run and putting pressure on the quarterback. Norv Turner, the Vikings’ Offensive Coordinator, will be forced to dial up quick pass plays to avoid the Seahawks’ pass rush. Pay close attention to Norv’s play calling and rhythm he tries to establish in getting the ball out quickly.
The Beast is back.... and I couldn’t be more stoked. However, this offense is clearly different now. I believe this team has undergone a shift in their offensive identity throughout this season – and whom they rely on. They were once a team carried by BeastMode, but are now a team carried by their young franchise quarterback – Russell Wilson. I am fascinated to see how Lynch assimilates back into the offense – and how Russell responds. I found what Tom Cable said the other day to be extremely fascinating:
"It's for him to come back in and be able to adapt to this football team and the way it acts and the way it's moving right now collectively."
"Adapt". Hmmmm. Let me be very clear: I don’t believe having Lynch back hurts the Seahawks. He’s just another nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators to worry about.
On the season, Lynch has 111 carries for 417 yards – good enough for 3.76 yards per carry. However, playoffs are where Lynch has made his money. Get ready for the return of the beast.
Russell Wilson is the hottest quarterback in the NFL. No one is playing close to his level. No one. ESPN’s Sheil Kapadia provides us with stats to paint the picture:
Russell Wilson's final 7 games: 71% completions, 8.8 YPA, 24 TDs, 1 INT. Passer rating of 132.8. Historic stretch.— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) January 4, 2016
In Seattle’s regular-season game against the Vikings, RW went 21 of 27 for 274 yards, 3 touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Russell ended the game with a 146.0 passer rating – one of the best of his career. Despite the extreme weather and the return of several key Vikings’ defensive starters, I believe Russell will have another career game on Sunday.