8:15 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Seahawks -3, Over/Under: 50
A potential Playoff Preview is on tap as the schedule transitions into December, with the Seattle Seahawks playing host to the Minnesota Vikings from CenturyLink Field in Seattle Washington, in matchup featuring a pair of NFC Powerhouses. While they may not immediately come to mind in regard’s to the NFC’s many elite teams, the Vikings (8-3, 2nd in NFC North) are lurking as a legitimate dark horse within the Playoff Field, and given their remaining schedule, they could very well shed that label en route to the Postseason. After tonight’s affair in Seattle, three of Minnesota’s final four games are at home, where they have yet to lose in 2019 (5-0), with each of those outings coming against the rest of their Division, which is key given their standing at the moment. With Green Bay’s loss at San Francisco last Sunday Night, their lead in the North became even more precarious, with a 21-16 victory back in Week Two against the Vikings at Lambeau Field serving as the tiebreaker. However, this has been a very different team than the one that stumbled to a 2-2 record earlier in the campaign, for Mike Zimmer’s charges have absolutely taken off following their newfound balance on Offense. Last season, the Offense struggled to find any semblance of balance let alone an identity in Kirk Cousins’ (70.6%, 2,756 YDS, 7.60 NY/A, 21 TD, 3 INT, 64.3 QBR) first season as the club’s Starting Quarterback. Cousins, of course, arrived to much fanfare following the completion of a three-year, fully-guaranteed contract, which was the first of it’s kind in NFL History. With that said, the Offensive Line struggled, and as a result the Running Game deteriorated, leading to Zimmer making a change at Offensive Coordinator, elevating Kevin Stefanski, who had previously coached a variety of different positions on the team, including Tight Ends, Running Backs, and most notably Quarterbacks. A solid finish saw him keep the job heading into 2019, with the mandate of reinvigorating the ground game, which he’s absolutely accomplished; Minnesota Fourth Overall in Rushing Yards (142.5), Rushing Attempts (31.3), and Rushing Touchdowns (14), with Dalvin Cook (214 CAR, 1,017 YDS, 4.8 Y/C, 11 TD) ranking third in the league with 92.5 Rushing yards per Game. However, as we stated earlier, though they came out the gates running with full head of steam, the passing game suffered, and wasn’t until after a dreadful 6-16 loss at the Chicago Bears that the necessary changes were made, with Cousins coming under intense criticism by not only the media, but by his own teammates, particularly Pro-Bowl Receivers, Stefon Diggs (46 REC, 880 YDS, 19.1 Y/R, 5 TD) and Adam Thielen (27 REC, 391 YDS, 14.5 Y/R, 6 TD). Though that could have poisoned the chemistry for many teams, it served as the crucible for change for Cousins and the Passing Game, for since that loss to the Bears, they’ve been flying high; the Vikings have averaged 29.3 Points per Game on 409.6 Total Yards, including 274.4 Yards through the air, which is an exponential increase from the 21.0 Points, 324.3 Total Yards, and 169.0 Passing Yards they managed to post in the first four games of the term. Cousins’ improvement has been startling, completing 73.3% of his Attempts for an average of 288.6 Passing Yards on 8.69 Net Yards per Attempt, with Eighteen Touchdowns in comparison to only One Interception. When we last saw them, Minnesota rallied back from a slow start at home against the Denver Broncos, erasing a 20-Point Halftime Deficit en route to capturing a 27-23 victory, becoming the first team in the league to accomplish that feat in five years. After failing to click throughout the First Half, punting on their five of their first six possessions, the hosts caught fire after Intermission, outscoring the visitors 27-3 over the final thirty minutes of play. The Vikings cut the deficit to three points as Cousins hit Diggs for a 54-Yard Touchdown early in the Fourth Quarter and took the lead on the following drive as the veteran Signal-Caller found Tight End, Kyle Rudolph (29 REC, 251 YDS, 8.7 Y/R, 5 TD), for a 32-Yard Strike. With that said, the affair was far from over as Denver drove all the way down to the home side’s 4-Yard Line, failing to complete three consecutive Passes, as Minnesota’s vaunted Defense stiffened in the Red Zone. In the end, Zimmer’s troops turned in one of their most uneven performances of the season, amassing just 321 Total Yards on Nineteen First Downs, including a season-low Thirty-Seven Rushing Yards, only possessed the football for a scant 23:17, while losing a pair of Fumbles. Cousins had his ups and downs, completing 29-of-35 Passes for 319 Yards and Three Touchdowns, but was sacked five times, hit six more, losing a fumble in what was a miserable First Half of play. With Thielen out for the second straight week due to a tender Hamstring, Diggs exploded for 121 Yards and a Touchdown on Five Receptions, while Rudolph added another Sixty-Seven yards and a score on just as many Catches. There’s no doubt that the Bye Week came at the right time, for with Pro-Bowl Safety, Harrison Smith (61 TKL, 1 TFL, 2 QBH, 1.0 SK, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 INT, 7 PD), exiting the contest with a strained Hamstring of his own, the Vikings growing list of Starters on the mend has become rather worrisome; in addition to Smith and Thielen, Right Guard, Josh Kline (Concussion), Nose Tackle, Linval Joseph (Knee), and Free Safety, Anthony Harris (Groin), were all on the mend.
Meanwhile, there’s another dark horse in the NFC who isn’t far away from establishing themselves as a bonafide contender for the Lombardi Trophy, and that’s the Seahawks (9-2, 2nd in NFC West), who are lurking to overtake the surging San Francisco 49ers for the NFC West lead. In fact, prior to Sunday, Seattle was the only team thus far to have dealt the Niners a defeat in 2019, outlasting them in a Monday Night thriller three weeks ago, 27-24. While many felt that this would indeed be a rebuilding year for one of the more consistent clubs in the league, Pete Carroll’s charges have proven their doubters flat-out wrong, for at 9-2, they’re off to their best start since 2013, in which they secured the franchise’s only Super Bowl Championship. After coming to agreement on a mammoth four-year, $140 million contract including $107 million in guarantees, the faithful in the pacific northwest will be happy to know that Russell Wilson (67.3%, 2,937 YDS, 7.10 NY/A, 24 TD, 3 INT, 73.3 QBR) has never looked better, playing at an MVP level this season. Indeed, the 31-Year Old has turned in some truly fine campaigns in the past, but his current run of form has really been something to behold. In 2019, Wilson is posting career-bests in a slew of categories, including Passing Yards (267.0), Interception Percentage (0.9%), Yards per Attempt (8.3), Net Yards per Attempt (7.10), Passer Rating (112.1), and QBR (73.3), all the while leading the league in Touchdown Passes (24), Fourth Quarter Comebacks (4), and Game-Winning Drives (5). Adding to that, few at his position are better at making plays with their feet, rushing for 271 Yards and another three scores on Fifty-Three Carries. It’s a bit odd to see a team that relied so much on their Defense in past years to evolve into an explosive Offense built around the exploits of their Quarterback, but that’s precisely what we’ve seen in Seattle, where Carroll along with General Manager, John Schneider, have authored the blueprint for how to rebuild on the fly while simultaneously tying down your Franchise Quarterback to a long-term contract. This has been the most prolific Passing Game that the club has had in ages, with the likes of speedster, Tyler Lockett (63 TKL, 831 YDS, 13.2 Y/R, 6 TD), and herculean Rookie, D.K. Metcalf (38 REC, 630 YDS, 16.6 Y/R, 5 TD), making a wealth of plays downfield, and now that a healthy Josh Gordon (23 REC, 324 YDS, 14.1 Y/R, 1 TD) has entered the mix, the options that Wilson has at his disposal have increased exponentially. However, despite all this talk of the explosive Offense, this is a team that continues to prove that it can still grind out games the old-fashioned way, which was the case in last weekend’s narrow 17-9 victory at the Philadelphia Eagles. In a game in which neither team managed to amass over 350 Total Yards, Carroll’s troops looked right at home, hammering the Eagles for a 174 Rushing Yards on Twenty-Six Carries, with former First Round Pick, Rashad Penny (), finally making an impact this season with a career-high 129 Yards on Fourteen Attempts, punctuated by the backbreaking 58-Yard Touchdown Run early in the fourth Quarter that broke the game wide open. An underachiever despite being selected No. 27 Overall in 2018, Penny crossed the 100-Yard Threshold for only the second time in his career last Sunday, and up until that point has only been averaging a paltry 23.9 Yards on 5.1 Carries per Contest. This was certainly an encouraging sign for not only the Front Office but for Carroll, who may now be able to count on another weapon in the Backfield to help alleviate some of the burden offensively when Wilson is having an off-game, which is what occurred at Lincoln Financial Field, with the five-time Pro-Bowler completing just 13-of-25 Passes for 200 Yards, a Touchdown and an Interception, while suffering Six Sacks, Eleven Hits, and a Lost Fumble. Thankfully, the Defense put together arguably it’s finest performance of the term, thoroughly vexing Philadelphia throughout the affair, relegating them to 344 Total Yards, 4-of-12 on Third Down, and forcing a season-high Five Turnovers. Indeed, Carson Wentz was under fire throughout the duration, suffering Three Sacks and Nine Hits, along with a pair of Interceptions and Lost Fumbles apiece, Unheralded Defensive Backs, Tre Flowers (56 TKL, 1 TFL, 1 QBH, 1.0 SK, 1 FR, 2 INT, 6 PD) and Bradley McDougald (43 TKL, 1 FF, 2 INT, 4 PD), each had an Interception, while Defensive Linemen, Ezekiel Ansah (14 TKL, 3 TFL, 5 QBH, 2.5 SK, 2 FF, 2 FR) and Rasheem Green (14 TKL, 2 TFL, 4 QBH, 3.0 SK, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 PD), combined for 2.5 Sacks and a pair of Forced Fumbles. While they’ve been a far cry from the Legion of Boom, it’s yet another encouraging sign for a Defense that has kept it’s opponent below Thirty Points and 350 Total Yards for the first time this season since early September. Tonight’s meeting with the Vikings will mark the second consecutive season in which they’ve met on Monday Night Football, with the Seahawks dumping them in a 21-7 victory at home, in which the hosts pummeled them on the ground to the tune of 214 Rushing Yards, offsetting a season-low Sixty Net Passing Yards. Wilson was far from effective, completing a meager 10-of-20 Passes for Seventy-Two Yards and an Interception, but rushed for Sixty-One Yards, while the aforementioned Penny added Forty-Four Yards on Eight Carries, though they would be led by Chris Carson (208 CAR, 879 YDS, 4.2 Y/C, 4 TD), who totaled Ninety and a Touchdown on Twenty-Two Attempts.