Playoff stakes high as Vikings travel to Seahawks
By Tim Booth
AP Sports Writer
SEATTLE (AP) — With where both the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks sit in the NFC standings, Monday night’s matchup might as well carry a playoff title.
NFC play-in game? NFC elimination game?
“I think going on the road with that crowd and the type of football team that they are, I think yeah, a little bit. These next four games will determine what we do and where we go and how we perform in the clutch. Yeah, I guess you could say that,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.
The Seahawks (7-5) host the Vikings (6-5-1) in a meeting filled with playoff implications. The Seahawks won’t be able to catch the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC West, but their three-game win streak has them sitting in the No. 5 spot in the NFC playoff picture going into the final quarter of the season, with three of their final four games at home.
It’s far from a foregone conclusion Seattle is headed to the postseason after missing the playoffs last year. But a win over the Vikings would be a huge step in locking up a postseason berth.
“Keeping your head down and grinding is really what it’s all about at this point,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “We’re upbeat and we’re positive. We know that we can win every game and we’re going out to get that done.”
If the Vikings want a chance at catching Chicago in the NFC North race, a win in Seattle is almost a must. Far easier said than done, especially when it comes to night games. Seattle is 15-2 at home in Thursday, Sunday or Monday night games dating to Carroll’s arrival in 2010.
Minnesota is currently in the No. 6 spot in the NFC and its tie earlier this season against Green Bay could end up being a hindrance — or a benefit. The Vikings are a half-game ahead of Philadelphia, Washington and Carolina entering the week.
“It’s big. It’s very big. It’s a road game. We want to go out there and put a full game together as a whole team on the road,” Vikings RB Dalvin Cook said. “This is another game to go out there and do that to show that we’re still in this thing. We’re still fighting. We’ve got to just put it together.”
Here’s what else to watch as the teams face for the first time since the 2015 NFC wild-card game:
Is anyone going to be able to slow down the efficiency of Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson?
Through 12 games, Wilson has 29 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He’s thrown at least two TD passes in eight straight games and 11 of 12 this season. Last week against San Francisco, Wilson had three touchdowns passes on four completions in the first half.
And it’s not just underneath throws or short passes that are turning into touchdowns. Wilson has six TD tosses of 30 or more yards.
“He is moving around a little bit. The guys take off. They are second in the league in red-zone touchdown percentage,” Zimmer said. “A lot of that has been obviously they run the ball well. He moves in the pocket and guys get open. They’ve had some guys where they had been pretty open, too.”
Minnesota’s Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are the only receiver duo in the NFC each with more than 80 catches. Thielen has 98 receptions and Diggs has 84. They’ll be facing a pass defense that has been struggling of late, allowing 315 yards per game passing over the past three weeks.
Revenge might be a strong word, but Minnesota defensive tackles Sheldon Richardson and Tom Johnson might have a little bit more incentive for the game. Richardson played for Seahawks last season before signing with Minnesota in free agency. Seattle couldn’t match the money offered by the Vikings, so Richardson found a new home in Minnesota.
Johnson’s situation is a bit stranger. He signed as a free agent with Seattle during the offseason with the intent of being part of the defensive line rotation. He started Week 1 with Seattle, then was released before the Week 2 game at Chicago because of Seattle’s need for a roster spot. The Seahawks believed they would be able to re-sign him the following week, but Johnson chose to return to Minnesota and rejoin the Vikings, the team he had spent the previous four seasons with.
Johnson has played in nine games with the Vikings and has 3 ½ sacks.
Carroll already owns the team record for most victories, regular season and playoffs combined. He can claim the franchise record for most regular-season wins with his next victory. Carroll is currently tied with Mike Holmgren for the top spot with 86 regular-season wins.
Asked if he had a regular season win that stuck out, Carroll immediately went to a 2012 overtime victory at Chicago. It was the start of a five-game win streak to close the regular season that got Seattle into the playoffs.
“We haven’t been the same since,” Carroll said.