Minnesota Vikings @ Seattle Seahawks: Must-win Monday Night Football match-up
Watch the Vikings @ Seahawks, live on Sky Sports Action from 1am on Tuesday
By Owen Davis
Last Updated: 11/12/18 5:58am
It's a must-win Monday Night Football for the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings as the two teams meet with NFC wild card places up for grabs.
Back in January 2016, the Vikings and Seahawks actually met in the NFC Wild Card round. It would be one of the most dramatic playoff games in recent history, played in agonisingly cold conditions of -22c.
The Vikings led 9-0 heading into the fourth quarter. They had failed to score a touchdown, relying solely on field goals from kicker Blair Walsh but, with just minutes to spare, Russell Wilson finally took Seattle into the endzone for the game's first touchdown. Then, Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson made a crucial fumble, eventually resulting in a Seattle field goal, and a 10-9 lead.
Minnesota were down, but still in it. Their struggling offense made it back into field goal range with only 25 seconds to go. From 27 yards, Walsh had the chance to win the game for the Vikings but, having been accurate all day, he finally lost his nerve. The kick sailed wide to the left. Seattle went through, Minnesota went home.
On Monday night, these sides meet at CenturyLink Field for the first time since that remarkable day. And while it is the regular season this time, the stakes remain very, very high.
To borrow a football term, this is a classic six-pointer. A win for either pushes them further towards the playoffs - and at their opponent's expense. And with just three games remaining after this, neither team wants to slip up.
What does the form book say? Well, the Seahawks come here in great shape. They have won three on the bounce, following up crucial wins over the Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers with a 43-16 thrashing of the San Francisco 49ers last week. The visiting Vikings, meanwhile, have lost two of their last three, including a limp 24-10 loss to the New England Patriots last time out.
That defeat continued a worrying trend for Minnesota - they've not beaten a side with a winning record this year and that needs to change on Monday.
Here's a look at the key areas where this game could be won and lost...
Dealing with Wilson
Even during the height of the Seahawks' success, there were some who doubted quarterback Russell Wilson. They saw him as merely a game manager, an almost peripheral figure who would protect the ball and occasionally produce a big play, but could not lead the offense consistently. The defense - the famous 'Legion of Boom' - were the stars, as was running back Marshawn Lynch.
It was an unfair assessment even then, and nothing could be further from the truth now. Simply put, Wilson is the man in Seattle. He has 29 passing touchdowns with just five interceptions in 2018, and ranks fourth in the league's passing rating - 115.5, a career high.
Here, he faces a Vikings defense that has been surprisingly mediocre this season. They have gone from first in points-per-game against last year to 14th this time out, and are giving up an extra 50 yards per game.
Nonetheless, the D still boast plenty of play-makers, from defensive end Danielle Hunter to free safety Harrison Smith. Their success at pressuring the Seattle offensive line, and getting to Wilson himself, will be key to slowing down Seattle's offense.
The Cousins-Thielen combo
The Vikings have plenty of offensive weapons, including wide receiver Stefon Diggs and sophomore running back Dalvin Cook, but their key players are undoubtedly QB Kirk Cousins and wideout Adam Thielen.
Minnesota saw Cousins as the missing piece of their Super Bowl puzzle when they signed him to a then-record $84m contract this summer. At times he has been excellent: ranking second for completion percentage and in the top 10 for both passing yards and touchdowns. His 350 completions leads the league too.
But the major doubt from his time with the Washington Redskins remains - can he win big games? He impressed with four touchdowns in the loss to the Los Angeles Rams in September, but then threw two interceptions in recent defeats to the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots. There is a lot of pressure on his shoulders.
His main target has been Thielen, one of the league's great success stories. His journey has been remarkable, going from undrafted wide receiver to an All-Pro level player. He equalled an NFL record this year following eight successive 100-yard receiving games, and has scored nine touchdowns to boot.
Expect these two to be right at the centre of the Minnesota offense here. If they can connect - and connect often - then the Vikings are well placed for a big game.
Seattle's rushing success
Despite the lack of a big-name running back, the Seahawks actually lead the league for rushing yards, averaging 148 yards per game. Part of that is due to sheer volume - they top the charts for the most rushes at 380 - and with a top 10 average of 4.7 yards per carry, Seattle's rushing attack is not to be taken lightly.
With duties split between the running back committee of Chris Carson, Mike Davis and rookie Raashad Penny, the Seahawks possess a depth that they lacked even during the prime years of Marshawn Lynch. Along with their considerable yardage, the rushing attack also opens up the field for Wilson to carve up defenses and make the deep, play-action throws that are his trademark.
However, despite their general defensive struggles, the Vikings have remained effective against the run, conceding just 99 rushing yards per game. Mike Zimmer will want to frustrate Seattle's ground game early, and force Wilson to beat them through the air.
A fascinating battle awaits at CenturyLink Field. We are still a month away from the postseason, but for Seattle and Minnesota, Monday night will feel like a true playoff game.