The Minnesota Vikings have reached the (final) crossroads of their season. They travel to Seattle on Monday night to take on the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field, and, if they win, they maintain (and strengthen) their spot in the NFC Wild Card race. But if they lose, the season goes on life support and prospects for resuscitation dim incredibly.
The Vikings are coming off a bad road loss in New England last Sunday, when they appeared to have little chance to win the game, even though it was tied up in the middle of the third quarter. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are in the midst of their best run of the season, coming off three consecutive wins on their way to a 7-5 record and the fifth playoff seed in the NFC. With a win, the Vikings supplant the Hawks in that position, and (with a Chicago Bears loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night) climb to within a half game of the NFC North leading Bears with one more game against them the final week of the season.
The Vikings have everything to gain with a win (and plenty to lose) on Sunday, but that win won’t come easy. The Seahawks had been up and down in the early season but now, with quarterback Russell Wilson at the helm, have righted the ship and appear to be firing on all cylinders. The recently woebegone offensive line is playing better, and as a result, the team is scoring more points than they have all season—an average of 33.3 per game over the past three wins.
Wilson has thrown 29 touchdown passes, which is fourth most in the league. Oft-injured running back Chris Carson is ranked 15th in the league in yardage (704 yards), while wide receiver Tyler Lockett has nine touchdown receptions (which has him tied with Adam Thielen for 5th most in the NFL). The Seattle offense is ranked 19th in the NFL in yards gained with 353.3 per game, which is pretty middle of the road. But they are effective with the ground they gain, as the Seahawks are ranked ninth in the league in points, scoring 26.6 per game.
On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Bobby Wagner is the team’s most prolific tackler—he is ranked 8th in league for combined tackles, while defensive end Frank Clark is T-9 in the league with 10.0 sacks on the season. And before he was injured and lost for the season, safety Earl Thomas had three interceptions, which is still T-9 in the NFL.
As a unit, the Seahawks defense is not quite at the “Legion of Boom” level that struck fear into opposing offenses. Thomas is out, Richard Sherman is in San Francisco and Sheldon Richardson is now playing for Minnesota. Still, the defense is doing its job. They are ranked T-19 in yards allowed, giving up 367.4 yards per game.
The Hawks are slightly better against the run (allowing 116.8 rushing yards per game for a rank of 17) than against the pass (ranked 19th with 250.7 passing yards allowed). But they are pretty good in the most important defensive category: points allowed. The Seahawks are ranked ninth in the league (actually tied with the Patriots), allowing 21.9. That is the code the Vikings will have to break on Monday.
Those are the definable and quantifiable numbers that the Vikings have to surmount in Seattle in order to win the game. But there are some other numbers that are nagging the fanbase, and giving observers easy talking points: the Vikings are 2-3-1 on the road this season; the Vikings are 1-3 in primetime night games and that goes up to 2-4 if you add in the two 3 p.m. games; and the Vikings have yet to beat a team with a winning record in the 2018 season.
Well, a win Monday night against the Seahawks would certainly improve those numbers. And, like we said, it would improve the Vikings’ playoff standing in the NFC. Right now they have a 60 percent chance of making the playoffs (and a 20 percent chance of winning the division), according to FiveThirtyEight.com. The problem is Philadelphia, Washington and Carolina are all a half game behind the Vikings nipping at their heels for a wild card spot. And if we have learned anything observing this league, it’s that probability means little more than diddlysquat. Winning is what it takes.
So, the Vikings need to win on Monday (and Monday suddenly seems a long time away for Vikings fans). If they beat the Seahawks, their playoff chances improve to 86 percent (still no guarantee, but it feels better). The Vikings just need to win. So many things improve with a win.
When the Vikings played poorly against the Bears, they rebounded with a nice win over the Packers. When they embarrassed themselves against the Bills, they played much better against the mighty Rams and then beat the Eagles on the road the following week. If the Vikings follow this pattern, they should, at the very least, follow up their bad afternoon in Foxborough with a very competitive contest on the opposite side of the country.
But they need more than that. They desperately need a win to maintain their control of their postseason chances. Win out and they are in. Win out and they deserve to be in. Win out and they will be playing well at the right time of the season and anything can happen. Winning out starts on Monday. The Vikings are at the crosswords, with everything to gain. They will take the winning path Monday Night Football. Are you ready?!