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Wild Card Weekend preview: Seahawks-Vikings

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The backstory


No one is giving the Vikings a legitimate chance in a rematch of a Week 13 blowout that was both Seattle's largest margin of victory this season and Minnesota's worst loss.

Should we?

A case can be made the performance was simply an outlier. The Vikings played the majority of that game without the Pro Bowl-caliber defensive trio of Linval Joseph, Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith. They abandoned Adrian Peterson and the ground attack before the end of the second quarter. With a game-time temperature expected to hover around 0 degrees, perhaps the home team has an abnormally robust advantage.

A stronger case can be made that the two-time defending NFC champions are even more intimidating now than they were then.

The Seahawks have dominated the past half-decade, becoming the first team to finish atop Football Outsiders' metrics for four consecutive seasons. They are also the dominant team of the past half-season, with a point differential of +119 over the past eight weeks.

It's not just the celebrated defense. Russell Wilson has defenses on a string, generating the best TD-to-INT ratio ever (24:1) in an eight-game stretch. After befuddling tacklers with his feet the past few years, Wilson now owns the NFL's best passer rating (118.6) from the pocket, including an outrageous 145.1 mark over the past seven games.

Buoyed by a solidified offensive line and Wilson's freakishly efficient connection with Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett, the Seahawks are riding their longest road winning streak of the Wilson-Carroll era. Even better, they have won their last three games against 2015 playoff teams by an average score of 38-14.

The Vikings can't say the same for their performance against quality competition. They went 0-3 against top-five defenses this season, losing by a combined score of 84-47 to the Broncos, Seahawks and Cardinals.

Under pressure


Russell Wilson has as many touchdown passes in his last 11 games (28) as Teddy Bridgewater has in his entire 29-game career. Among all quarterbacks to start 16 games this season, Bridgewater's 14 touchdowns passes are the fewest -- by six.

If the Vikings are going to pull off an upset, they need Bridgewater to perform better than he did in the regular-season finale when he was held to 99 passing yards and missed three chances for big plays on the opening drive alone.

We've seen flashes of brilliance from Bridgewater, who played his best football of the season in December. When he's on, his touch, accuracy and pocket movement are uncanny.

Does he have the arm strength, though, to burn the NFL's top scoring defense on an afternoon forecasted to be among the coldest in playoff history?

In five career games versus top-five defenses, Bridgewater is 1-4 with a 3:8 TD-to-INT ratio and a 63.5 passer rating.

Matchup to watch


En route to joining Hall of Famer Curtis Martin as the only players of the modern era to win the NFL's rushing title at age 30 or older, Adrian Peterson led all backs with seven 100-yard games this season.

The Seahawks are the only team since the 1970 merger to lead the NFL in scoring defense for four consecutive seasons.

Whereas the Legion of Boom secondary has garnered the majority of the headlines during the greatest run in franchise history, it's the front seven that has dominated this season. Seattle is the only defense yet to allow an individual 100-yard rusher this season, ranking No. 1 against the run at 81.5 yards per game.

When these two teams did battle a month ago, Seattle's defensive front was the clear victor. Playing from behind, Peterson set or matched season lows in carries (8), yards (18) and yards per carry (2.3), finishing with the third-lowest rushing total of his 124-game career.

This will be the 10th time the NFL's rushing leader has squared off against the top rushing defense in the playoffs. The rushing champion is 4-5 and has never reached 100 yards on the ground.

The power back selected just five picks after Peterson in the 2007 NFL Draft, on the other hand, has rushed for 100+ yards in six of 10 career playoff games, one of the highest percentages in postseason history.

Asked Wednesday if Marshawn Lynch is ready for 20-25 carries after missing the last seven games due to abdominal surgery, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell replied, "If he's going, that's what I would expect. I'd expect him to be full-go, full speed and just do like we normally do."

If Peterson is going to outplay Lynch on Sunday, the Vikings will have to avoid the early-deficit pitfall of their previous encounter.

[Editor's note: The Seahawks have announced that Lynch has been downgraded to out for Sunday's game.]

Mind-blowing stats


Russell Wilson is the first player in NFL history to record 4,000+ passing yards, 30+ touchdown passes and 500+ rushing yards in a single season. ... Wilson is 3-0 against the Vikings in his career, with 8:0 TD-to-INT ratio and a 142.0 passer rating. ... Wilson took 109 QB hits this season, the most of any quarterback. ... Only four running backs in NFL history have averaged more rushing yards per playoff game than Marshawn Lynch's 91.7. ... Wilson's passer rating is 33.7 points higher without Lynch in the lineup this season. It's 22.1 points higher without Jimmy Graham in the lineup. ... Doug Baldwin has 11 touchdowns in his last six games after managing just 11 touchdowns in his previous 43 games combined. ... Baldwin was responsible for the NFL's top passer rating when targeted this season (139.9). Teammate Tyler Lockett has the second-highest rating among players with 50+ targets. ... Since 1995, no player has allowed a lower passer rating in the playoffs than Richard Sherman's 16.9. ... This game will be played at 10:05 AM on the West Coast. Under Pete Carroll, the Seahawks are just 11-14 in games played at that time. ... Seattle is the only team to rank in the top five in total offense (4th), scoring offense (4th), total defense (2nd) and scoring defense (1st) this season. ... If the Seahawks make it to Super Bowl 50, they join the early '70s Dolphins and early '90s Bills as the only teams to appear in three consecutive Super Bowls. ... Only two Super Bowl losers have won the Super Bowl the next season: 1970-71 Cowboys and 1971-72 Dolphins.

The Vikings are 0-4 when allowing more than 20 points and 10-0 when allowing less than 20 points. ... They have the NFL's best point differential (+60) over the final three weeks of the regular season. ... As a defensive coordinator, coach Mike Zimmer's teams were 0-6 in the postseason. ... Bridgewater boasts a 108.5 passer rating over the past four games after posting a 83.0 rating in the first 12. ... Since being drafted five picks apart nine years ago, Peterson (97) and Lynch (74) have two highest rushing touchdown totals in the league. ... The last player to win the NFL's rushing title and a Super Bowl ring in the same season was Terrell Davis back in 1998-99. ... Stefon Diggs is the first rookie to lead the Vikings in receiving yards (720) since Randy Moss' brilliant 1998 season. ... Cordarrelle Patterson led the NFL in kickoff return average (31.8) for the second time in three years. ... Blair Walsh led the NFL in field goals (34) this season.

Prediction


Zimmer has much to be proud of in his second season as Minnesota's boss. An up-and-coming team with three straight promising draft classes, the Vikings finally knocked the Packers off the NFC North perch while establishing an identity as a smashmouth team nobody wants to face.

The bottom line, though, is that they are still trying to reach the level the Seahawks have attained for three years. Seattle simply has a marked advantage in too many categories, not the least of which is January success.

Seattle Seahawks 27, Minnesota Vikings 17

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