What to watch for in Vikings-Seahawks on 'MNF'


The juiciest leg of the football season is upon us.

For every arguably meaningless stinker thrown our way (read: Lions-Cardinals), these final weeks of the campaign have dished up a rash of do-or-die showdowns between edgy playoff hopefuls.

Last night's Bears-Rams clash capped one of the finest Sundays of action in eons, but the fun hasn't wrapped. Monday Night Football doubles as another cheers-worthy moment for the schedule-makers as the surging Seahawks host the show-me-something Vikings.

Here's what we'll be watching for when Seattle (7-5) and Minnesota (6-5-1) meet in the Pacific Northwest:

1. The Seahawks had their doubters when the team handed the offense over to historically conservative play-caller Brian Schottenheimer, but the Son of Marty has proven once again this league is about second chances and personal change. Armed with Russell Wilson under center, the Seahawks have morphed into a juggernaut during their three-game win streak, scoring the third-most points per game (33.3), while topping the league in touchdowns, big plays, passer rating and the fewest giveaways.

Last week's 43-16 bombing of the Niners serves as a solid case study, as Wilson crossed 100 yards passing over his first three lobs with a 52-yard touchdown strike to Tyler Lockett and a 45-yard laser to Jaron Brown.

Wilson isn't guaranteed to fling a ton of passes with Seattle's success on the ground, but he's flown under the radar during a campaign in which Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck and Jared Goff have been tossed around as MVP candidates. Wilson has thrown 29 touchdowns to just five interceptions, with just one pick since Week 6. He's playing a special brand of football.

2. Veteran receiver Doug Baldwin (hip) looms as a game-time decision, but Lockett, Brown and second-year wideout David Moore -- two weeks removed from a 100-yard outing -- will be ready to go. Lockett is a fascinating, speed-based, big-play performer with 44 grabs for nine scores and a generous 16.2 yards per catch. Tight ends Nick Vannett and Ed Dickson have also been productive of late.

3. The run game is back, too, for the 'Hawks, with Seattle riding Chris Carson, Mike Davis and rookie Rashaad Penny to a league-high 148.8 yards per game, with six tilts topping 160-plus yards on the ground. Carson remains the leader here, but look for J.D. McKissic to play a role if Penny (questionable with an ankle injury) can't suit up against a Vikings team that just allowed the Patriots to slice them up for 160 yards in last week's concerning loss to New England.

4. Minnesota will counter with the league's second-best red-zone defense and a unit that tops the NFL on third down. The secondary is a concern, though, as cornerback Trae Waynes is out with a concussion and Xavier Rhodes is coming off a game where his hamstring let him down. Safety Harrison Smith is still playing at an All-Pro level while pass-rushers Danielle Hunter (12 sacks) and Everson Griffen (four) will attempt to rattle Wilson.

5. Seattle's defense is led by the brilliant Bobby Wagner, who closed out last week's Niners blowout with a 98-yard pick-six. The veteran linebacker remains the reliable beating heart of this unit and a player who hasn't missed a single tackle on any of his 98 attempts this season. He's the only defender in the entire NFL with 60-plus attempted tackles without a miss, but meets his match tonight in Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, who has forced a missed tackle on 27.7 percent of his touches in 2018, the highest rate among the 48 players with 100-plus touches. When Cook isn't called, the Vikings will turn to veteran Latavius Murray, who served as the workhorse before Cook reemerged from injury.

6. Seattle and Minnesota have allowed the fewest points per game in primetime since 2014, but the Vikings need more from their offense to author an upset. So where's the problem? High-priced quarterback Kirk Cousins has been productive with a 23-to-9 touchdown-to-pick split and an admirable 71.3 completion percentage inside a John DeFilipo-led offense that passes more than any squad in the NFL. That said, the Vikings have major -- perhaps fatal -- issues up front and rank 23rd in offensive drive success rate, per Football Outsiders, overshadowing the big numbers put up by wideouts Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.

7. The Vikings currently sit as the sixth seed in the NFC, but four of their five losses have come against the Rams, Saints, Bears and Patriots. They haven't beaten a team with a winning record and could use a breakout night on the road if we're to believe in them as a January entry worth our time. They still have meetings with the Dolphins and Lions before finishing the season against a white-knuckle Bears team that just deep-sixed the Rams.

The Seahawks are your fifth seed and one of the conference's edgier gems with games left against the Niners and Cardinals wrapped around a tall-order showdown with the Chiefs at home. They need this game, too, but unlike the Vikings, the 'Hawks have shown a knack for coming up big in recent weeks.

This one's a winner. You have our permission to tune in and tune out your concerns about: A) Your boss, who just doesn't seem to care about your off-the-clock desires to pen a devastating mystery novel; B) the gym up the street you haven't visited since 2016 but keep paying $29.50 a month to; C) your unrequited crush on Gemma from accounting; D) the secret arms deal you're involved in with a low-level paramilitary outfit from San Salvador.

Let those concerns slip into the ether. You belong to nobody come Monday night.