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

  • By Grant Gordon NFL.com
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It is a Monday Night Football affair wanting for nothing.

Two stellar teams brimming with all-star talent on both sides of the ball will clash when the Minnesota Vikings (8-3) face the host Seattle Seahawks (9-2) at 8:20 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Both squads seemingly bound for the playoffs, the Seahawks and Vikings still have shots in claiming NFC West and NFC North titles, respectively.

Pete Carroll's Seahawks have been led by quarterback Russell Wilson, who's posting his best season yet in an already astounding career.

Shocking to many, Kirk Cousins is likewise producing at an exceptional rate.

Rookie receiver D.K. Metcalf has been the athletic wonder for the Seahawks that many thought he would be and Vikings wideout Stefon Diggs is getting the attention and production he hoped he would.

A pair of outstanding running backs will also be featured in Dalvin Cook and Chris Carson.

And don't forget the defenses, as the Vikings boast a potent pass rush and the Seahawks are at least beginning to look a bit like their defenses of past autumns.

As the first Monday night in December offers a marquee matchup, two of the best teams in the NFL settle in for a chilly night.

Here's four things to watch for:

Russell Wilson is still delivering a MVP-caliber campaign

Lamar Jackson is the frontrunner. Deshaun Watson is still in the conversation. Michael Thomas has caught on. But for much of the season, Russell Wilson has rightfully been among the top contenders for NFL MVP.

The easy ear-to-ear grin, the beautiful deep ball, the outstanding numbers and the poise in the clutch have become sensational standards for Wilson.

With the Seahawks having already clinched a winning season, Wilson has become the only player in NFL history to produce a winning campaign in each of his first eight years. The cool head upon his shoulders and the clutch right arm have most certainly aided in that historic stat, as Wilson leads the NFL in fourth-quarter comebacks (four) and game-winning drives (five) in 2019, per NFL research.

His numbers all-around this season are fantastic. Coming into the week, Wilson's 24 touchdown passes were tied for the NFL lead with Jackson and he's had only three interceptions. Wilson's 112.1 rating trailed only his Monday night counterpart and his 2,937 yards on the season (267 per game) are terrific just as well.

Not to mention, he's undefeated at 5-0 against the Vikings. Still, Wilson produced career-lows of 72 passing yards and a 37.9 passer rating when he last faced Minnesota during a 21-7 Seattle win a year ago. So, the Vikings have a blue print of how to limit the MVP candidate.

Though he's been special since the start of his career, Wilson has been a bit more outstanding in 2019. And it's most certainly going to be enjoyable to watch Wilson under the bright lights of prime time once more.

Kirk Cousins is having a suddenly spectacular season

After Minnesota began the season at 2-2, criticism was at a high regarding Kirk Cousins, whether it was from the media, fans or even his teammates.

Now, the Vikings have won six of seven and Cousins has been excellent, whether he's getting the credit or not. Sure, there will always be the tag that he can't win the big game until he does.

No matter what the still-prevalent naysayers offer up, Cousins' numbers make a persuasive argument that he should be in the MVP discussion, as well.

Hard to believe the Vikings began the season (with a victory, no less) with Cousins throwing just 10 passes in a full game against the Falcons. As Week 13 began, Cousins led the NFL with a 114.8 passer rating. His 70.6 completion percentage, 21 touchdowns to three interceptions and 250.5 yards per game are far from shabby, either.

It's unlikely Cousins will silence critics until the Vikings are able to hoist their first Lombardi Trophy. Saddled with the reputation for coming up short in the clutch and owning a mega-contract builds a base of vocal doubters.

But the Vikings are winning and Cousins is playing spectacularly. On three occasions this year, Cousins has had a sub-100 passer rating and the Vikings have lost each time. They're very much going as their quarterback does.

As September concluded, questions and controversy were the storylines in Minnesota and Cousins was the focal point. As December begins, Cousins is leading the Vikings and looking phenomenal while doing it.

Will Dalvin Cook, Chris Carson find their stride?

Consistently outstanding would've been an apt description for Seahawks running back Chris Carson and Vikings tailback Dalvin Cook. It would've until recently.

Entering Monday, Cook and Carson are each coming off season-low showings.

In the Vikings' Week 11 win over the Broncos, Cook was held in check to the tune of only 26 yards in 11 carries, while Carson's Week 12 output was also 26 yards on eight carries in the Seahawks' victory over the Eagles.

Still, the two have been outstanding for their similarly impressive squads.

Carson checks in with 879 yards (fourth in the NFC) and four touchdowns on the ground, while Cook enters the game as one of the NFL's three 1,000-yard rushers this season (his 1,017 yards are third in the league). Cook's also shown a nose for the end zone with 11 touchdowns, having found pay dirt in nine games.

The season began in impressive fashion for Cook with 100-yard outings in each of the first three weeks, but his last four games haven't produced a century-mark showing. Still, he's been productive and kept opposing defenses honest while opening things up for the Cousins-led passing attack.

Carson, who has four 100-yard games (one less than Cook), remains an overlooked talent tucked away in the Pacific Northwest. If he gets 121 yards on Monday, he'll have a second-straight 1,000-yard season.

Whoever has the better showing on Monday between Cook and Carson might well set the tone for victory.

This is more like the Seahawks D we recall

Though it's accurate to say these aren't your Legion of Boom Seahawks anymore, they are still rounding into an impressive defense -- which was a calling card of Seattle's spectacular squads of not so long ago.

Led by linebackers Bobby Wagner (105 tackles; fourth in the NFL) and K.J. Wright (95 tackles), the Seahawks have drastically clamped down on opposing offense since Week 10.

It's been a turning point thus far as the 'Hawks are allowing 16.5 points per game (more than nine points less than previously) since Week 10 along with averaging 226.5 passing yards (an improvement of more than 50 yards) and four sacks (up from 1.7).

Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (core) is expected to play and that only bodes well for Seattle and trends downward for Minnesota.

Keyed by defensive ends Danielle Hunter (8.5 sacks) and Everson Griffen (seven sacks), the Vikings offer up a dangerous defense, as well.

As per usual, the offenses will draw the spotlight, but both defenses are deserving of attention and notoriety in this one.