Barring a couple major upsets in the NFC playoffs and a flock of migrating birds ripping the roof off of U.S. Bank Stadium in coming seasons, Sunday could be the last outdoor home game the Vikings ever play.
Fittingly, the forecast is calling for zero degrees with a wind chill of minus-11. Have fun while you’re in town, Seattle.
Next up: Vikings (11-5) vs. Seahawks (10-6), noon Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings earned the No. 3 seed with Sunday night’s 20-13 winner-take-all NFC North battle at Lambeau Field. The Packers (10-6) earned the fifth seed over Seattle because of their win over the Seahawks earlier this season. A win by the Vikings sends them and their appreciative media contingent to Arizona for a divisional playoff game. A win by Seattle sends the Seahawks to Carolina to face the top-seeded Panthers.
Experience vs. home-ice, er field advantage: Last season, the Panthers traveled to TCF Bank Stadium for the seventh-coldest game in Vikings history. It was 12 degrees with a wind chill of zero at kickoff. The Panthers looked and played like a team that couldn’t wait to leave town. They lost 31-13. How will Seattle react in a game that could be significantly colder than what the Panthers played in? It’s hard to say, but it’s a playoff game, for starters. Plus, Seattle has the mental toughness and experience of having been to the past two Super Bowls and winning one two years ago.
Playoff Vikings limited in numbers: Meanwhile, the Vikings have 23 players out of 53 who have played in a playoff game. Of those 23, only 11 have started a playoff game. Of those 11, only Linval Joseph and Mike Wallace have started or played in a Super Bowl. And Joseph has missed four of the past five games because of an injured big toe.
Beast Mode update: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Monday that running back Marshawn Lynch is ready to return after missing the past seven games because of abdominal surgery. Lynch still has to make it through practice this week to satisfy Carroll enough to give him the ball on Sunday. But since Thomas Rawls’ breakout rookie season ended with a fractured ankle last month, Carroll’s options have been much less attractive. Christine Michael has 39 carries, while Bryce Brown has 26. Seattle went 6-1 without Lynch in the lineup the past seven weeks. Overall this season, they are 3-4 with him and 7-2 without him.
He said: “He’s ready to go,” Carroll told reporters Monday when asked about Lynch. “He’s in the program, going, working, and he’s going to keep doing his workouts here with us today and tomorrow. And Wednesday, we’re going to practice and see how he feels and how far he can take it. He’s worked out in incredibly competitive situations. He, physically, should be ready to go, but now we’ve got to translate it into football and directly to us. I’m not worried about him having any problem with the system or any of that kind of stuff. It’s been a while, but he’ll be fine. So we’ll just see if he can handle it and expect that he will.”
Other key Seattle injuries to watch: TE Luke Wilson didn’t play last week because of a concussion. SS Kam Chancellor missed his third straight game because of a pelvis injury. LT Russell Okung didn’t play because of a calf injury, forcing Alvin Bailey to start. Rookie Mark Glowinski also got his first start at right guard last week because of J.R. Sweezy’s concussion.
Rankings:Offense: 4th (378.6), 3rd rushing (141.8), 20th passing (236.9). Defense: 2nd (291.8), 1st rushing (81.5), 2nd passing (210.3).
Scoring: Offense 5th (26.4). Defense 1st (17.3).
Turnover ratio: T-5 (plus-7). Seattle has 23 takeaways and 16 giveaways. The Seahawks’ eight interceptions thrown is tied for third fewest in the league.
Did you know?: By holding the No. 1-ranked scoring team to six points in Arizona last week, Seattle won the defensive scoring title with 277 points allowed. Cincinnati was second with 279. It was the fourth straight year Seattle won the scoring title, a feat accomplished only one other time when the Browns led the league in scoring defense four straight years in the 1950s.
The tape: What comes across even more than Seattle’s sheer talent and solid coaching is its supreme confidence. In last week’s 36-6 win at Arizona, the Seahawks clearly stepped on the field knowing they were going to outplay a home team that had won nine straight and had the No. 1-ranked scoring offense. Can they do it again on Sunday is the question. Remember, this team also lost to St. Louis the week before. Offensively, it feels strange to suggest that the possible return of Lynch could disrupt Seattle’s offensive rhythm and actually favor the Vikings. But that’s how this week feels. Lynch hasn’t played since Nov. 15. Seattle is 6-1 without him. Quarterback Russell Wilson led the league in passer rating at 110.1 for the season. The past seven games without Lynch and while losing tight end Jimmy Graham and Rawls, Wilson has posted a 132.8 rating with 24 touchdowns and one interception. With his left tackle and right guard also out on Sunday, Wilson completed 71 percent of his passes. For the season, Wilson set franchise records for completion percentage (.681), passing yards (4,024) and passing touchdowns (34). What makes him almost unfair as a matchup nightmare is how well he has played inside the pocket for a guy who also can be one of the more confidently elusive ball-carriers in the league. According to ESPN, Wilson’s passer rating inside the pocket the past seven weeks is 118.6. One has to wonder if bringing Lynch back into the mode will distract the rhythm. Lynch hasn’t played in two months. He’s going to be rusty. Feeding him carries to get him going could be a good thing for the Vikings. Defensively, you know the drill. For the fourth straight year, this is the league’s best defense (sorry, Denver). They cover, they pressure and, heck, they even stop the run better than anyone. Their No. 1 ranking includes holding Adrian Peterson to a season-low 18 yards on eight carries in a 38-7 blowout of the Vikings. In that game, the Vikings were held to 125 yards and only scored when Cordarrelle Patterson took a kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown. The Vikings had 95 yards in penalties, 24 yards lost in sacks and had an interception returned 25 yards on them. That’s 144 negative yards, 19 more than the offense generated for the entire game.