No warm welcome for Seahawks in Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS >> Six weeks ago, the Seattle Seahawks left Minnesota with a laugher 38-7 victory over the Vikings.
Well, the Seahawks have returned for a rematch, and the Vikings won't be extending a warm welcome.
The temperature at kickoff is expected to be around zero degrees.
"You've got to make it work. Just use it to your advantage. Nobody likes being cold, but you've got to be comfortable being uncomfortable," Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs said.
Yes, the Seahawks have begun their quest for a third straight Super Bowl appearance with the opportunity to avenge last year's crushing loss to New England. Sure, the Vikings have secured their first home game in the playoffs in six years. This wild-card round game is most likely to be remembered, though, for the thermometer.
"This is nothing. This is what we do. This is why we're in Minnesota in the first place," Vikings defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said.
Here are some key angles to know about the game:
RUSSELL'S ROLL: Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson finished the regular season on a historic high, with 24 touchdown passes and only one interception over the final seven games. He became the franchise record-holder for single-season touchdown passes (34) and the first 4,000-yard passer in Seahawks history, and led the NFL in passer rating for the season at 110.1.
The scary part for the Vikings is that Wilson in the past was only getting warmed up once he started the playoffs. In eight career postseason games, Wilson is 6-2 with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions (four came in the NFC championship game against Green Bay last year) and a 97.2 passer rating.
His last postseason pass, of course, was the one he'd love to have back, picked off at the goal line by Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler at the end of the Super Bowl.
IT'S NOT PERMANENT: The Vikings went 11-5 over two seasons at TCF Bank Stadium, the best winning percentage ever by an NFL team in a temporary stadium. Unless they advance to the NFC championship game and Washington or Green Bay beats Carolina, this will be their last game on campus.
"Not to parrot the coach, but like he's always said, if you have the right coach and the right players working the right way, you're going to be effective no matter where you are," Vikings President Mark Wilf said.
The Seahawks would endorse the same mantra. They'll be without their vaunted home-field advantage in these playoffs, but they won five of their last six road games this season.
"To be honest I think we're a better road team than a home team this year," linebacker Bruce Irvin said. "It is funny, this road thing kind of played in our favor. We've got to take care of our business. It won't be easy."
SO MUCH FOR BEAST MODE: The Seahawks have not had running back Marshawn Lynch on the field since Nov. 15 against Arizona, when he attempted to play through an abdominal injury. Lynch had eight carries for 42 yards and a touchdown in that game, sat out the following week against San Francisco, and underwent surgery Nov. 25.
Lynch fully participated in each practice this week, putting him on track to return, but late Friday the Seahawks ruled him out after announcing he didn't travel to Minnesota. That will keep Christine Michael and Bryce Brown in the mix for carries with rookie Thomas Rawls lost for the season with a broken ankle.
The Seahawks, who also lost tight end Jimmy Graham for the season with a knee injury, will be without backup Luke Willson as well because of a concussion. Safety Kam Chancellor, however, will be back from a three-game absence (pelvis/tailbone), and two offensive linemen, left tackle Russell Okung (two games, calf) and right guard J.R. Sweezy (one game, concussion), will also return.
LAST TIME: Minnesota was missing its three best players on defense for most of the last game against the Seahawks, with nose tackle Linval Joseph, linebacker Anthony Barr and safety Harrison Smith all back this week. But the Vikings were so bad that day their presence might not have mattered.
"I don't think it was an aberration at all. I think they got after us. We didn't do much in any phase of the game," coach Mike Zimmer said. "That has no bearing about what happened a month ago, what's going to happen on Sunday. We're going to go out there and take everybody's shot and see what happens."
ON THE RUN: Considering the cold and the fact that Adrian Peterson had a mere eight carries for Minnesota in the last meeting, prompting some mild criticism of the coaching staff by the league's rushing leader, the Seahawks are counting on a heavy dose of the All-Pro. Their statistics and their swagger say bring it on.
The Seahawks had the best defense against the run in the NFL, holding three of their final five opponents to 31 yards rushing or fewer: Minnesota, Baltimore and Arizona. Only one of Seattle's final seven opponents, St. Louis on Dec. 27, even tried to run more than 20 times.
The Seahawks also finished first in the league for the fourth straight season in scoring defense, with an average of 17.3 points allowed per game.
"It makes it fun for our guys, but that's just the kind of team that we have," cornerback Richard Sherman said. "We have a bunch of alpha males and a bunch of guys who will do anything to do their one-on-one matchups."
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