First place could be on the line for both the Seahawks and Vikings when they meet Monday night at CenturyLink Field.
The Vikings (8-3), idle last week, moved into a tie atop the NFC North by virtue of Green Bay’s blowout loss at San Francisco on Sunday night.
In the rugged NFC West, the Seahawks (9-2) continue to chase the 49ers (10-1), who have a tough road trip to Baltimore for a 10 a.m. game Sunday.
Five things to know about the Vikings this week:
1. A Monday night rewind
If this feels like a familiar December matchup, well, it is.
The Vikings came to Seattle a year ago for Monday Night Football, and it could not have gone much worse for Minnesota.
The Seahawks won 21-7 at CenturyLink Field, with the Vikings’ only score coming in the final 75 seconds. The Seahawks’ defense had a key goal-line stand early in the fourth quarter and another fourth-down stop in the third quarter.
Kirk Cousins completed 20 of 33 passes for 208 yards that night, with 70 of those yards coming in the final meaningless drive.
The loss prompted Vikings coach Mike Zimmer to fire offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. His replacement, Kevin Stefanski, now has the Vikings ranked in the top 10 in scoring (26.3 points), total yards (378.6) and rushing yards (142.5).
2. On Cousins’ resurgence
Here are Cousins’ stats in the Vikings’ last seven games: 2,020 yards, 18 TDs, 1 interception, 73.3% completion rate.
Overall this season, Cousins leads the NFL with a passer rating of 114.8 — ahead of Russell Wilson’s 112.2 — with 21 TDs and 3 INTs.
Cousins has been particularly good with play-action passes, which have led to 12 of his TD passes, according to Pro Football Focus.
Cousins has also been sacked just 22 times this season, as the Vikings have emphasized with him to get rid of the ball quicker.
“You can’t talk about that enough because it’s a game where, if you hold the ball, bad things happen,” Vikings assistant head coach Gary Kubiak told reporters, adding: “I think he’s really bought into what we’re trying to be as a football team and as a group. I think Kirk knows he’s on a really good football team. We can win a lot of ways when we show up on Sunday.”
3. Dalvin Cook is having a breakthrough season
Cook has emerged as one of the best running backs in the NFL, ranking third in the league with 1,017 yards rushing and second with 11 touchdowns.
“As far as his vision, his patience to set up the blocks, he’s going to keep working laterally and the burst and balance he has through the hole,” Vikings GM Rick Spielman told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, adding: “He just has a unique trait like that that I don’t think you can coach. I think it’s something you’re born with.”
Cook is coming off his worst game of the season, when he was held to 26 yards on 11 carries in a Week 11 victory over Denver (a game in which the Vikings rallied from a 20-0 halftime deficit to win 27-23).
4. The Vikings expect Adam Thielen to return on Monday
At least, Cousins expects his star wide receiver to return from a hamstring injury that has kept him out for most of Minnesota’s last five games.
Thielen initially injured his hamstring against Detroit in Week 7. He tried to come back two weeks later against Kansas City but aggravated the injury and hasn’t played since.
During the Vikings’ bye last week, Cousins said on his “Under Center” podcast that Thielen would return against the Seahawks.
Cousins has had another standout receiver, Stefon Diggs, who has been one of the most explosive playmakers in the NFL, averaging 19.1 yards on his 46 receptions this season. Against Denver, Diggs had five catches for 121 yards, including a 54-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph has also stepped up in Thielen’s absence, with five TDs in the last five games.
5. The Vikings also have a top-5 defense
They’re allowing 18.6 points per game, fifth-fewest in the NFL, and they have the fifth-best red-zone defense, allowing opponents to score a touchdown on 47% of red-zone appearances.
Their 31 sacks are tied for ninth in the league.
They’re allowing 94.2 yards rushing, sixth-fewest, and their three rushing touchdowns allowed is the fewest in the league.
But the Vikings have struggled in pass defense. Through 11 games, they have allowed 40 pass plays of 20 yards or longer, which ranks 21st in the league.
“Way better, we have to do way better,” Zimmer said after the victory over Denver. “I’m so disappointed in how we’re playing pass defense.”
Russell Wilson is among the league leaders in “explosive” pass plays this season, with 43 of them, according to Sharp Football Stats.