The Seahawks are favored, but the Minnesota Vikings they will face on the road Sunday won’t be the same team that looked helpless in losing to Seattle 38-7 on Dec. 6.
It looks like a layup. A one-foot putt. A jigsaw puzzle with just two pieces.
A month after manhandling the Vikings, 38-7, the Seahawks will head back to Minnesota for their first-round playoff game.
But don’t let that score from Dec. 6 sucker you. That result is officially irrelevant. You may think Seattle was just dealt the ideal hand, but in reality, they could have their hands full.
Since the Seahawks humiliated them in front of their home fans, the Vikings (11-5) have been among the NFL’s more dominant teams. A heartbreaking loss in Arizona came the following week, but then there was a 21-point win over the Chicago Bears, a 32-point win over the New York Giants, and a seven-point road win over the Green Bay Packers.
True, none of those teams are operating on the plane Seattle is right now, but that’s not the point. The point is that the NFL is a league of adjustments — meaning overconfident Hawks fans may have to adjust their expectations.
Easy, that wasn’t a prediction that Minnesota will get the “W” Sunday. It was more of a warning to proceed with caution along an ostensibly harmless trail.
NFL teams don’t just stumble into 11 wins. But they do tend to get even after an opponent makes them mad.
In mid-November, the Cardinals put up 39 points on the Seahawks in a win at CenturyLink Field. On Sunday, seven weeks later, Seattle held the Cardinals to six points in a 30-point win in Arizona.
In late October, the Patriots emasculated the Dolphins, 35-6. Last Sunday, Miami beat New England, 20-10.
Before clinching the NFC North with the aforementioned win over Green Bay on Sunday, the Vikings lost to the Packers 30-13 at home. And two weeks after the Panthers clobbered the Falcons, 38-0, Atlanta ended Carolina’s perfect season with a seven-point victory.
In other words, Sunday is suddenly an intriguing matchup. You almost wonder if Seattle wishes it beat the Vikings by, say, 13 instead of 31 last time. Fear generates the survival instinct, and the Seahawks may have just scared Minnesota straight.
The more honest way of analyzing this game is by looking at what these two teams’ recent body of work. The Vikings have won three straight, the Seahawks have won six of their past seven, and both have seen marked improvement in various aspects of their game.
We’re not talking about the Packers, who look like they’d finish 10-10 if the season went 20 games. We’re talking about two organizations that are as hot as their cities are cold.
The last time the Vikings and Seahawks met, Adrian Peterson ran the ball just eight times and gained 18 yards. There is no way Minnesota will neglect the league’s leading rusher in that fashion again.
The last time the Vikings and Seahawks met, Teddy Bridgewater threw for 118 yards on 28 passes. He followed with a 335-yard performance against a tough Arizona defense the next week, and was 17 for 20 against Chicago one Sunday later.
And the last time the Vikings and Seahawks met, Minnesota was replete with injuries while Seattle featured a healthy Thomas Rawls. Since then, the Vikings have recovered, but the Seahawks’ run game remains a concern.
Anybody who has watched Seattle consistently since that Nov. 15 loss to the Cardinals would have a tough time betting against them — especially with Sunday’s blowout in Arizona. Never have the Hawks looked so complete this season, and never has the task of facing them seemed so daunting.
With a string of convincing road victories this year, it’s clear they’re not afraid to travel. And with their track record of postseason success, it is clear they don’t lack for confidence, either.
But the NFL is funny in the way it tricks fans and media members into assumptions. The Vikings looked helpless the last time they played the Seahawks, but they’ll be a long way from hopeless in the rematch.