Can the Seahawks keep their Monday night magic going? Can they pass the 49ers in the NFC West race?
Those questions and more will be answered when 9-2 Seattle plays host to the 8-3 Vikings on Monday night at CenturyLink Field. Here’s a look at some of the keys to the game.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Minnesota QB Kirk Cousins vs. Seattle secondary.
He might not be getting the MVP hype directed at Seattle’s Russell Wilson or Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, but Kirk Cousins is putting up passing numbers on par with anyone. He is leading the NFL in passer rating at 114.8 with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 21-3 (and 19-1 since the second game of the season). He’s also averaging 8.6 yards per pass attempt, third in the NFL. Seattle’s secondary has been markedly better the past two weeks since the addition of Quandre Diggs at free safety and the improved play up front. But the Vikings will be a much stiffer test than was an Eagles team that played last week without its top three receivers. Sunday, though, Seattle caught a break when the Vikings ruled out receiver Adam Thielen, who made the Pro Bowl the past two years but remains sidelined with a hamstring injury. Still, Stefon Diggs and tight ends Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr., are dangerous. This is the third consecutive year Cousins has played in Seattle. He won with Washington in 2017 and lost with Minnesota last year. Only three opposing quarterbacks have won at least twice in Seattle since Pete Carroll took over as coach in 2010 — Carson Palmer, Matt Ryan and Jared Goff. Seattle will attempt to keep Cousins from joining that group.
COACHING DECISION TO WATCH
How involved to get Rashaad Penny?
Rashaad Penny was the offensive star of the victory over the Eagles with career highs of 14 carries for 129 yards. That came after he had just 14 yards on six carries in the previous two games. Penny picked up the slack with Chris Carson having an off game, which included another fumble. That led to lots of discussion during the week of how to split up the carries between the two. Seattle coaches made clear Carson remains the starter, but expect the Seahawks to see if Penny can pick up where he left off in Philly.
PLAYER TO WATCH
QB Russell Wilson.
It’s hardly a slump. But two of Wilson’s three lowest passer ratings have come in the past two games as he’s combined for two touchdowns and two interceptions after throwing 22 touchdowns and just one pick in the first nine games of the season. And now he faces a Minnesota defense that has underachieved a bit this year relative to the reputation of many of its players, but is still more than capable. A defense that when last seen in Seattle held Wilson to the lowest passer rating of his career, just 37.9, completing 10 of 20 passes for 72 yards with no touchdowns and a pick, last Dec. 10. Wilson has thrown a touchdown in all 14 games since then.
Free safety Quandre Diggs
As Diggs noted, he’s played the Vikings a lot after spending the first 4½ years of his career with the Detroit Lions. He’s played the Vikings nine times, with Detroit going 3-6. That includes the last game he played for Detroit before being traded to Seattle, a 42-30 Minnesota victory on Oct. 20. Detroit’s secondary didn’t do much to contain Cousins on that day as he completed 24 of 34 passes for 337 yards and four touchdowns. Diggs played 55 snaps fighting through a hamstring injury that then sidelined him for two weeks with the Seahawks. But he’s healthy now, and maybe he picked up a few things in that game that can help Seattle.
WILD-CARD PLAYER WHO COULD SURPRISE
LB Cody Barton
One of the key injuries to watch heading into the game is that of starting strongside linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who battled a sore hamstring in practice and is said to be a game-time decision. If Kendricks can’t play, then his replacement would likely be rookie Cody Barton, a third-round draft choice out of Utah. Barton has played just seven defensive snaps this season but that’s really been no fault of his. Instead, there’s just been no reason to take any of the team’s veteran trio of linebackers off the field. But Barton potentially getting a shot to play could be an interesting subplot to this one.
That’s the Seahawks’ record at home in prime-time games since Carroll became coach in 2010 (and 6-1, including the victory last year over the Vikings). It’s a stat that gets brought up every time the Seahawks play a prime-time home game. But it’s simply hard to ignore Seattle’s ability to rise to the occasion when the lights are on at CenturyLink. Seattle has won 12 of those games by 10 points or more, including the victory over the Vikings last season. The two defeats, meanwhile, came by a combined 10 points in games that went down to the wire. Asked again to try to explain it, Carroll shrugged and said, “I don’t know. We’re playing better than the other guys. There are a lot of answers to that question, but most of them are guesses.’’ You get the sense he might not want to explain so the “the other guys’’ don’t figure it out, too.
THE FINAL WORD
Seahawks 23, Vikings 20
This projects as a really tough game for the Seahawks, who have a few key players banged up while the Vikings are coming off their bye – and have won six of their past seven. But watching the Seahawks do what they have all season makes it hard to pick against them, especially in prime time at home.