At 8-3, the Minnesota Vikings enter NFL Week 14 as the surprise of the season.
The best projection for this Vikings squad was a 9-7 record and a possible playoff berth, but they seem well on their way to exceeding expectations and are on track to reach the post season for the first time since 2012.
According to FiveThirtyEight, Minnesota has a 90 percent chance to make the playoffs and are neck and neck with the Green Bay Packers with a 49 percent chance to take the NFC North division.
The Vikings' success comes with the help of some favorable scheduling, but do not take anything away from this team which has beat the Kansas City Chiefs, won in Atlanta, and handled the St. Louis Rams at home. Their schedule intensifies starting this week, as they face the Seahawks, travel to Arizona, and finish the season in Green Bay.
Offensively, the Vikings are relying on Adrian Peterson to generate yards and points. The 30-year-old running back, who is in his 9th season, is having an All-Pro season following a tumultuous 2014 season in which Peterson was placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List for felony charges. In 2015, Peterson is the NFL leader in rushing attempts, yards, yard per game and yards from scrimmage. His 1,164 yards are 126 better than second place Doug Martin, and he trails Devonta Freeman by one touchdown for the league lead in that category as well.
Minnesota has also not had to outscore its opponents either. Their defense ranks second in the league in points per game at 17.6, and their strength is in stymying the opposition’s pass offense. The pass rush and secondary are equally effective at disrupting quarterbacks, and their 223.5 yards per game allowed through the air is fourth best in the league.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson will hope to buck that trend and continue his own hot streak as he leads the 6-5 Seahawks into Minneapolis looking for another win. Wilson and the Seahawks pulled out a much needed win in a shootout last week against Pittsburgh in which Wilson threw for career highs in yards (345) and touchdowns (5).
Wilson has shouldered the burden of creating the offense this year with a noticeable decline in the team's running game as a result of injuries. The fourth-year quarterback is likely to eclipse his career high in single-season passing, but the team will hope that is can balance its offensive attack with the inclusion of Thomas Rawls in the running game.
Asked about Wilson’s performance this season following his impressive showing against the Steelers, Head Coach Pete Carroll attributed his success to better line play.
"I think the most obvious part of this is really what’s going on up front," the Seahawks coach told ESPN reporters. "I think we’ve just come a long ways, and I think the pocket being so consistently solid for [Russell Wilson] makes a huge difference. The rhythm, since the break we had, we’ve really tried to feature a fast rhythm and making sure he’s really got a chance to get the ball out fast to keep the pressure off of the guys up front."
The matchup to watch in this contest is the Seahawks's defensive front up the middle against Adrian Peterson. Last season the Seahawks made a living shutting down opposing rush attacks, featuring the fifth best adjusted lines yards in the league, a stat that takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the defensive line in how effective they were in stopping runs. This season has been a different story, as the Seahawks line has struggled to stop the running game, ranking 20th in adjusted line yards, according to Football Outsiders. They will need to find their 2014 form this Sunday if they hope to slow down Adrian Peterson.
The Vikings are at home and hope to keep their good run intact. But last year's Super Bowl losers are hungry, and Seattle knows every win at this point is essential to their 2015 playoff hopes. Expect Seattle to win this game, but it will be low scoring and come down to the wire.