Vikings at Seahawks: Odds, prediction, how to watch 'Monday Night Football' in Week 13
Seattle looks to keep pace in the top-heavy NFC West while Minnesota looks to do the same in the NFC North
There is a golden opportunity available for the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night. After the San Francisco 49ers lost to Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, the Seahawks have a shot to take over the NFC West lead and position themselves for a first-round bye if they can manage to defeat the Minnesota Vikings on Monday.
The Vikings are in extremely solid wild card position at the moment, but they need to secure a win to keep pace with the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North. The Packers laid the smackdown on the New York Giants on Sunday to move their record to 9-3, and though the Packers own the tiebreaker at the moment, the Vikings control their own destiny.
How to watch
Date: Monday, Dec. 2, 2019 | Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Location: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)
TV: ESPN | Follow: CBS Sports App
Of course, this game is of great importance even if neither team wins the division, because the winner will get a leg up on being able to face whichever decrepit NFC East team makes the playoffs, as opposed to one of the real division winners, in the first round. With that in mind, let's break things down.
When the Seahawks have the ball
The dirty little secret about the Minnesota Vikings' defense is that it is now far easier to throw on them than it ever has been. Minnesota ranks just 16th in passing defense DVOA, and its cornerbacks are still struggling just about as bad as they were the last time we wrote about them in this space. (Numbers in the excerpt below have been updated through Week 12.)
No. 1 cornerback Xavier Rhodes is just flat out not quite as good as he used to be. Rhodes has allowed a 124.6 passer rating on throws in his direction, per Pro Football Focus, which ranks 154th out of the 168 cornerbacks and safeties who have played at least 200 snaps in coverage. Compare that to 2018 (88.4), 2017 (73.2), and 2016 (47.0), and it's clear Rhodes is simply not the same.
Trae Waynes has not been much better than Rhodes, as he's been hit for a 109.5 passer rating on throws his way, which ranks 126th among the same group of players.
The Vikings typically align with Rhodes at right corner and Waynes on the left, which means Rhodes will see more of monster-sized rookie wideout DK Metcalf. Metcalf has become essentially a full-time player after being used situationally early in the season (87-plus percent snap rate in each of the past four games after hitting that mark only once in the first seven games), and he has taken over a larger share of the targets during that time as well. He's still not the most dynamic route-runner in the world but his combination of size, strength, and length gives him one of the NFL's wideout catch radiuses, and Russell Wilson has developed a good amount of trust in him.
Of course, Wilson's No. 1 target is Tyler Lockett. We between the two players last week:
Lockett was sparingly involved during the early portion of his career, never seeing more than 71 targets during any of his first four seasons. He's got 78 through 11 weeks this season, but he has managed to maintain the spectacular efficiency. It seemed wildly unlikely that Lockett could replicate last season's 81.4 percent catch rate if he upped the volume this season, but he's at 80.8 percent this year, the third-best mark among 31 players with 75-plus targets. While his insane touchdown rate (10 on 70 targets) has come down a bit (six on 78 targets), he's still turning 7.7 percent of his targets into scores, which ranks sixth-best among that same group of 31 players.
Somewhat incredibly given his size, Lockett is arguably the best receiver in the entire league at using his body to shield a defender on a deep ball. He has terrific upper-body strength and he knows exactly when to use his shoulder or his arm to bar the defender from leaping over the top to deflect a pass. He and Wilson have marvelous chemistry on these types of plays, and Wilson knows to put a little extra arc under the ball when he's targeting Lockett down the field. And Lockett is fantastic at tracking the ball over his shoulder and getting his hands up and on the ball in just enough time to snag it, pin it to his chest, and prevent the defender from knocking it away.
The Seahawks move Lockett all over the formation, but he does his best work in the slot, where he can use his quickness to break away from opposing cornerbacks. The Vikings rank just 25th in DVOA against slot wideouts this season, according to Football Outsiders, and that's not a great place to be in against a player like Lockett. The Vikes have at least done a good job of limiting tight ends, which is key given the emergence of Jacob Hollister in recent games.
The question for the Seahawks, as it always is against teams like the Vikings, is whether they will actually Let Russ Cook. It's well known at this point that Pete Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer have a strong preference for Establishing The Run. They have stubbornly run the ball right into elite run defenses in the past, including in last year's playoff loss to the Cowboys. When facing the Buccaneers earlier this season, though, they came out with a pass-heavy plan and it led to a win. They'd be wise to come out with the same type of play on Monday night because Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny are likely to find tough sledding on the ground.
Minnesota ranks fourth in the NFL in run defense DVOA, with opponents averaging only 4.1 yards per carry and having fumbled the ball nearly as many times (two) as they have carried it across the goal line (three). The Seahawks seem to have an enormous amount of faith in Carson, and they insisted late last week that he will still be their No. 1 guy despite his responsibility for two fumbles last week. Carson is a tackle-breaking machine, which is a good thing to be against a defense where yards will be hard to come by, but the fumbling issues led to him being benched in favor of Penny last week. Penny is up to 5.9 yards per carry after his explosion against the Eagles last week, but 95 of his 296 rushing yards this season have come on two plays and he's picked up just 201 yards on his other 48 carries (4.2 per carry).
When the Vikings have the ball
Remember when people were worried about Kirk Cousins undermining the Vikings' season, all the way back in Week 4? Those were fun times. Since then, all Cousins has done is complete 162 of 221 passes (73.3 percent) for 2,020 yards (9.1 per attempt), 18 touchdowns, and just one interception. That's a 126.5 passer rating, which is by far the best in the NFL during that span. (Ryan Tannehill is second with a 113.9 rating.)
Cousins is absolutely scorching teams with play-action passes, going 55 of 78 for 864 yards, 11 touchdowns, and no picks on throws after faking a run over the past seven games. And he's done almost all of that without Adam Thielen, who has essentially been out since Week 6 and will sit out Monday night again.
Against the Seahawks, there is an obvious place of weakness to attack in the secondary. Tre Flowers is far easier to pick on in coverage than Shaquill Griffin, though Flowers has played better in recent weeks. Still, it makes sense to align Stefon Diggs to the offense's left side of the field more often than not, allowing him to work against Flowers while Olabisi Johnson gets sacrificed to Griffin's coverage.
Seattle still plays more base defense than almost any other team in the league, even against three- and four-receiver sets, but that's not quite as relevant against this Vikings team that has moved into more 12 personnel alignments (one running back, two tight ends, two receivers) with Thielen on the mend. Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. are greater receiving threats than Laquon Treadwell anyway, but Seattle's linebackers and safeties have been pretty dependable in coverage this year, with Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright doing their usual work and Bradley McDougald doing a strong job taking over for Earl Thomas behind them.
Much like the Seahawks, however, the Vikings would prefer to run the ball if that option is available to them. Dalvin Cook has been one of the small handful of best running backs in the league this season, gaining 1,017 yards on his 214 carries and finding the end zone 11 times. He's added 455 additional yards through the air, becoming one of the better out-of-backfield receiving threats in the league as well. Alexander Mattison has run well behind him (82 carries for 394 yards and one score), allowing the Vikings to keep Cook's workload in check for the most part.
The two players have combined for 21 explosive (15-plus yards) carries this season, per Pro Football Focus, with Cook breaking 13 of them and Mattison racking up eight. They've each done an excellent job of breaking tackles as well, ranking eighth and ninth in PFF's elusive rating among the 53 running backs with at least 50 carries on the year. Seattle has the No. 17-ranked run defense unit by DVOA this season, but only the Browns and Ravens have really found all that much success against them on the ground. Cook is a different challenge than many of the backs they have faced, but it wasn't that long ago that the Seahawks held one of the NFL's best run games (49ers) in check, allowing only 87 yards to Kyle Shanahan's unit.
Prediction: Seahawks 26, Vikings 24
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