The NFL’s best running back meets the league’s most dominant rushing defense as Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings play host to the two-time defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks (10-6) in Sunday afternoon’s Wild Card showdown at TCF Bank Stadium.
Peterson overpowered defenses for 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns, bursting through opposing frontlines for 4.5 yards per attempt, and guiding the Vikings' fourth-ranked rushing attack and 18 total rushing scores to their first NFC North title in five years. But the one team that contained Peterson like no one else season was the Seahawks, who held the 30-year-old to 18 yards off eight attempts in Week 13’s 38-7 crushing on the road.
Against all others, and perhaps in the face of Minnesota’s otherwise limited attack, Peterson averaged nearly 93 yards per game and took some pressure off second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Making the first postseason start of his career, Bridgewater exceeded the work from his rookie season with more yardage and fewer interceptions for an 88.7 passer rating but the Vikings were just the 16th highest scoring team in the NFL with 22.8 points per game.
Minnesota did, however, find at least one diamond in the rough who could thwart Seattle’s star-studded defensive backfield of cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas. Rookie receiver Stefon Diggs emerged with 52 receptions for 720 yards and four scores to lead the Vikings.
Head coach Mike Zimmer’s squad also enjoyed a full-healthy season from fifth-year tight end Kyle Rudolph, who was second on the team with 49 receptions for 495 yards and five touchdowns.
The Vikings defense, while it didn’t rank better than No. 17 against the run and No. 12 versus the pass, still let up a mere 18.9 points a contest and they were especially effective on third down, finishing fifth in the league on the critical down.
But, exuding the same kind of defensive prowess responsible for two consecutive Super Bowl trips, Seattle would win three of its final four games of the regular season after stymieing Peterson and the Vikings by allowing an average of 12 points per game and led the NFL with 81.5 rushing yards surrendered per contest.
Despite their late burst in the second-half of the season, claiming six victories in seven games behind that stellar defense and quarterback Russell Wilson’s deft play in and out of the pocket, the Seahawks couldn’t completely erase their 2-4 start to the season and wound up as the last NFC team in the postseason.
Still, with Wilson firing off a career-best 4,024 yards and 34 touchdowns, 24 of which came in the last seven games of the season, the Seahawks enter the matchup as five-point road favorites. It marks the first time Seattle will play on the road in the postseason since 2012, when it fell to Atlanta in the divisional round in Wilson’s first playoff run.
How well the pieces around Wilson’s offense perform, especially running backs Christine Michael as he fills in for the injured Thomas Rawls and Marshawn Lynch, may make all the difference to Seattle’s hopes. Michael gained 102 of his 192 total yards in Week 17’s 36-6 beat down at rival Arizona, and the Seahawks remained the third-best rushing squad in the league.
Wilson also got a career-year from receiver Doug Baldwin. The 27-year-old improved on his solid numbers from last season for his first 1,000-yard season and was tied for first in the NFL with 14 touchdown grabs.
Betting Line: Seattle -5
Over/Under: 40 points
Prediction: Seattle over Minnesota, 34-10