EAGAN, Minn. — This could be a pivotal one for the Vikings.
Minnesota currently sits at 1-3 through four games in 2020, and begins the second quarter of the season on the road against Seattle.
The Vikings are coming off their first win of the season in Week 4, but if they can topple an undefeated team on the road on national television, their confidence level could skyrocket.
"It would be good," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said of a potential prime-time win. "We've been playing better each week, and hopefully we go out there and play great on Sunday night.
"We've got some catching up to do," Zimmer added, "so we have to start putting some wins together."
With 12 regular-season games remaining, the Vikings still have time to get in gear and challenge for a playoff spot, especially now that there is an extra postseason berth in each conference.
But in order to get on a roll, the Vikings will have to first get past an opponent that has long been a thorn in their side. Minnesota has lost six straight games against Seattle, including postseason play.
"I was thinking about that the other day," said Vikings safety Harrison Smith. "They've always been a tough team under Pete [Carroll] and they play a tough brand of football and find ways to win, even when it's ugly, so that's what we're looking to do.
"We're looking to find a way to win," Smith added. "We obviously have things we're keying on and things that are emphasized, but at the end of the day, it's all about winning, so that's what we're going out there to do."
Kickoff from Seattle is at 7:20 p.m. (CT) on Sunday Night Football.
Here are three areas to watch in Sunday night's contest, as compiled by Eric Smith, Lindsey Young and Craig Peters of Vikings.com:
Carson is key, too | By @Eric_L_Smith
Much of the Vikings focus this week has been on Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, and rightfully so. He leads the NFL in touchdown passes, completion percentage and passer rating.
And while the Vikings will certainly have their hands full with him Sunday night, especially with the high level he's currently playing at, Minnesota's defense has actually fared well against Wilson in the past two seasons in prime-time.
In 2018 and 2019 on Monday Night Football, Wilson has 312 combined passing yards with two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions while getting sacked four times.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of January 4, 2021.
Minnesota has kept him in check but has struggled against bruising running back Chris Carson who has 45 carries for 192 yards and two scores in those games.
With the Vikings defense ranking 24th against the run at 134.8 yards allowed per game, Carson and his powerful running style will provide a stiff test.
"Tough, I think, is a word that defines him well. I've never seen him give up on a run, ever," Smith said. "He's constantly churning his legs, almost looking for contact sometimes.
"He's a really tough back, plays really hard. I've got a ton of respect for his game," Smith added. "He's a very good ball carrier, and you've got to get multiple guys around him."
Through four games, Seattle ranks 15th in the league with a pass percentage of 59.20. That's an uptick from a season ago, when the Seahawks threw the ball on 54.34 percent of their plays, which ranked 27th in the league.
"They're just throwing the ball a little bit more," Co-Defensive Coordinator Adam Zimmer said. "They still have the same running game they did last year when we played them. They try to run the ball with [Carson], and he runs hard just like he always has.
"It's the same offense," Adam Zimmer added. "They might be throwing the ball a little bit more, as everyone has said, but they still have a strong running game, and we'll have to be good against the run this game."
Carson has 53 carries for 237 yards (4.47 yards per attempt) and two scores.
Battle of top 'backers | By @LindseyMNSports
The Vikings are preparing for one of the NFL's top middle linebackers while having another on their side.
Eric Kendricks missed practice Wednesday and Thursday with a foot injury, but the Vikings did not give him a designation for Sunday's game.
injury report this week has been lengthy and included Bobby Wagner, who was limited on Thursday with a rib injury. The six-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro is currently in his ninth NFL season and continues to be a dominant defender. Wagner currently leads all linebackers in passes defensed with four, while Kendricks' two ties him for eighth among the position group.
Wagner led the league in tackles last season. Kendricks, who last year earned his first All-Pro designation, is topping the NFL through four games with 45 total tackles (league stats). Wagner's 38 tackles rank fifth.
Kendricks and Wagner don't know each other much beyond acquaintances off the field, but the pair of 'backers share a mutual respect for one another.
"My brother (Mychal Kendricks) played with the Seahawks, so I know him a little through that relationship. I talk to him after the games and stuff like that. Other than that I just watch some of his film and know what kind of player he has been for so long."
"The first time I met him, he was like, 'I like watching your film,' " Kendricks added. "It goes back to the film; that's where we usually see each other's game."
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, who leads the league in rushing yards (426) and touchdowns (six), knows he'll have a big challenge if Wagner is on the field Sunday.
"He diagnoses plays so fast," Cook said. "He's a gifted player. His speed is great at the middle linebacker position. His size, he comes downhill. He's the all-around package of a total middle linebacker. We have to keep our eyes on him at all times during the game. Bobby is definitely a good player."
Avoid tumultuous stretch | By @pcraigers
The Vikings and Seahawks have met four times since Minnesota hired Mike Zimmer as head coach and have lost all four (including the brutally cold ending of the playoff game in the brutal cold).
The scores have been 38-7, 10-9, 21-7 and 37-30, but regardless of how close or far the teams were by the end of the game, each of those games had a tumultuous sequence for Minnesota that allowed Seattle to separate or bounce back from a deficit.
Dec. 6, 2015 in Minnesota: The Vikings trailed 7-0 with two-plus minutes left in the first half, but the Seahawks broke the game open with a pair of touchdowns in the final 2:11 of the second quarter. Wilson rushed for an 8-yard touchdown on third-and-goal from the Minnesota 7-yard line. Teddy Bridgewater was intercepted five plays later by Earl Thomas. A 25-yard return and 15-yard face mask penalty placed the ball at the Minnesota 20. Wilson threw a touchdown to Doug Baldwin on the next snap for a 21-0 lead.
Jan. 10, 2016 in Minnesota: Plodding through the third-coldest game in NFL history, Minnesota built a 9-0 lead through three quarters. Wilson recovered his own fumble and returned to his feet in one motion, avoiding a sack and turning what should have been a 16-yard loss by any other QB on the planet into a 35-yard completion to Tyler Lockett thanks to a blown man-coverage assignment. The Seahawks scored the game's only touchdown two plays later. A fumble by Adrian Peterson two plays after that positioned Seattle for the go-ahead field goal.
Dec. 10, 2018 in Seattle: The Vikings trailed 6-0 after missing a 47-yard field goal with 5:46 to play. Two plays later, Wilson got loose for a 40-yard run that led to a 2-yard touchdown run by Chris Carson with 2:53 remaining. Two plays after that, Kirk Cousins was sacked and stripped of the football by Jacob Martin. Justin Coleman returned the turnover 29 yards for a touchdown with 2:35 left in the game.
Dec. 2, 2019 in Seattle: The Vikings led 17-10 at halftime before a disastrous third quarter. One play after Seattle tied the game with an impressive drive, Cook fumbled at the Minnesota 26, which led to a field goal. Seattle threw a 60-yard TD pass to David Moore on its next drive. Two plays after that, Cousins was intercepted by Tre Flowers, which set up another scoring pass (Wilson to Rashaad Penny) for a 34-17 lead.
In Minnesota's three losses this season, they've had lapses of complementary football for periods of the game. Things got a little dicey last week as well. The bottom line is avoiding bad stretches against teams that can put together good stretches is important.
Notable Number: Nine
Cook has nine 100-yard rushing performances in his career, including in back-to-back weeks against Tennessee and Houston.
The Vikings running back, and the rest of Minnesota's offense, will face perhaps their toughest test yet in the Seahawks, who rank third in the NFL by allowing just 75.8 rushing yards per game. Seattle has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season.
Cook has had his ups and downs in Seattle the past, as he has 22 carries for 84 yards and a score, but he has also lost a fumble and exited the 2019 tilt early with an injury.
The Vikings will once again look to Cook to be the focal point of their offense Sunday, but a stout Seattle defense awaits.