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The Skinny Post: Vikings, Seahawks Set for Clash of NFC Contenders

EAGAN, Minn. — There is no shortage of magnitude for this one.

We’re talking a prime-time game on national television between two NFC teams who likely think of themselves as respective Super Bowl contenders in their conference. Add in a raucous atmosphere in Seattle, and you have all the ingredients for a game that many can’t wait to see.

That is what is in store for the Vikings, who are 8-3 and coming off their bye. Kickoff against the Seahawks (9-2) is at 7:15 p.m. (CT) on Monday Night Football.

“Certainly, a night game in Seattle with two teams having good seasons so far, there is a lot there, and I think that’s what makes it fun,” said Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. “It’s a lot more fun to play in a game like this with a lot of the line against a really strong opponent than if you’re in the back of the pack and struggling.

Both teams are currently in a similar spot — having strong seasons and currently in the two NFC Wild Card spots. They also are within reach of winning their divisions.

Minnesota and Green Bay are both 8-3 with five games remaining, including a head-to-head matchup on Dec. 23 at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Packers won the Week 2 meeting between the NFC North foes and currently hold that tiebreaker as well as one that is based on record within the division.

Seattle is tied for the second-best record in the conference at 9-2, but the Seahawks trail the 49ers (10-1) in the NFC West. Seattle handed San Francisco its only loss.

Monday night’s game is big for many reasons. To start, it would give the winner the head-to-head tiebreaker in terms of seeding. But with both teams still in play for a potential first-round bye, respective division title and possible home playoff game, there is plenty at stake Monday night.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster for the 2019 season.

Here are three areas to watch in Monday night’s contest, plus some noteworthy stats on both teams:

Protect the ball | By @Eric_L_Smith

A single stat sums up how the Seahawks have found their way to a 9-2 record in 2019.

In those nine wins, Seattle’s defense has 23 takeaways. In the two losses? Just one.

“Especially in the games they win, they get a lot of turnovers,” said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. “Fumbles, punch the ball out, get a lot of eyes on the ball, so they do a really good job in that. We’re going to have to possess the ball and take care of it.”

The Vikings haven’t been as reliant on turnovers in their wins. Minnesota has 13 takeaways in its eight victories. The Vikings have had three in their three losses.

Seattle ranks third in the league with a turnover differential of plus-9, while Minnesota is tied for ninth at plus-4.

Both teams have 10 interceptions, but as Zimmer mentioned, the Seahawks feast on fumbles. The Seahawks have 14 fumble recoveries, which is tied for the league lead.

Vikings running back Dalvin Cook explained how Seattle has produced a league-leading 14 takeaways on fumbles:

“You got some people who just teach certain techniques about how to tackle the football,” Cook said. “You just gotta watch out for those guys. That’s what they do, they tackle the football.”

Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski said the Seahawks “obviously stress” creating turnovers.

“I know that’s one of the things with [Head Coach Pete] Carroll’s defense. They’re all about the ball,” Stefanski said. “They work really hard at stripping at it, they work hard at getting hands on it.

“Conversely, we work real hard on being about our business when it comes to techniques,” he added. “So anyone who’s carrying the ball, whether it’s a tight end, running back, wide receiver or the quarterback in the pocket, using proper technique, having two hands on the ball.”

The Vikings have won six of their past seven games, with the offense committing six total turnovers in that span.

The formula has helped Minnesota establish itself as one of the NFC’s top teams, and will be crucial again on Monday night.

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Battle of the linebackers | By @LindseyMNSports

May the best … linebacker corps … win?

When the Vikings and Seahawks face off on Monday Night Football, they’ll be fielding a pair of talented linebacker groups who have garnered respect across the league.

Vikings linebacker duo Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr have combined for 171 tackles (coaches’ tally). The longtime teammates have eight tackles for loss and 19 passes defensed. The two seem to wreak havoc all over the field, keeping opposing offenses on their toes, and Carroll said that Eric is having his “best-ever” season.

And speaking of Kendricks, Monday’s game will feature a family reunion of sorts between Eric and his older brother, Seahawks linebacker Mychal Kendricks. Drafted in 2012 by the Eagles, Mychal spent the first six seasons of his career in Philadelphia before joining the Seahawks in 2018. Through 11 games in Seattle, he has 60 tackles (press box stats), 3.0 sacks, four passes defensed, a forced fumble and an interception.

Mychal is joined in the linebackers room by the Seahawks leading tacklers, Bobby Wagner (105) and K.J. Wright (95) (press box stats). The trio is extremely dynamic, and all three are capable of making game-changing plays.

Wagner has shown no signs of slowing down in his eighth NFL season. The four-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler has started all 11 games this season and has 2.0 sacks, three quarterback hits, five tackles for loss, a forced fumble, fumble recovery and three passes defensed.

The Week 13 matchup likely will be a physical one, and fans can expect to see linebackers on each side making a difference for their teams.

All about the finish | By @pcraigers

Finish the block, finish the tackle, finish the drive, finish the game.

The Vikings placed considerable emphasis this offseason on the final 10 minutes of the game.

Zimmer has spoken about that, and his team has seen the results during its stretch of winning six times in seven games. The Vikings have been able to put teams away in a couple of different ways during this streak.

Minnesota blew open a four-point game in Detroit with aggressiveness. The following week, the Vikings chewed up clock to make a seven-point lead a 19-9 victory over Washington. In Week 10, Minnesota protected a 28-24 lead at Dallas thanks in part to an interception of a Hail Mary on the final play.

Against Denver, Minnesota completed a comeback from a 20-zip halftime deficit. Trailing by three with 10 to go, the Vikings scored the final touchdown of the day and then had key pass breakups in the end zone.

It marked the first time under Zimmer that Minnesota has won after trailing with 10 minutes left in a game. The Vikings are now 1-30-1 in that scenario.

Conversely, the Vikings are 51-4 when leading with 10 minutes to go and 3-1 when tied.

Last season, Minnesota trailed 6-0 at Seattle before the Seahawks broke things open in a 21-7 win.

Minnesota opened with punts on its first four possessions and then took a knee after an interception to finish the half.

The Vikings were able to move the ball better in the second half but didn’t yield points on its first four possessions of the second half.

The drives ended with an incompletion on third-and-1 at the Minnesota 39, a run for no gain on fourth-and-1 at the Seattle 40, an incompletion on fourth-and-goal at the Seattle 1 and a blocked 47-yard field goal attempt.

Substantial Stats

— Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is one of three running backs to have reached 1,000 rushing yards so far in 2019. Cook ranks third in the NFL with 1,017 rushing yards.

— Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson ranks second in the NFL with 84 regular-season wins (behind Tom Brady’s 93) since the start of the 2012 season. Wilson is 47-14 at home as a starter in that time span.

— Despite playing just 353 of 730 offensive snaps (48.36 percent) so far in 2019, Adam Thielen still leads the Vikings with six touchdown catches. Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph have five apiece.

— The Vikings have lost five straight games to the Seahawks, including the postseason. Minnesota’s offense has averaged 12.6 points per game during the losing streak.

Quotable

“It’s a good atmosphere to play football. I like away games, honestly. I like the hostile crowd and the noise and things like that. I try to enjoy away games. I like home games, too, but there’s something special about going on the road.”

— Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks

Back to division play

The Vikings haven’t seen some of their closest rivals since Week 7, but that will change in Week 14.

Minnesota will host Detroit at home, with the Dec. 8 kickoff scheduled for noon (CT). The Vikings lone division win is against the Lions, a 42-30 victory at Ford Field back in October.

Detroit played on Thanksgiving but fell 24-20 to Chicago. The Lions are 3-8-1 and have lost nine of their past 10 games.

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