The Seahawks feel like they've started to turn things around this season, having won four of five and two straight after going 2-4 to start the season. Keeping that momentum going won't be easy, however, not on the road against the Minnesota Vikings, who are one of the surprises of the 2015 NFL season, leading the NFC North with an 8-3 record.
"They're having a terrific season," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "So here we go with a great matchup going to Minnesota. We're looking forward to it, and we need to get right and get ready to get on the road."
Here are three key matchups that could make the difference in Sunday's game between two NFC playoff hopefuls:
1. A tried-and-true formula, who does it best.
How have the Vikings turned things around after two straight losing seasons? They're relying on one of the best running backs in the league; they're minimizing mistakes in the passing game, asking a young quarterback to take care of the ball; they're winning the turnover battle; and perhaps most importantly, they're playing stingy defense, giving up just 17.6 points per game, the second lowest total in the league. Wait a minute… That sounds vaguely familiar.
"We're going to see a team in the Vikings that has a real similar formula to us," Carroll said. "They run the ball, they play good defense, they're focused on their special teams stuff. They don't turn the ball over much. They take the ball away pretty well. There's a lot of really cool things that match this thing up."
So in a game between teams that like to play such a similar style, the difference between winning and losing could very well simply be who executes that formula better. While it's easy to look at the 2015 Vikings and see a lot similarities to Seattle's team from Russell Wilson's rookie season, the Seahawks have no plans on letting the Vikings beat them at their own game.
"I think they're doing a lot of good things right now," linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "That run game is opening up a lot of stuff for the passing game. I think Teddy (Bridgewater) is playing pretty good right now. So I feel like there are a lot of similarities, but there's only one Seahawks."
2. Adrian Peterson vs. the Seahawks run defense.
As mentioned above, the Vikings like to run the ball, and they're doing so with a lot of success thanks to Adrian Peterson, who at 30 is leading the NFL with 1,164 rushing yards, while as a team the Vikings are rushing for a league-high 146.4 yards per game.
"He poses every problem you could ever want," Carroll said. "Adrian is a fantastic football player. He's always been an explosive, dynamic, physical, come-through guy, big-play guy, everything. They know it, they feature him exactly like you'd think they should. They're going to come at you, and you better get the line of scrimmage right. So that's a huge challenge for us. They block well, they've got good schemes. It's very difficult. So the whole game for us defensively starts there, and we have to begin there."
The Seahawks face a very different challenge this week after seeing a Steelers offense that attempted 59 passes in Week 12, which is a challenge Seattle's front seven will embrace.
"He's a big part of their offense, and I'm going to do my best to make sure I'm on him every single play," Wagner said of Peterson. "They have a really good tight end in (Kyle) Rudolph, so I feel like this is a linebacker's game. Between me, Bruce (Irvin), K.J. (Wright) and Mike (Morgan), it's going to be won there.
"If we stop the run and make them one-dimensional, then we're going to have a good chance… We've got to be really, really disciplined, really focused on our gaps, and making sure that when we hit him, he feels us."
3. Improved Seahawks passing game vs. a stingy Vikings pass defense.
In a game where both teams are similar in a lot of ways, the passing game could be one area where the Seahawks have a measurable advantage. While the Vikings and Seahawks rank 31st and 32nd, respectively, in pass attempts, the Seahawks are averaging 42.8 more passing yards per game than Minnesota, thanks in part to a more aggressive approach that has Seattle averaging 8.4 yards per attempt, the second highest total in the league.
Wilson has played two of the best games of his career in the last two weeks, throwing for more than 600 yards and eight touchdowns without an interception, and has 10 more touchdown passes (18 to 8) and the same number of interceptions (7) as Bridgewater. Keeping the hot streak going, however will be no easy task for Wilson and the passing game, not against a Vikings defense that has allowed just 223.5 passing yards per game, the fourth lowest total in the league.
"(Vikings coach Mike Zimmer) is a defensive guy from his background, and you can see it in their play," Carroll said. "There's a lot of carryover from Cincinnati, they kind of share a similar scheme. They're very aggressive in passing situations, really good with their coverage changeups that they do, and they have really good personnel too. So they run well, they hit well, they tackle well, and they're very disciplined. So that's why they don't give up much and it's hard to find your yards against these guys."
The Seahawks have played the Vikings 17 times in the regular season (12-5) and once in the playoffs (1-0). Check out action photos from throughout the years of their matchups.