Here is Howard Balzer's take on the game MINNESOTA VIKINGS (6-5-1) AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (7-5) GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Monday, 8:15 PM ET; CenturyLink Field; ESPN, Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten, Booger McFarland, Lisa Salters (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 15th regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead series, 9-5. Since realignment in 2002, the Seahawks have won five out of eight games between the two franchises, including the last three regular-season meetings. Seattle edged Minnesota 10-9 in the 2015 NFC wild-card round amid below zero temperatures when Vikings kicker Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal with 26 seconds left.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Seattle managed to hammer San Francisco last weekend while throwing the football only 17 times, but that game plan may not translate well this week against Minnesota. First, the Vikings rank seventh in the NFL defending the run and have held opponents under 3.8 yards per carry in seven of their 12 games. This doesn't mean the Seahawks need to abandon the run - the Patriots were able to rush for 160 yards against them and it will be helpful slowing down Danielle Hunter and a talented Vikings front line - but they'll need to be a bit more aggressive passing on early downs to move the football with consistency. The Seahawks will also be hard-pressed to duplicate their success with downfield throws, as the Vikings rank among the best in the league at limiting explosive 20-plus-yard plays. Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer has been openly frustrated about the lack of carries in the run game and wasn't pleased that the Vikings only called 13 running plays against New England. Consequently, offensive coordinator John DeFilippo has been under fire, as Minnesota ranks 30th in the NFL averaging only 86.1 rushing yards per game this season. With Zimmer pleading for more emphasis on the run game and the Seahawks struggling much of the season to slow down opposing running games, head coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. have to expect a heavy dose of Dalvin Cook on Monday. In the secondary, Seattle should be most concerned about the play-making ability of Minnesota receiver Adam Thielen, who has 622 receiving yards from the slot and can also do damage playing on the outside.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: --Vikings S Harrison Smith vs. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. Perhaps no quarterback is more dangerous when the pocket breaks down than Wilson. Wilson also one of the league's best deep passers. Smith will have to be quick with his keys on whether to come up in run coverage or help out deep in the secondary. --Seahawks LT Duane Brown vs. Vikings DE Danielle Hunter. Brown has been a savior protecting Russell Wilson's blind side since arriving via trade last season and has enjoyed a strong first full season with the Seahawks. He's also served as a mentor for young linemen such as right tackle Germain Ifedi, proving instrumental in the massive improvements up front as a whole for Seattle. He's going to have his hands full with Hunter, however, who ranks fifth in the NFL with 11.5 sacks this season and already has a career-high 58 tackles and 15 quarterback hits for Minnesota.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Seahawks DT Poona Ford. With Shamar Stephen sitting out due to a foot injury, Ford made his first career NFL start against the 49ers on Sunday and opened the game with a bang, recording three tackles on the Seahawks' first two defensive possessions. The 5-foot-11 undrafted rookie out of Texas doesn't fit the typical build for an NFL nose tackle, but he pursues opposing ball-carriers sideline-to-sideline and uses his long arms to dislodge from blocks in the run game.
FAST FACTS: VIKINGS QB KIRK COUSINS leads NFL with 350 completions & ranks 6th with 3,490 pass yards this season. In 2 career meetings, has 530 pass yards (265 per game) with 2 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 97.2 rating. ... RB DALVIN COOK had 106 scrimmage yards (84 rush, 22 rec.) & career-high 8 receptions last week. Has 75+ scrimmage yards in 3 of his past 4. ... WR ADAM THIELEN had TD catch in Week 13. Leads NFL with 98 receptions, ranks 2nd with 1,166 rec. yards & ties for 5th with 9 TD catches. Aims for his 3rd in row with rec. TD. ... WR STEFON DIGGS has TD in 3 of his past 4. Thielen (98) & Diggs (84) are only pair of NFC teammates with 80+ receptions each in 2018. ... DE DANIELLE HUNTER ties for 3rd in NFC with 11.5 sacks & ties for 2nd in conference with 16 TFL. ... LB ERIC KENDRICKS had career-high 16 tackles & 3rd-career INT in Week 13. Aims for his 6th in row with 7+ tackles. ... S HARRISON SMITH has 2 INTs & FR in his past 6. ... SEAHAWKS QB RUSSELL WILSON threw 4 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 140.9 rating last week. Aims for his 5th in row with 2+ TD passes, 0 INTs & 110+ rating. In 8 career Monday games, is 6-2 with 16 TD passes vs. 2 INTs for 111.8 rating. Since 2017, leads NFL with 28 TD passes & 127.3 rating in 4th Q (min. 50 atts.). ... RB CHRIS CARSON had 108 scrimmage yards (69 rush, 39 rec.) last week. Has rush TD in 2 of his past 3. ... Rookie RB RASHAAD PENNY rushed for 65 yards & TD in Week 13. ... WR TYLER LOCKETT had 52-yard TD catch last week. Is averaging 16.2 yards per catch this season, 5th-highest in NFL (min. 40 receptions). ... WR JARON BROWN had 67 rec. yards & 2 TDs in Week 13, his 1st-career game with 2+ TDs. ... LB BOBBY WAGNER had 12 tackles, sack, FF, FR & 98-yard INT-TD in Week 13, his 1st career INT-TD & 4th-career TD. Has 12+ tackles in 4 of his past 5. Aims for his 3rd in row with FF. ... DT JARRAN REED had sack last week. Has 4.5 sacks in his past 5 at home. ... DE FRANK CLARK has 3 sacks in his past 3 at home.
PREDICTION: The Seahawks are finding themselves at just the right time, and the home atmosphere on a Monday night will be difficult for the Vikings to handle. In a slugfest, Seattle prevails.
OUR PICK: Seahawks, 20-16