Expect the Seattle D to step up as usual, says Romilly Evans, as he predicts a torrid weekend for Teddy Bridgewater on his play-offs debut...
"Bridgewater should be left coming up for air when choked for options by the LOB."
Seattle Seahawks @ Minnesota Vikings
Start-time: Sunday, 18:05
TV: Live on SS1
Unlucky Week 13 (where the Minnesota Vikings were humiliated 38-7 at home by the Seattle Seahawks) has already set a clear precedent for this Wildcard match-up. So unless you're the superstitious type, it's difficult to avoid the lazy conclusion that there's no reason why those rampaging Hawks can't repeat a feat they managed only a month ago.
But aren't Minnesota playing better now? After all, they snatched NFC North Division from Green Bay at historic Lambeau (never an easy place to go) and are here on merit with some home comforts as their reward.
Cold comfort more likely, though. Especially with the mercury set to dip well below zero in Minnesota (maybe as low as -17, factoring in the wind chill). While it won't rival this Ice Bowl (1967's famous test in the frozen tundra as -46 degrees) the style of game the elements engender should be similar: attritional.
The cold doesn't stop teams throwing the ball. Wind is a bigger variable. However, with the breezes set to gear up too, it's a safe bet that careful hand-offs to backfield runners will dominate proceedings as long as this remains a cagey affair. That's good news for Minny, whose star rusher Adrian Peterson will look to establish his imperious ground game. If AP posts over 120 yards (the Vikings are 5-0 this term when he does) then they have a shot.
More likely, though, is that Russell Wilson and the returning Marshawn Lynch (from an abdominal tear) will thrive. It's unlikely that Lynch will be operating at full Beat Mode level, yet he doesn't needs to be. Pete Carroll has reformulated his Hawks around his quarterback's twin-threat capabilities, and Wilson (still maturing at 27 years of age) is assuredly repaying the faith with perhaps the best streak of his career (his bêtes noires in St Louis aside).
Equally important is the resurgence of the Hawks' Legion of Boom. Written off in some quarters at half-term assessment, the Seattle D has rallied and still ranks as the tightest overall in the league, with a miserly 17.3 points allowed per game. They also possess the best run defense (81.5 rushing yards per game) and the second-best pass defense (210.2 passing yards per game).
Seattle's gameplan here will be to slow Peterson to such and extent that he can't single-handedly move the chains. As Wilson and Lynch pressure the Vikes on the other side of the ball, this match should progressively fall to QB Teddy Bridgewater being asked to step up in the thin atmosphere of the play-offs. Bridgewater should accordingly be left coming up for air when choked for options by the LOB. They restricted him to a pick and a measly 118 yards last time (17 off 28 passes) and his completion percentage should take another dip here.
Long story short: not this year, I'm afraid, TB. And the Vikes should buckle under his mistakes. Their pre-game talk has all been about adding cayenne pepper to their socks and wearing thicker gloves. But Wilson's Hawks will nevertheless prove too hot to handle.
Back Seattle Seahawks (-4.5) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 1.9620/21 or better
Back Seattle Seahawks to win on the First Half Moneyline @ 1.68/13 or better
Back Under 40 Total Points @ 1.9210/11 or better
Back M. Lynch to score First / Anytime Touchdown 8.07/1 or better