It's going to be a battle of the running backs on Sunday, as Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle Seahawks take on Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings. Lynch and Peterson are both doing amazing things given where their careers went recently. Of course, Lynch is a couple seasons removed from being left in the cold by the Buffalo Bills, while Peterson had to have major reconstructive surgery on his knee a season ago.
Both players are at the top of the NFL in rushing yardage, with Peterson holding the slight edge with 18 more yards. Both have been instrumental to relative success for their franchises this season
Prior to the start of the season, few gave either much chance of competing for a spot in the playoffs, and now both find themselves in a decent position in the standings. Another similarity is the fact that both teams lost their last game, with Minnesota falling to Tampa Bay and Seattle falling to Detroit. Both teams feature strong run defenses, so this should be a fun game that could eventually come down to young, inexperienced quarterbacks in Christian Ponder and Russell Wilson.
Meet the Seahawks
Seattle has dropped two straight games, including a road loss to the NFC West rival 49ers and then a debilitating loss to the Lions, in which they had the game stolen from them in the final seconds after Matthew Stafford's eighth career fourth-quarter comeback.
Still, the Seahawks are 3-0 at home and their stadium remains one of the most difficult to play in. They haven't started 4-0 at home since 2005, the season in which they made it to the Super Bowl. They boast a very strong run defense, as they allow just 84.9 yards per game on the ground, and should provide a stiff test for Peterson.
Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has been surprising ... and unsurprising this season. He's shown remarkable poise at times, given that many felt he was a few years away from being starting-caliber. But he's also made plenty of mistakes, and can let games get away from him from time to time. Still, the Seahawks are sticking with him and, to this point, he's .500, which is probably beyond what was expected, again.
Meet the Vikings
If you had told a Vikings fan that they'd be 5-3 at the halfway point of the season, they probably would have laughed at you, or possibly cried a little out of the absolute absurdity of the statement. Of course, this is piling it on a little thickly. Their improvement makes sense, given the circumstances of the offense and the players who were brought in.
Christian Ponder had another year and offseason to learn the offense and get better, while Peterson returned to form, as many hoped he would. They play five of their final eight games on the road, though, and it doesn't get much harder than playing in Seattle, regardless of the state of the team the Seahawks are fielding.
The Vikings are usually tough against the run, as noted above, but they've allowed three straight 100-yard rushers, and must correct that issue, lest Lynch take the game over and run away with the win. The defense has been inconsistent this year, which is troubling for a team that usually hangs its hat on strong play on that side of the ball.
Local Takes: Seahawks
Jacson Bevens from Field Gulls made his picks on Thursday, and he noted that the game is one of the most important for Seattle this season, given its playoff implications.
This is, in terms of leverage, one of the most important games Seattle will play all season. A win would give them tie-break advantages over potential playoff suitors Green Bay, Dallas, and Minnesota -- all of which are three of the four teams I consider most likely to snag a Wild Card spot (not counting Seattle). A loss would put them two games behind the Vikings and would mean they'd lose that particular tie-break, so it'd really be more like 2.5 games back.
Local Takes: Vikings
Christopher Gates from Daily Norseman takes a look at what the Vikings need to do to win the game. He's of the opinion that it will fall on Ponder to make things happen in the end.
The Seattle Seahawks have a very good defense, and that defense is led by a very tough, physical secondary. Adrian Peterson is going to get his yards. We know this. Why? Because he's Adrian Peterson, and that's what he tends to do. The key will be whether or not Christian Ponder and company can take advantage of the few opportunities they're likely to get against a very tough back seven in what is, unquestionably, the loudest environment in the NFL.
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I was doing some scouting of the Vikings: Adrian Peterson is good at running while carrying the football and not getting tackled by big men.— Danny Kelly (@FieldGulls) November 2, 2012
Well, the Vikings no longer have the worst performance on Thursday Night Football this year. I guess that's something.— The Daily Norseman (@DailyNorseman) November 2, 2012
Many are picking the Seahawks for this game, despite the fact that they have a worse record. Some suggest that Seattle's particular home-field advantage could account for a 10-point swing in their favor by most odds-makers, but that's all speculation. The Vikings have looked like the better team this year, but the Seahawks might just be equipped to beat them. Their defense is aging and lagging, while the Seahawks might do enough to slow down Peterson and force the ball into Ponder's hands. If that happens, the Seahawks will end up with a win, and a winning record.
The pick: Seahawks win at home, 24-16
The Seahawks are favored by about 4 points on most of the major books, according to OddsShark.com. The line has moved in their favor since the opening line had them favored by just 2 points.