The NFL's two top rushers meet in Seattle on Sunday when the Minnesota Vikings visit the Seahawks.
The Vikings' Adrian Peterson, No. 1 in the NFL with 775 rushing yards, and Seattle's Marshawn Lynch, second with 757, probably won't decide this one, however.
The alarming regression of Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder doesn't figure to slow a against a Seahawks secondary which could be the NFL's best.
The Vikings ended the first half of their season on a down note back on Oct. 25 when Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman fired three touchdown passes and Doug Martin racked up over 200 total yards of total offense and two scores, as the Buccaneers ended a nine-game road losing streak with a 36-17 triumph over Minnesota at Mall of America Field.
Ponder completed 19-of-35 passes for 251 yards, one touchdown and one interception but most of that damage was done after the game was far out of reach. Peterson, meanwhile, rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries for the Vikings, who have lost six straight against Tampa Bay.
"We definitely did not play good football in any phase," Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier admitted. "I didn't do a good job of getting our guys prepared for a game like this. We did not play well. It's extremely obvious."
Seattle also comes in after a tough loss last Sunday.
Detroit's Titus Young's second touchdown catch of the game came with 20 seconds remaining led the Lions to a 28-24 win over the Seahawks at Ford Field.
Rookie Russell Wilson was 25-for-35 passing for 236 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, while Lynch had 12 carries for 105 yards and a score for the Seahawks, who have dropped their past two.
"We're disappointed in losing the game," said Seattle head coach Peter Carroll. "We couldn't hold them when we had to and finish them off. We were really bad on third downs and that hurt us badly."
Seattle has a slim 6-5 edge in the all-time series with Minnesota but the Vikings have taken three of the past four.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Neither quarterback inspires much confidence and it shows in the way these two teams play. Wilson is extremely raw and limited at this point and that's why Seattle has an NFL-low 210 passing attempts while Lynch is second in the league with 159 carries.
Expect the Seahawks to use a heavy dose of play-action since the Vikings defense has allowed three straight 100-yard rushers and Seattle's receiving corps is extremely beat up.
Ex-Viking Sidney Rice is always a matchup threat because of his size and ball skills but Ben Obomanu was placed on injured reserve earlier this week with a wrist injury. Meanwhile veteran Braylon Edwards could might miss a second straight game with a swollen knee, Golden Tate aggravated an ankle injury last Sunday in Detroit and Doug Baldwin, who has a high ankle sprain, is almost assuredly out.
Of course the Vikings are also depleted in the secondary after emerging corner Chris Cook went down with a broken right arm against Tampa Bay. Rookie Josh Robinson is expected to take Cook's place in the base defense with A.J. Jefferson taking over in the nickel or vice versa. Minnesota could get a boost with the return of strong safety Mistral Raymond, who missed the previous five games with a dislocated ankle.
That's all white noise, however, if the Vikings can't stop Lynch, who is averaging an impressive 6.7 yards per carry over his last two games.
"In my mind, he's one of the best in our business so we better get our run (defense) fixed in a hurry," Frazier said.
Minnesota offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave seems to be losing confidence in Ponder by the week and you can certainly understand why.
The second-year signal-caller has thrown all seven of his interceptions in the last four games. Overall, the Vikings have 10 turnovers in those four contests and almost all of them are directly related to Ponder, who has been making extremely poor decisions, particularly when he's out of the pocket, trying to extend plays. Ponder is athletic but his mechanics fall apart when he's on the move, causing his ball to sail.
"I think, for me, it's going back to technique, working on my footwork and working on my reads and everything," Ponder said. "One thing I need to continue is to keep stepping up in the pocket and not flushing left or right, but keep moving forward."
Since Ponder has been anything but reliable the Vikings have to lean on Peterson, who leads the NFL with 7,527 rushing yards and 68 TDs since arriving on the scene in 2007. The superstar has proven he can run against any defense, even one like Seattle's, which allows just 84.9 rushing yards per game.
That said, Ponder has to start making play on the outside, especially when the opposition is crowding the box to stop Peterson.
"It's going to be hard for us to achieve our goals if we're not able to improve our passing game," Frazier said.
Of course, Seattle probably has the best defensive backfield in football with safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas backing up lengthy corners Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman.
"They do have a big, physical group back there," Frazier said. "The safeties are big, the corners are big, you don't usually see four across with the size that they have. They play very, very well. They do a good job of getting their hands on you and playing press coverage. They're a little bit different although we see press coverage, I don't know if we see it as consistently with the size that we'll see on Sunday."
The Seahawks own of the NFL's best homefield advantages and tend to be far more dynamic as the host. Carroll will want to rely on Lynch and his defense this week while hoping Wilson can effectively manage the game against a defense which doesn't produce many turnovers.
Seattle is already 3-0 at home for the second time in three years and Wilson has been far more effective at CenturyLink Field than on the road. Ponder, meanwhile, hasn't shown the mental toughness to weather the bad times and it's hard to imagine him navigating all the pitfalls that will be awaiting him in one of the NFL's toughest places to play.
"Their fans do a good job of getting in the game early and making it hard on offenses and teams in general to function," Frazier said. "You don't want to fall too far behind in that environment, it can be tough."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Seahawks 28, Vikings 13