Vikings

What If Minnesota’s "Seahawks Problem" Is Just Home-Field Advantage?

Photo credit: Kirby Lee (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Vikings last beat the Seattle Seahawks in 2009. A purple-clad Brett Favre connected with Percy Harvin for the first touchdown of the game, one of four TD passes he completed that day. Minnesota won so handily over the Matt Hasselbeck-led Seahawks, 35-9, that Tarvaris Jackson finished the game.

Hasselbeck is now an ESPN personality, Favre joined Peyton and Eli using what had to be dial-up internet to offer mediocre analysis last Monday night, and T-Jack tragically died in a car accident last year. It’s been a while since the Vikings have beaten Seattle.

Three years after that game, Minnesota drafted Harrison Smith. In his first year with the Vikings, they lost to the Seahawks, 30-20 — the first of seven-straight losses to Seattle. Asked what he remembers about the game, Smith flashed a brief smile.

“I’m sure it was in Seattle,” he replied curtly. “That’s pretty much where they all are.”

He’s not wrong. Since the 2009 game, which was played at the Metrodome, only two games have been played in Minneapolis. Both were in 2015-16: A 38-7 loss in the regular season and a 10-9 loss in the playoffs — the Shank at the Bank. TCF Bank Stadium that is. Home of the Gophers.

In each of the last three seasons, the Vikings have played in Seattle. The 2018 game got former offensive coordinator John DeFilippo fired. They mounted a comeback in 2019 but lost. And last year, Mike Zimmer famously went for it with Alexander Mattison on fourth-and-inches and came up just short. Minnesota has a lot of history with the Seahawks.

“We might as well be in their division,” joked defensive coordinator Andre Patterson.

Look, the Seahawks routed the Vikings last time they played in Minnesota. But that was six years ago. Seattle is a notoriously difficult place to play. I was there in 2019; the 12th man is real. I left with a headache, convinced I was 30 decibels from having a sound embolism. Have you seen Scanners? It can’t be easy to play football in those conditions.

Imagine if the Vikings only played the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau every year. Ironically, they’ve had more success in Wisconsin than in Washington. But it wouldn’t be hard to imagine a five-game losing streak in Green Bay, as tough as that would be for any good Skoldier to admit. Still, that wouldn’t mean the Vikings can’t beat the Packers. It’s that they always have to go into a hostile environment to beat them.

It seems too simple to say that it’s all about home-field advantage. But the effect that a crowd of 60,000-plus has on a football game can’t be underestimated. Teams rely on verbal and non-verbal communication, and there are soft benefits of the adrenaline rush they experience coming out of the tunnel or after a big play.

The Vikings haven’t had fans at US Bank Stadium in over a year because of COVID restrictions, and the players spent a lot of time this week talking about how much they missed the fans and how weird it was to play in an empty stadium. Some of this is business: The NFL needs people to pay for tickets, seat licenses, concessions, etc. to be a billion-dollar enterprise. But we know home-field advantage is real, and it’s not equal in each stadium.

The Vikings had communication errors in Cincinnati, and it may be related to playing in front of a packed stadium for the first time in over a year. What made that loss so difficult to understand, other than that it came against an inferior opponent, was that it was not played in one of the league’s most hostile environments. The stadium wasn’t full, and there was a lot of purple in the crowd.

Similarly, there were a lot of Vikings fans in Arizona. Some were transplants living in Phoenix or Scottsdale, but many had traveled from the Twin Cities to watch the game. The Vikings would have liked to have played their first two games at home, but of all places to start, Cincy and Glendale were manageable road games.

Lumen Field had to have been 80% Seahawks fans when I was there. It was designed to be loud, making it one of the most challenging places for opponents to play in. But the same can be said for the Bank. It’s enclosed and rarely has a large contingency of opposing fans. We haven’t seen how Seattle plays in US Bank Stadium because the last time they traveled to Minneapolis, they played in Dinkytown.

Look, Seattle is one of the model franchises in the NFL. Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson are Super Bowl winners, and they’re always among the best teams in the NFC. The Vikings are a step below that, of course, in part because they can’t seem to beat teams like the Seahawks.

That can change this week, though. For the first time since US Bank Stadium was built, we’ll learn how much a change of venue matters.

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