If you had told somebody before the season that 3 of the 4 teams playing on conference championship weekend would be the Eagles, Vikings and Jaguars, they’d have probably called someone to escort you to the loony bin. Parity is rich in the NFL, but few could’ve imagined we’d see this.
The NFC title game pits the conference’s 2 top seeds against one another, but it still looks like an unconventional matchup. We’re used to seeing the likes of the Packers, Cowboys, Giants or Seahawks playing in this game. The fact that we get a matchup between a pair of (relatively) fresh faces is refreshing.
The Vikings, frankly, are lucky to be here. Minnesota was enjoying a 17-0 third-quarter lead on Sunday afternoon against the Saints, only to see New Orleans storm back and kick a field goal to take a 24-23 lead with only 25 seconds to go. You know what happened next. The Vikings’ season appeared to be coming to a close, only for Case Keenum to miraculously find Stefon Diggs along the right sideline with about 10 seconds to go. Diggs cruised past a flailing Marcus Williams into the end zone for a walk-off 61-yard touchdown. Bedlam followed.
Now, the Vikes will head to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles, who managed to defeat the Falcons over the weekend despite continuing to play without the injured Carson Wentz. Backup Nick Foles was steadily unremarkable in the win, completing 23 of his 30 throws for 246 yards without a touchdown or an interception.
Philly managed to get the job done using a balanced attack. Jay Ajayi led the way with 15 carries for 54 yards, while LeGarrette Blount scored the Eagles’ lone touchdown of the game in the first quarter.
If the Eagles are going to advance to the Super Bowl, they’re going to do so on the shoulders of their defense. Philly’s D held that high-octane Falcons offense to just 281 total yards last weekend. They didn’t force any turnovers, but they did sack Matt Ryan 3 times.
The Vikings boast a bit more offensive talent than the Eagles do, but this game has all the makings of a classic low-scoring defensive battle. Minnesota has the No. 1 ranked defense in the entire league, so they’re not going to be making life easy on Foles and co. despite playing on the road.
These teams last met in October of 2016 when the Vikings were flying high at 5-0. Minnesota wound up losing to the Eagles by the score of 21-10, and they would go on to lose 8 of their final 11 games to finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs. Sam Bradford started that day for the Vikings, while Wentz was under center for Philly.
You won’t often see a road team listed as a favorite in a conference title game, but, clearly, Vegas doesn’t trust the Eagles with Foles in charge. They bucked the odds last week as home underdogs against the Falcons, but the Vikings present a whole different set of challenges than Atlanta did.
Philadelphia’s defensive weakness happens to be in the passing game, which is where Minnesota has found success of late. Keenum has been on a roll, and the combination of Diggs and Adam Thielen has proven to be a rough matchup for opposing defenses all season long. If Keenum has enough time to set his feet and make his proper reads, the Eagles could be picked apart by this talented pass-catching duo all afternoon.
For the Eagles to have a chance, they’ll need to control the tempo of the game on the ground. Ajayi is capable of busting a big play, but Philly can live with runs in 5-6 yard increments in this one. Getting the ball out of Foles’ hands is key. Minnesota has been hellacious in terms of pressuring opposing QBs, which means Foles is going to have to make quick decisions. Otherwise, he’ll find himself being run into the ground all day long.
The Vikings have a golden opportunity to become the first team to ever play a Super Bowl in their home stadium. They get to face an Eagles squad missing arguably their best player, and they’ll be ready to play after being handed a gift last weekend by the Saints.
Minnesota isn’t going to let this opportunity slip away, even away from home.
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