The Battle of the Backups: AFC Championship Preview


Vikings, Eagles compete for a chance at first Super Bowl win

By Cory Smith - [email protected]



If you correctly predicted that the NFC Championship Game would be decided in a battle of Nick Foles and Case Keenum, you should probably go out and buy a few lottery tickets.

Foles and Keenum have played for a combined nine teams since entering the league in 2012. Neither was the starter for their team at the beginning of the 2017-18 season.

Regardless of how unlikely the quarterback situation may seem, Philadelphia (13-3, 1-0 in postseason) and Minnesota (13-3, 1-0 in postseason) are the top two seeds in the NFC and will compete for a ticket to the Super Bowl.

Let’s take a look at the biggest points heading into Sunday’s championship game.

HISTORY

Philadelphia took the league by storm by starting out 10-2 behind second-year QB Carson Wentz. Philly won six of these games by double-digits and looked to be a Super Bowl favorite.

The Eagles are 4-1 since Wentz’ injury, but the offense has definitely taken a hit.

Minnesota began the season 2-2 with losses to Pittsburgh and Detroit. An injury to QB Sam Bradford, who was playing backup for the injured Teddy Bridgewater, allowed third-stringer Case Keenum to shine.

Keenum led the Vikings on their 11-1 finish to the regular season. Going from a backup to the man who threw a 61-yard bomb to send Minnesota to the NFC Championship is certainly a turnaround for the ages.

Philly and Minnesota have met three times in the playoffs: 1980, 2004, and 2008. The Eagles emerged victorious all three times. Twice, in 1980 and 2004, Philadelphia went on to the Super Bowl.

History is something both teams are aiming for with their first Super Bowl victory. Also, a win would make Minnesota the first team to ever compete for a Super Bowl in its home stadium.

PHILADELPHIA OFFENSE VERSUS MINNESOTA DEFENSE

As a starter, Foles has gone against the defenses of Oakland, Atlanta, and the New York Giants.

Foles’ next obstacles is the top defense in the NFC. Minnesota’s balanced defense ranks fourth in the league in pass defense and fifth in run defense.

Foles finished with a 100.1 passer rating against Atlanta and didn’t throw an interception with his 246 yards passing. With receivers like Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, and Zach Ertz, finding a target won’t be the issue.

What will really hurt Foles is the time he has to get off a quality pass. Minnesota defensive ends Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter rank 12 and 13 in pass-rush productivity. Griffen also led the team with 13 sacks.

Even with all the time in the world, the pass-heavy Eagles still have to be mindful of the Vikings’ secondary. Namely, Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes. Both were both named to the All-Pro team and combined for seven interceptions.

LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi have been the primary rushers for Philly. Blount averages 4.4 yards per attempt while Ajayi averages 5.8.

The Minnesota D limited opponents to just 3.6 yards per rush and 83.6 yards rushing per game.

MINNESOTA OFFENSE VERSUS PHILADELPHIA DEFENSE

The Vikings offense isn’t nearly at the level of its defense. That said, Minnesota ranks in the top 15 in points, total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards.

Keenum has a number of viable weapons to throw to in Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and Kyle Rudolph. Even Jerrick McKinnon, who was the team’s second-leading rusher, has proven to be a dual-threat with more than 400 yards receiving in the regular season.

With one of the most versatile defenses in the league, Philadelphia is dangerous in its ability to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

This doesn’t bode very well for Keenum, who against the Saints went 3-for-11 under pressure while yielding a 74.0 rating. The Vikings ranked third in turnovers this season with 14, something that could doom them in the NFC title game.

The front-seven of Philly boasts stars such as Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Chris Long. Their job is to make McKinnon and Latavius Murray’s job as difficult as possible.

Philadelphia’s defense held the duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman to just 86 rushing yards. Another strong performance from the defense is needed for the team to win as underdogs once again.

GAME DETAILS

NFC Championship Game

Sunday, January 21 at 6:40 p.m.

Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Odds: Vikings -3.5, total 38

Vikings, Eagles compete for a chance at first Super Bowl win

By Cory Smith

[email protected]

Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith

Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith

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