In August last year if you had told me the Vikings and Eagles would be in the NFC championship game I would be mildly surprised but not totally shocked. Both teams had flashed their ability in 2016 but had fallen away down the stretch for various reasons. Now if you had told me the two QBs would Case Keenum and Nick Foles I would have been picking my jaw up from the floor. That is just one of the many reasons this game is intriguing, with my personal favourite being the hilarity of the fact the Vikings have to travel to Philadelphia to earn the right to play the Superbowl in their home stadium!
This game is also a bit weird because usually it’s the road team who come into games hoping to keep the score down and win in a tight game. However, this will be the third NFC game in a row where the best chance the home team have to progress is in a low scoring game. The Philadelphia defence has been really good all year but early in the year they were probably as close to equally talented on both sides of the ball as any team in the NFL. Unfortunately for the Eagles their offence has been whittled away bit by bit by injuries to offensive linemen and, most devastatingly of all, to Carson Wentz.
I have spoken previously about how Wentz was not only good in conventional ways earlier this year but also how when the offensive line lost players his ability to escape from tight situation made that seem less of a worry. Unfortunately, Foles just cannot do that in the same way and it means the Eagles have had to develop a run first quick throw offence in the last few weeks just to make them competitive. This has left their scoring potential somewhat stunted and if the Vikings can put up 25+ points I struggle to see how the Eagles can match them. The Vikings defence is pretty good itself and made Brees look pretty bad in the first half last week. The difference is Brees could adjust and has the ability to catch up which I am fairly sure Foles doesn’t.
That brings us right back to the Eagles defence and how they can match up against the Vikings offence. The Vikings have had a weird year, they looked so good with Bradford under centre in week one and then when he got hurt it all looked a little lost. They relied heavily on their rookie running back, Dalvin Cook, who promptly got hurt and left the unimpressive Latavius Murray as the main back. Stefon Diggs then struggled with a niggling injury at times and it all looked to be unravelling slowly for the Vikings. But people who we didn’t expect to step up and make an impact did; Adam Thielen went from a so-so #2 to a joint #1 with Diggs and is now regarded as one of the safest hands in the league. Jerrick McKinnon made big plays which bought time for Murray to settle in the offence. Most surprising of all though is the transformation of Keenum; booed in Los Angeles last year he suddenly found himself running a team that was just competent QB play away from being able to go deep into the season. I’m sure he will admit himself that he hasn’t been amazing but what he has done is be willing to throw contested balls and let Diggs, Thielen and co. go out and fight for those balls and make plays. He has provided enough of a threat throwing to give Murray and McKinnon the space to work and become unlikely heroes rushing the ball. He has just been competent and that is all they needed.
Now whether he can cope with the pass rush of the Eagles and the opportunism of their secondary is yet to be seen. This game could be largely impacted by the Vikings run game, if they get rolling early and the Eagles have to commit men to the box to stop them then Keenum should have plenty of chance to go deep to Diggs and take advantage of one on ones with Thielen. If that happens I think they can get the 20-25+ points I think they need. However, if the run game struggles the Eagles defence can go after Keenum all guns blazing then it could be the low scoring game the Eagles need. This is all set to be an intriguing game and by the time they kick off they very well could be playing for the chance to go face Blake Bortles in the Superbowl.