Respect Your Backups

NFC Championship

(2) Minnesota Vikings at (1) Philadelphia Eagles

Vikings: They have been the talk of the sports world and for obvious reasons! That’s one of the craziest endings I’ve ever seen to end a playoff game, not just a football game. A walk-off 61-yard touchdown by Stefon Diggs is the reason why the Minnesota Vikings are back in the NFC Championship Game for the first time since 2009 when Brett Favre had them a game away from the big game and they are also a game away from playing in Super Bowl 52, which so happens to be in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Sunday, February 4th at U.S. Bank Stadium. Let this sink in right now that they could be playing a home game in the biggest game of them all in a few weeks to close out the season. I’ve had an absolute blast watching this team play this year and Case Keenum continues to turn people who doubted him into believers with his strong play and who could’ve imagined that this quarterback would go on to have the season he had and help lead the Vikings to one of their best seasons in recent memory. They decided not to bring back Adrian Peterson who had been the face of the franchise since he was drafted and they signed Latavius Murray who was a free agent in the off-season. The Vikings have a very productive offense and they have a simple scheme to move the football down the field. They pound the ball up the middle and between the tackles and when Keenum drops back to pass it, he has an extremely solid trio of receivers that I have shown a lot of love to this season and that’s the hero of last week’s game, Stefon Diggs, the tight end, Kyle Rudolph and the breakout receiver in Adam Thielen who has the complete skill set to be a top ten receiver and he could be close to reaching that list. They have also been strong on the defensive side as well which shouldn’t be a shocker considering Mike Zimmer’s background as he was the defensive coordinator for the Bengals before taking the head coaching job in Minnesota. Right now, they are ranked at 1B on my list behind the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Vikings have shutdown corners, a core of linebackers that can do multiple things to make stops and they have a front four that beats up any offensive line. A win on Sunday in Philly and you’ll back at home hosting Super Bowl 52. (Incredible to think about).

Eagles: Last Saturday afternoon against the Atlanta Falcons, they showed you their resiliency and the mental toughness they have shown all season with that come from behind victory. They looked extremely rusty and tired in the first half of that game. Matt Ryan was throwing the football all over the place, he had all day to throw the ball, the running game was heating up and from an offensive perspective, Nick Foles wasn’t really helping the cause either. In the second half, things completely turned around for them. First, Foles looked like a much different quarterback, they were able to run the ball, the receivers made catches to move the chains and the defense proved in the final two quarters why they were one of the best defenses in all of the NFL this season. When I watch their defense play, Jim Schwartz has instilled an edge to them and here’s the thing, it’ll look as if they will run a simple scheme, but what looks simple turns into an exotic look that could be a safety coming in on a blitz at the last minute or a corner blitz which is the hardest to defend and those guys are the quickest on the field. I’ll tell you just how good the Eagles were as a defense. In the months of October and November, they only allowed one single touchdown. There was a lot of concern after Wentz went down with the torn ACL, but remember the importance of having a good back up and luckily, Nick Foles knows about playing in this Eagles offense. If you thought the Linc was rowdy last week, just imagine how it will be on Sunday as they get set to play in the NFC Championship, their first since 2009 and they will look to win and represent the NFC for the first time since 2005 when they advanced to Super Bowl 39 and fell short to the Patriots. One more game to go before the biggest of them all.

Vikings Player To Watch: Jerick McKinnon– Throughout the season, the Eagles have struggled against speedy running backs in the open field and Jerick has been another safety blanket of sorts for Case Keenum. He’s a shifty guy who’s a mismatch in open space and with the Eagles probably wanting to play tight coverage against the Vikings receivers, he will be targeted quite a bit.

Eagles Player To Watch: Chris Long– He was in this exact position last year in the AFC Championship for the Patriots and was one of the key reasons why they were able to win the Super Bowl last season. He was signed to bring that veteran presence and he’ll get his chances to get after Keenum on Sunday when the Eagles decide to move Brandon Graham inside on the defensive line. He’s played well in a limited role and he’s looking to get to his second straight Super Bowl.

Final Analysis: This is the matchup I think many were hoping to determine the NFC as they were the two best in the conference throughout the year. We talked about the Jaguars being at this point of the season, whoever imagined a Keenum and Foles matchup for the right to represent the conference in the Super Bowl. I see this being a defensively controlled football game. The Vikings pass rush needs to make things difficult for Foles all game and put the game in his hands (take away Ajayi and Blount). It will also be really important for the Vikings to focus simply on this game and not think ahead to the next one considering where it’s at. For the Eagles, Foles just simply needs to be himself. Running the football won’t be easy on this Vikings front, so in order to win this game, they’ll need to throw the ball and most importantly take care of the football.

Prediction: Eagles 20 Vikings 17