Two teams. Two very different roads to the NFC Championship Game.
The Eagles host the Minnesota Vikings tonight for the right to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LII. Live coverage begins on our site, app, and social media channels at 6 p.m. Kickoff is set for 6:40 p.m. on FOX. We'll be live for The Postgame Show presented by Ricoh with hopefully the trophy presentation for the Eagles.
Philadelphia is here after taking a quantum leap in the second year of the Doug Pederson-Carson Wentz era. The Eagles survived a slate of crippling injuries to All-Pro and breakout players, including the loss of Wentz to a knee injury in the December 10 win over the Los Angeles Rams.
Enter Nick Foles.
In his second stint with the Eagles, Foles took over the reins at quarterback and won his first two starts to clinch the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage for tonight's game. Then, he went out and guided the Eagles to their first playoff win since the 2008 season last week against Atlanta.
Of course, he hasn't done it alone.
The defense has been masterful all season but took its game to another level last week shutting out Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and the Falcons in the second half - featuring a fourth-and-goal stop on Atlanta's final drive - to escape with a 15-10 win.
Minnesota needed a miracle of its own to get here.
The Vikings, too, overcame big early-season injuries to get to this moment. Case Keenum, a former teammate of Foles' in St. Louis, stepped in after Sam Bradford went down with a knee injury and had the best season of his career. Latavius Murry replaced rookie phenom Dalvin Cook to keep the run game on track.
Minnesota's defense was the top-ranked unit in the league this season and was historically dominant on third down. But it was the offense that created the miracle to advance past the New Orleans Saints last Sunday in the NFC Divisional Round.
After letting a 17-0 halftime lead slip away, the Vikings had the ball down 24-23 with 10 seconds left at their own 31-yard line. Keenum threw the ball down the right sideline to wide receiver Stefon Diggs and we all know what happened 61 yards later.
With a win, Minnesota can be the first team to host a Super Bowl. The only problem? In order to get there, they have to beat the Eagles. In Philadelphia. Here's the preview.
Last Time They Met
Eagles 21, Vikings 10October 23, 2016
*Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia *
Last year's Week 7 regular-season meeting held between the Eagles and Vikings began with a flurry of mishaps. A total of five turnovers were exchanged between the two teams after just the first quarter. Quarterback Carson Wentz, in just his sixth NFL appearance, threw two interceptions in the opening 15 minutes while quarterback Sam Bradford rifled one away as well.
Minnesota's offense was first to find the scoreboard thanks to a field goal after a scoreless opening quarter. The Eagles' special teams unit responded with a 98-yard kickoff return touchdown from Josh Huff and a two-point conversion run from Carson Wentz. A Caleb Sturgis field goal sent the Eagles into halftime with an 11-3 lead.
Philadelphia helmed one drive in the third quarter but capitalized on the opportunity. Wentz hit Dorial Green-Beckham with a 5-yard touchdown pass extending the margin to 18-3 heading into the game's final 15 minutes.
The Vikings outscored the Eagles 7-3 in the fourth but those points proved meaningless as Minnesota's lone touchdown came with 34 seconds remaining. Philadelphia handed the 5-0 Vikings their first loss of the 2016 season with the final score 21-10 in favor of the Eagles.
When The Eagles Have The Ball
Head coach Mike Zimmer is known for his A-gap pressure packages, but the talent on the Vikings' defense allows the back seven to focus on coverage while the front four collapses the pocket.
Still, there's always the threat of pressure, so offenses can't just assume that four will rush on every snap.
This is a defense that has played together for a few years and was very good in 2016. Don't forget the Vikings were the last undefeated team in the NFL. The Eagles handed them their first loss then the offense went off-track and the season went down the drain.
The Vikings led the league in points allowed, yards allowed, third down (just 25.2 percent success rate for opponents), and passing touchdowns allowed.
Minnesota doesn't generate a lot of turnovers. It just forces you into long down-and-distance situations to make offenses one-dimensional.
Up front, Everson Griffen led the Vikings and was fourth in the league with a career-high 13 sacks. He had a streak of eight consecutive games with at least one sack this season. He is not alone. Danielle Hunter and Griffen have combined for 57 sacks over the past three seasons. That total ranks second in the NFL during that span. Former New York Giant Linval Joseph is a load in the middle at 6-4, 329 pounds. Jason Kelce and the guards will have their hands full between Joseph and the threat of the A-gap pressure.
The Vikings are predominately a nickel defense and have two outstanding linebackers in Eric Kendricks, Mychal's brother, and Anthony Barr. Kendricks has led the team in tackles in each of the past three seasons. Barr, Eric Kendricks' college roommate, is a two-time Pro Bowl selection and was the second-highest linebacker drafted in Vikings' history at No. 9 overall in 2014.
Xavier Rhodes has turned into one of the preeminent lockdown cornerbacks in the game, earning back-to-back Pro Bowl honors in 2016 and '17. Expect him to shadow Alshon Jeffery, who enjoyed playing the Vikings in the past (see below). Teams have largely shied away from throwing in Rhodes' direction. Safety Harrison Smith is one of the most underrated players in all of football. He was snubbed during the Pro Bowl announcement but named a first-team All-Pro in 2017. Smith had 93 total tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 10 QB hits, and five interceptions in the regular season.
When The Vikings Have the Ball
Coming off their Divisional Round win against the Saints, the Vikings have won 12 of their last 13 games dating back to the regular season while outscoring their opponents by an average of 10.2 points a game.
After quarterback and former Eagle Sam Bradford suffered a knee injury after the season-opener against New Orleans, Case Keenum took over as the team's starting signal-caller. A former seventh-round pick, Keenum posted career numbers in 15 regular-season games (14 starts) with 3,547 passing yards and 22 touchdowns. His 98.3 quarterback rating was good for seventh best in the NFL.
Keenum has a talented receiving corps at his disposal. Fourth-year wide receiver Adam Thielen enjoyed a career year in 2017. The former undrafted free agent turned second-team All-Pro pulled in 1,276 yards on 91 receptions which ranked fifth and eighth, respectively, among all players in the league to go along with four touchdowns. Stefon Diggs, who made the incredible 61-yard touchdown to lift the Vikings into the NFC Championship Game, pulled down 137 receiving yards against the Saints. He tied a team high with eight touchdowns on the year. Tight end Kyle Rudolph also amassed eight scores and ranks first among all Vikings tight ends and fifth in franchise history for receiving touchdowns.
Running back Latavius Murray provided the Vikings' run game a boost, leading them with 842 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns after rookie Dalvin Cook suffered a season-ending knee injury. He's joined in the backfield by dual-threat Jerick McKinnon who finished just shy of 1,000 scrimmage yards (991) and five touchdowns.
Minnesota's offense ranked third on third down this season and went 10-for-17 on the money down against New Orleans. The Vikings ranked second behind Philadelphia in time of possession and ranked 10th in points scored.
Meanwhile, the Eagles' defense excelled by many measures this season. The unit ranked first in rushing yards, fourth in yards per game, and fourth in points allowed. The defense had success generating takeaways forcing the fourth-most turnovers (31) and scoring the second-most defensive touchdowns (6). Against the Falcons in the Divisional Round, Philadelphia limited Atlanta to 281 total yards while holding them scoreless in the second half. They also forced the Falcons to a 31 percent success rate on third down, where they've ranked top three defensively all season, which will be crucial against the Vikings.
The Eagles host Minnesota in the NFC Championship Game. Here are the key Vikings to watch.
1. T Big V vs. DE Everson Griffen
This is Halapoulivaati Vaitai's toughest test on the biggest stage of his career thus far. Head coach Doug Pederson called Griffen a "game-wrecker." If quarterback Nick Foles is going to make plays from the pocket, Vaitai must hold up his end of the bargain. If the Eagles have to offer help to Vaitai, that's also a win for the Vikings.
2. DE Brandon Graham vs. T Rashod Hill
Brandon Graham has been relentless all season long and he has a favorable matchup against the second-year offensive tackle. Case Keenum is elusive in the pocket. Fletcher Cox compared Keenum to Russell Wilson. For the Eagles' defense to be successful, Keenum must be pressured in the pocket. Graham also has to contain the edge in the run game.
3. LB Mychal Kendricks vs. RB Jerick McKinnon
The Vikings aren't great at running the ball but will do it to keep defenses honest. One player to watch for out of the backfield not just as a runner, but as a receiver, is McKinnon. Expect to see the toss play, which McKinnon scored on last week against New Orleans. The Eagles had fits with that play vs. Atlanta in the Divisional Round. The Eagles have to make sure McKinnon doesn't have a Chris Thompson-like impact on the game.
4. TE Zach Ertz vs. S Harrison Smith
If the Eagles want to win in the middle of the field, it's going to be strength against strength with the Pro Bowl starter at tight end going up against the All-Pro in Smith. Ertz wants to be the go-to guy in big situations and this will be the biggest to date of the year.
Trends To Watch
It's Not Their First Playoff Meeting
The Eagles are 3-0 all-time against the Vikings in the postseason.
• 26-14 win 2008 Wild Card Game• 27-14 win 2004 Divisional Round• 31-16 win 1980 Divisional Round
In the past four games, the Eagles have given up a total of 15 points to opponents in the second half. That's an average of 3.75 points allowed during the game's final 30 minutes.
Alshon Jeffery Loves Playing The Vikings
In nine career games against the Vikings, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery has nabbed 685 yards and seven touchdowns – the highest marks he's had against any team during his six-year career.
Eagles Fans At The Linc
The Vikings are 6-9 all time when they've traveled to Philadelphia and have lost seven of their last eight away games against the Eagles.
- Preview compiled by David George and Chris McPherson