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The Eagles are hoping the clock doesn’t strike midnight on their Cinderella story just as they’ve arrived at the doorstep to the Super Bowl.
Few expected the Eagles to be playing the Vikings for the NFC Championship, let alone hosting the game at Lincoln Financial Field. Few thought they would still have a shot at the big game once Carson Wentz was lost for the season. Yet, here they are, one win away from a trip to Minneapolis in two weeks.
It will take a tremendous effort to beat the Vikings, who matched the Eagles' win total in 2017 with 13, and were the No. 2 seed to the Eagles’ No. 1 seed in the playoffs. But should they manage to pull this one off, it will make for one of the most unlikely celebrations in franchise history.
Better than the Falcons in every way
Confidence is sky high after the Eagles dispatched the reigning conference champions in the divisional round, but make no mistake — the Vikings present a much bigger challenge than the Falcons.
That might seem obvious to some. After all, the Vikings won three more games this season. Yet, whether it’s because they were in the Super Bowl last year or the perception they have more star power, particularly under center, others view the Falcons as a superior foe. Put another way, many fans were hoping the Eagles would draw the Vikings in the NFC Championship.
Be careful what you wish for.
Clearly, the Vikings are much stronger defensively. With the No. 1 total and scoring defense, No. 1 third-down defense, and No. 2 run and pass defenses in the NFL, just moving the football, let alone scoring, could prove difficult for the Eagles. Minnesota limited five of its last seven opponents to 10 points or fewer.
Even offensively speaking, the Vikings are better. The vaunted Falcons offense that was so scary in 2016 finished 15th in scoring this season and 23rd in the red zone. Minnesota ranked 10th and ninth, respectively.
Don’t underestimate the Vikings simply because they lack the name recognition of All-Pro players like Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Minnesota is here for a reason, just like the Eagles.
Don’t get hung up on Case Keenum
I lost count of the number of times I heard a sentence begin, “If you would’ve told me only Case Keenum stood between the Eagles and the Super Bowl at the beginning of the season.” Yeah, nobody expected it, but there are two problems with that statement.
First of all, Keenum has played well all season. The journeyman signal caller finished second in the NFL with a 67.6 completion percentage, fourth with 1.5 interception percentage, and seventh with a 98.3 passer rating. He didn’t necessarily throw for a ton of yards or touchdowns but played efficient football while minimizing turnovers and sacks. Keenum or not, the Vikings’ offense is dangerous.
Second, and perhaps more pertinent, is the Vikings could say the same about Nick Foles. It’s not like the Eagles will be taking the field with Wentz. They’re in the exact same boat.
It’s easy to denigrate Keenum, who prior to this season had a 9-15 record as a starter. The reality is he’s playing like a viable starter, even flashed franchise quarterback potential. If you’re suggesting the Eagles’ road is easy due to who’s under center for the Vikings, you might be overlooking a decent player, not to mention the obvious comparison to Foles.
A classic formula
Speaking of Wentz, so much time has passed since he was lost for the season, one can almost forget the Eagles looked like a different team with No. 11 in the lineup. The offense was far more capable of striking quickly and scoring in bunches, racking up 30 points or more in eight of his 13 starts this season.
Since then, the Eagles have taken on somewhat of a new identity, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Now, they’re built on running the football and playing stingy defense, a formula that’s been delivering Super Bowl championships successfully since the big game’s inception.
The defense has been good all season, finishing fourth in total yards and scoring, but often took a back seat to Wentz’s brilliance. Likewise, the ground attack was a major aspect of the Eagles' offense all season, even if it maybe lacked the sizzle Wentz would provide on a weekly basis.
Now, as the Eagles get set to host the Vikings in the conference championship, this is very much the defense’s team, while the offense must lean on the running game. Chances are good that win or lose, the outcome is going to come down to how the Eagles perform in those two aspects.