It all comes down to this. Case Keenum leads the Minnesota Vikings to the best season the purple and gold have seen since the infamous 1998 season vs Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles.
These two teams almost seem to be carbon copies of each other on the surface, yet they might not be as similar as we think.
Led by MVP candidate Carson Wentz for most of the season, the Eagles were averaging 31.1 points per game through 13 weeks – since Foles took over for the injured Wentz, the Eagles are averaging just 17 points per game. Looking even closer into it, after the 34 point outburst against a bad Giants team, Foles’ Eagles are scoring just 11.3 points per game.
For comparison in games that Keenum has played in for the Vikings, the purple and gold are scoring 22.5 points per game. That’s essentially twice the amount of points the Eagles are scoring with Foles.
Minnesota seems to have an edge in skill position players as well.
The top two receivers for the Vikings, Adam Thielen, and Stefon Diggs, combined for 2,336 yards and 13 touchdowns through the regular and postseason. The top two receivers for the Eagles, Zach Ertz, and Nelson Agholor, through the regular and postseason, have combined for 1,648 yards and 16 touchdowns total this season.
The top two running backs for Minnesota, Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon, combined for 2,043 total yards and 15 total touchdowns. Meanwhile, for Philadelphia, their top two running backs, LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi, combined for 1,432 total yards and 6 total touchdowns.
Maybe the most important unit for both teams this Sunday will be the offensive line play. In a game with such dominating defensive fronts, the offensive lines are going to be the X-factor. If either team needs to include their tight ends in their blocking schemes, that could severely limit both offenses because both teams feature premier pass catchers from the tight end position.
In the regular season, the Minnesota Vikings gave up 27 sacks while the Eagles gave up 36. If the Eagles need to have Ertz chip in to help the o-line, that would be a huge advantage to the Minnesota defense, which is already the best in the league.
Both Minnesota (1st overall) and Philadelphia (4th) feature premiere defenses – but once again, if you put both teams under the microscope, one team has an advantage that could end up making the difference in the game.
The Vikings and Eagles are both going to want to establish a run game in order to move the ball and score, which is going to be tough for both teams.
The Eagles finished the regular season as the number one team in football in stopping the run, giving up only 79.2 yards on the ground per game led by Fletcher Cox and that defensive line. Cox and company had 50 tackles for loss on the year between just Cox (7), Derek Barnett (8), Tim Jernigan (9), Vinny Curry (10), and Brandon Graham (16).
The Vikings, however, are not too far behind. The second team in rushing defense gave up 83.6 rushing yards per game, just 4.4 yards per game more than the Eagles. Everson Griffen (12), Danielle Hunter (12), Anthony Barr (10), Eric Kendricks (10), and All-Pro Harrison Smith (8) combined for 52 tackles for loss on the season.
The X-factor for the running game for both teams will be the quarterbacks. In the regular season, Keenum rushed for 160 yards on 40 carries good for 4-yards per carry, whereas Foles averaged just 0.3 yards per carry on 11 attempts. Keenum’s ability to scramble and make something out of nothing on the ground when a passing play breaks down could be a game breaker.
The big difference between the two NFC teams vying for a Super Bowl bid comes down to the passing defenses of both teams.
The Vikings are number two in the NFL in pass defense giving up just 192.4 yards per game lead by All-Pros Xavier Rhodes and Smith. One player who is severely underrated and surely the Vikings’ X-factor on defense is former first-round pick Trae Waynes. According to Pro Football Focus, Waynes was the best cover man in the league in regards to passer rating advantage giving up a passer rating of just 21.8. Next closest was Kendall Fuller of Washington (24.7) and Marshon Lattimore of New Orleans (42.1)
The Eagles were in the bottom half of the league in pass defense giving up 227.3 yards per game, good for 17th in the league. With the Eagles (38 sacks, 15th in the NFL) in the middle of the pack with sacks, Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby’s ability to cover Diggs and Thielen is going to be the Eagles’ key to stopping the Vikings’ passing attack. (The Vikings are tied for 17th in the NFL with 37 sacks).
With the Vikings seemingly having an advantage on offense and defense, something that factors both offense and defense favors the Eagles. The Eagles have a turnover differential of +11, good for 4th in the NFL whereas the Vikings are sitting at just +5 which is tied for 12th in the league.
The biggest turning point in the divisional game between the Vikings and the Saints was the interception thrown by Keenum deep in Vikings territory when they felt pressure from the Saints. That propelled the Saints to a huge comeback and if not for the Minneapolis Miracle could have been the main focal point of that game.
The Eagles’ home field advantage and a top 5 turnover differential may be enough to keep Philly in the game. All that being said, Keenum and the Vikings should be able to move the ball enough to get a double-digit lead – one that Foles might not be able to get the Eagles out of. Foles hasn’t thrown a touchdown in two games and I would count on making that three straight this Sunday.
Get your Skol chants ready, for if Minnesota wins a tough game on the road they advance to their first Super Bowl appearance since 1977.
Vikings 17, Eagles 7.