While they are home underdogs once again, the Philadelphia Eagles can reach Super Bowl LII if they can beat the Minnesota Vikings with their defensive line.
The two best teams from the 2017 NFL regular season in the NFC will meet in the 2017 NFC Championship. Hosting the No. 2 Minnesota Vikings will be the No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles. While it looks like chalk coming out of the NFC, getting to this matchup was anything but that.
Philadelphia was the top seed in the NFC thanks to a tremendous defense and an MVP caliber season out of second-year starting quarterback Carson Wentz. However, Wentz would tear his ACL in a road game versus the Los Angeles Rams well over a month ago. While his backup Nick Foles has done enough to get Philadelphia to this NFC title bout, once again the Eagles are seen as home underdogs as the No. 1 seed.
Minnesota earned the No. 2 seed in the NFC thanks to a dynamic defense and sensational play out of “I guess he’s the starting quarterback now” Case Keenum. The Vikings lost starter Sam Bradford early in the season and franchise quarterback Teddy Bridgewater isn’t back to what he was pre-injury.
Yet, here we are, as we now live in a world where either Foles or Keenum will quarterback his team to an NFC Championship and a Super Bowl berth. Former St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher could not be prouder.
With Minnesota’s defense being slightly better and Keenum having mostly a full season as a starter under his belt, it is understandable that the visiting Vikings are the favorite to play Super Bowl LII in their own building on Feb. 4.
However, there is one thing that the Eagles can do to devastate Minnesota’s Super Bowl dreams. Philadelphia has a huge advantage in the trenches with their defensive line versus Minnesota’s offensive line. This will decide how represents the NFC in Super Bowl LII.
Though the Vikings are significantly better along the offensive line from 2016 to ’17, it’s probably the worst of the four front-fives left in the NFL playoffs. The New England Patriots have shown they can overcome injuries up front with quick passing patterns to get the ball out of Tom Brady’s hand.
Though you weren’t paying attention, the Jacksonville Jaguars are technically sound up front. It helps having a great former offensive line coach in Doug Marrone in charge of the club.
Then there’s the Eagles, who have arguably the best offensive line in football. Tackle Lane Johnson might be the best right tackle in football. Right guard Brandon Books is having a monster year. The same can be said for the ultra-athletic center Travis Kelce. Left guard Stefen Wisniewski has NFL pedigree. While left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai is a weak link, he did have to replace one of the best left tackles in football in Jason Peters. Simply put, the Eagles have a massive advantage on the offensive line over the Vikings.
Though the Eagles and Vikings defensive lines matchup favorably, Philadelphia should have an easier time getting to Keenum that Minnesota will to Foles. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox embarrassed Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman in the divisional round. What do you think he’s going to do Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon on Sunday? Vikings center Pat Elflein will have his head spinning trying to contain the best player on the Eagles.
And it’s not just Cox that Minnesota will have to worry about. Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan has fit in quite nicely since coming over from the Baltimore Ravens this past offseason. Defensive end Brandon Graham is a grossly underrated player that generates a ton of pressure for his teammates to take the opposing quarterback to the turf.
Vinny Curry is the fourth best defensive lineman for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in Philadelphia. Curry would be No. 2 on most teams and No. 1 on a few that offer no pass rush. Lastly, we cannot forget about the high energy situational pass rusher that is Chris Long. Though never a Pro Bowler, he might be the most fiery competitor on the Eagles’ front-seven. He could be the biggest nightmare for Keenum on Sunday.
Of course, the Vikings are well coached in all three phases. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur looks to be the favorite to get his second head coaching opportunity with the New York Giants. He will certainly devise protection schemes to give Keenum a chance to succeed on the road in the cold against Philadelphia.
However, it will take Keenum’s best game as a professional to beat the Eagles on the road Sunday. Look for Cox and company to take away the Vikings’ middle of the pack running game. They will miss not having rookie Dalvin Cook in this one for sure.
Keenum has the arm talent and the receiving targets to move the chains aerially. However, the Eagles have the players in their secondary in safety Malcolm Jenkins and cornerback Ronald Darby to contain tight end Kyle Rudolph and receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.
Frankly, it’s an uphill battle for Keenum in this one, which could prove problematic for the Vikings offense. But what about Foles on the other side of it? Isn’t he worse than Keenum?
Yes, he is, but Foles does have three offensive-minded coaches in head coach Doug Pederson, offensive coordinator Frank Reich and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo to lean on in this one. What worked last week versus a fast Falcons defense was the run-pass option. Foles is very familiar with the concept, as he ran that a ton in his previous stint with the Eagles under then head coach Chip Kelly.
Unlike Minnesota, the Eagles have a trio of tailbacks in Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement to pound the rock with conviction if need. Yes, containing Vikings nose tackle Linval Joseph will be tough sledding. That being said, Kelce should have been a Pro Bowler, Brooks is and Wisniewski has really come on of late in Philadelphia. Keeping Foles clean in the pocket won’t be easy, but is possible.
Overall, this should be a very competitive NFC Championship game between two defensive powers. Expect it to be decided by one score. Siding with the under in this one would be wise. While Minnesota could definitely win and get to play at home for the Super Bowl, the Eagles defensive line has a massive advantage over the Vikings offensive line. Look for Cox, Curry, Graham and Jernigan to be the four horsemen of the Vikings’ lost Super Bowl LII apocalypse.