On Sunday at 6:40 pm EST, the Vikings will face off against the Eagle in the NFC championship game to earn the right to compete in Superbowl 52 in Minnesota. Both teams have been dominant all season long, but who has the advantage in this game? Let’s take a look.
When Carson Wentz torn his ACL in week 14 against the Rams, many people believed the Eagle had no chance of making it to the Superbowl. However, the Eagle won that with back up quarterback Nick Foles playing the fourth quarter. After that performance, Foles led the Eagles to win their next two games, locking up the number one seed in the NFC playoffs. During his three starts this season, Foles completed 54% of his passes for 439 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions.
Despite his unimpressive numbers during his three starts, Foles bounced back last week in the divisional game against the Falcons. Foles completed 77% of his passes for 246 yards with zero touchdowns or interceptions. The Eagles won the game 15-10 as the Falcons couldn’t score on fourth and goal from the two yard line with 1:11 left in the game.
Entering the season, the Vikings were expecting Sam Bradford to be their starter. However, after a great week one performance verse the Saints, Bradford injured his knee and started just one other game this season. With Bradford out, Case Keenum stepped in as the starter and played phenomenal. In his 14 starts this season, Keenum completed 67% of his passes for 3,407 yards, 21 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Keenum’s excellent play was a big reason why the Vikings secured the number two seed in the NFC playoffs; their highest since 2009 when they were also the number two seed.
In the Vikings last second comeback win verse the Saints last week in the divisional game, Keenum was very solid, completing 63% of his passes for 318 yards, one touchdown and one interception. With no time left on the clock, Keenum threw the game winning 61 yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs giving the Vikings a 29-24 win.
Keenum has been the starter for almost five times as many games this season as Foles has. Keenum threw for 97 more passing yards per game than Foles. The quarterback’s touchdown to interception ratio also gives the edge to Keenum. Foles had a 2.5:1 ratio while Keenum had a 3:1 ratio. Between having more experience during the regular season and his bigger impact on his team’s playoff win last week, Keenum gives the Vikings the quarterback advantage.
The Eagles have a three headed monster in their backfield. LeGarrette Blount was the starter for most of the season, Jay Ajayi was a trade deadline acquisition and Corey Clement was a surprise contributor as an undrafted free agent. The trio combined for 317 rushes for 1,495 yards, seven touchdowns and averaged 4.7 yards per carry. They also contributed for 28 catches for 264 yards and four touchdowns. Last week against the Falcons, the trio combined for 33 touches for 153 scrimmage yards and one touchdown.
Despite losing early rookie of the year favorite Dalvin Cook to a torn ACL in week four the Vikings still had an excellent one-two punch at running back with Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon. The duo combined for 366 rushes for 1,412 yards, 11 touchdowns and averaged 3.9 yards per carry. They also contributed for 66 catches for 524 yards and two touchdowns. Last week against the Saints, they combined for 32 touches for 107 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns.
This is a close toss up as both teams have a great set of running backs. However, the Eagles have three strong options that all can do something better than the other two. The Eagles’ trio had a bigger impact on their win last week and averaged 0.8 yards more per carry during the regular season. If Dalvin Cook was healthy, the Viking would have a major advantage here but without him, the Eagles have the slight edge.
Receivers (top three)
Last season the Eagle might have had the worst receiving group in the league. However, thanks to free agent acquisition Alshon Jeffery combined with development from Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz, the Eagle had one of the best groups this season. The trio had 193 catches for 2,381 yards and 25 touchdowns. While a majority of that production came with Wentz under center, the trio had a strong performance last week against the Falcons with 17 catches for 239 yards and one touchdown.
For as good as the Eagles trio played, the Vikings trio might have been the best in the league this season. Adam Thielen has risen from an undrafted free agent to a legit top ten wide receiver. Stefon Diggs, a former fifth round pick, has now produced three straight seasons with solid stats despite playing with three different quarterbacks. Kyle Rudolph has been one of the most consistent tight ends in the league. The trio had 212 catches for 2,657 yards and 20 touchdowns. Then against the Saints last week the trio had 17 catches for 239 yards and the game winning touchdown.
Again this is a close call with both teams having an excellent set of starting wide receivers and tight end. However, the Eagles trio’s production seriously dropped with Foles as the starter. The trio had just two of their 25 touchdowns during Foles’ three starts. The Vikings trio has almost a full season’s worth of chemistry with Keenum while the Eagles trio has just four games.
Prior to losing pro bowl left tackle Jason Peters for the season to a torn ACL and MCL in week seven, the Eagles might have had the best offensive line group in the league. According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles ranked 12th in the league in adjusted sack rate at 6.2% while giving up 36 sacks this season.
Last season the Vikings had one of the worst offensive lines in the league. During the offseason they signed Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers in free agency, then spent a third round pick on starting center Pat Elflein. The Vikings did lose starting left guard Nick Easton in week 16 for the season with a fractured ankle. According to Football Outsiders, the Vikings ranked 6th in adjusted sack rate at 4.4% while giving up just 27 sacks.
The Vikings’ offensive line have played very well this season in large part thanks to Reiff and Elflein. Meanwhile, the lost of pro bowl left tackle Peters is huge for the Eagles. Halapoulivaati Vaitai has filled in admirably for Peters but he hasn’t faced many pass rusher like Everson Griffin and that could prove to be a major factor in this game.
As good as the Eagles offense was with Wentz under center, the defense has been almost as good all year long, especially in the front four. This season the Eagles ranked fourth in total yards given up, 17th in passing yards, first in rushing yards and fourth in points given up. Last week the Eagles held the Falcons offense to just 10 points.
Meanwhile, the Vikings defense was arguably the best this season lead by head coach Mike Zimmer. The Vikings ranked first in total yards given up, second in passing yards, second in rushing yards and first in points given up. However, last week the Vikings defense gave up 24 points to the Saints, all in the second half.
While the Eagles front four has been very good this season their secondary has been one of the worst in the league. The Vikings is the only team this season to rank in the top five in the league in total yards given up, passing yards, rushing yards and points given up. Furthermore, while the Eagles ranked first in the league in rushing yards given up with 79.2 per game, but the Vikings were right behind them at 83.6 per game.
With the injuries to Darren Sproles in week three the weakest spot for the Eagles this season was special teams. They rank 27th in the league on kick returns averaging 19.7 yards per return with no touchdowns, and rank 10th on punt returns averaging 8.9 yards per return with no touchdowns. Meanwhile, they rank 17th covering kicks giving up an average of 21.6 yards per return with no touchdowns, and rank 14th covering punts giving up an average of 6.8 yards per return with no touchdowns.
In large part thanks to pro bowl returner Marcus Sherels, the Vikings had one of the better special teams return units in the league. They rank fourth in the league on kick returns averaging 24.8 yards per return with no touchdowns, and rank seventh on punt returns averaging 9.5 yards per return with no touchdowns. Meanwhile, they rank 25th covering kicks giving up an average of 22.7 yards per return with no touchdowns, and rank 14th covering punts giving up an average of 8.9 yards per return with one touchdown.
Neither team did a good job covering kicks or punts this season but without Sproles, the Eagles struggled on kick and punt returns. With Sherels, the Vikings were one of three teams to rank in the top ten in both kick and punt return averages.
The Final Verdict
The Eagles have home field advantage for this game which might be a bigger factor than many people believe. The Vikings have played their home games in a dome this season and might struggle in the cold outdoor weather. However, the Vikings were 6-2 on the road this season including 4-2 against open roof stadium teams. With the cold weather, the Vikings will likely try to lean on the running game, but with the Eagles top ranked run defense that will be difficult.
Coming off a last second emotional win last week could also have an affect on the Vikings early in the game. However, the Vikings have the advantage in five of six areas for this game and while I expect this to be a close game, I’m taking the Vikings to win 24-20 and be the first team in NFL history to host the Superbowl in their own stadium.