“It’s just now sinking in for real.” That’s a tweet sent by Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon on Tuesday, referring to the insanity that was the last play of the Vikings-Saints NFC divisional game on Sunday. Stefon Digg’s miraculous game winning touchdown catch sent Vikings fans into a frenzy, and with good reason. There was a shared sentiment, “things like this don’t happen to us.” But it happened. And the Vikings are playing in the NFC championship for a chance to break their 41 year drought between Super Bowl appearances. It’s time for the Vikings to move past the Minneapolis Miracle and handle their business this weekend.
The Vikings enjoyed last weekend’s game against the Saints at home. US Bank Stadium shielded fans and players alike from the bitter cold, and the hometown crowd roared when the Eagles’ offense took the field. This Sunday, the Vikings will be outdoors in Philadelphia. While many wrote off the Eagles after Carson Wentz’s season ending injury in week 14, the Eagles have won three of four games without him. The Eagles are averaging 17 points per game in the four game since Wentz went down, but in the week 17 game, many starters played limited minutes. Throwing that game out, the Eagles have been averaging 22 points per game, which would have been good for 13th best in the regular season. Not bad.
Nick Foles and the rest of the Eagles’ offense has found success and efficiency using the run-pass option. During a run-pass option, Foles has the opportunity to hand the ball off to a running back, or keep the ball and throw a pass. The majority of the time, Foles hands the ball off, but in the second half against Atlanta he completed all five passes he threw running the run-pass option. This is a dynamic the Vikings haven’t seen much of this season, and it will be interesting to see how they handle it. That said, the Vikings are the best defense in the NFL, and coach Mike Zimmer will be scheming a way to stop Foles and the run-pass option.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles have an excellent defense. The Eagles have the top defense against the run in the NFL, and they’re fourth best in terms of points allowed, fourth in yards allowed, sixth in offensive plays against, and fourth in takeaways. The defensive line is nasty, led by Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. The Eagles have yet to allow a running touchdown at home this season. That’s absolutely crazy. RBs Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon are going to have a tough go of it for the Vikings.
Though the Eagles’ defense against the run is fearsome, opponents can throw on them. Adam Thielen and Diggs have faced tougher matchups in the secondary this season than this group. In the Eagles’ last game against the Falcons, the Falcons, who lead the league in dropped passes, dropped some critical balls. The Vikings’ receiving duo of Thielen and Diggs finished fourth and first respectively in catching contested balls. If Case Keenum has time, the Vikings should be able to move the ball by passing
The Vikings go into Sunday’s game the favorites. This is a game that they should win. The Vikings have the best defense in the NFL, a gutsy QB in Case Keenum, two very good receiving weapons in Thielen and Diggs, and one of the best coaches in the NFL. Last week, the Vikings needed a miracle to win. Now, they have to put that play behind them, and earn a chance to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.