Last week, the Eagles beat the Falcons by having Nick Foles dink and dunk the ball down the field. Eighteen of his 23 completions traveled 6 yards or shorter in the air. Three of the Eagles' scoring drives were 12 plays or more. Trouble is, slow and steady isn't going to win this race.
As offensive coordinator Frank Reich acknowledged this week, Nick Foles and the offense must find a way to hit a few "chunk'' plays if they're going to put the ball in the end zone against the league's top scoring defense. That's a big ask. The Vikings have given up the fewest 20-plus yard pass plays (35) and fewest 10-plus-yard run plays in the league.
The Eagles also will need to stay out of a lot of third and longs and not fall behind and, oh yeah, squeeze a few turnovers out of a Vikings offense that has turned the ball over just 14 times all season. It can be done, but it's going to be awfully tough.
Prediction: Vikings 16, Eagles 13
If I pick the Eagles to lose, and they win, I will have to listen to Brandon Graham reminding me of this for the rest of my life. Twenty years after he retires, he'll be calling me (or appearing holographically in my den, or whatever the deal is gonna be in the 2040s), to refresh his sense of indignation and grievance.
Are the Eagles really going to the Super Bowl with Nick Foles at the helm? I have a hard time envisioning this. Then again, many things have happened in our country in the last, oh, year-plus that I would have had a hard time envisioning. If last week's second-half Foles shows up for both halves this time, they can do it. If a very capable Eagles offensive line somehow keeps an inexorable Minnesota pass rush from getting a lot of pressure, they can do it. If an Eagles defense that only allows 13 points per game at home can keep the Vikings in that range, they can do it.
The Eagles are underdogs here on merit. This would be a tough slog even with Carson Wentz. But I really can see how it might happen. Unlikely? Yes. But not unlikely enough to keep me from being willing to take the leap. Eagles figure it out, somehow, some way, maybe with a pick-six or a Foles pass that bounces off a defender to a receiver. I'm not betting any actual money on this, but …
Prediction: Eagles 12, Vikings 10
>> READ MORE: Complete coverage previewing the Eagles-Vikings game
If I could predict the future, I'd live in Las Vegas. I've been wrong, wrong, and wrong about the Eagles' prospects this season. I thought they'd finish 8-8. I picked them to lose to the Redskins (both times). I predicted an early exit from the playoffs. But the Eagles have won and keep winning despite the loss of pivotal players, including Carson Wentz.
Doug Pederson has done a phenomenal job. His game plan and play calling last week against the Falcons put Nick Foles and the offense in the best position to not lose the game. Jim Schwartz's defense, meanwhile, had to win the game and essentially did. The Eagles will need a repeat performance – minus losing the turnover battle — against a Vikings team that is, overall, better than Atlanta.
On defense, the Eagles have a decided advantage up front. They should contain the Minnesota run game. Their linebackers and safeties should control the middle of the field. The Vikings have the edge on the outside with receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. But if the Eagles can pressure Case Keenum into poor decisions, which he is prone to on occasion, they can cover for some of their liabilities on the back end.
When the Eagles are on offense, the Vikings have a slight edge up front because defensive end Everson Griffin could be an overwhelming mismatch vs. left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Center Jason Kelce, who has had a great season, has historically had trouble blocking defensive tackle Linval Joseph. There aren't many holes in Mike Zimmer's back seven. Safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Xavier Rhodes are about as good as they come. But there could be opportunities to throw at linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr.
Foles must once again play within himself. If Pederson can establish the run early, it could be enough to open up play-action and passing lanes for the quarterback. There will be a home-field advantage. The weather probably won't be much of a factor, but the Linc will be rocking and could make it difficult for the Vikings, who will employ a silent count. I think the game will come down to a game-winning kick. I'm going with Minnesota. I'll probably be wrong again.
Prediction: Vikings 17, Eagles 16.
On one hand, you can say the Eagles have one game at home against a Case Keenum-led team standing in the way of the Super Bowl. On the other hand, look how well that team is playing.
It's going to be hard to move the ball on the Vikings. They're good at all three levels on defense. The Eagles will need to find a way to get the running game going – when the Vikings lost to the Panthers in December, the Panthers pounded them on the ground. (Of course, it helped to have a mobile quarterback.) I'm a broken record writing about how the Eagles need Jay Ajayi, but this is another week when he will be important. They also must connect on a big play or two – it's unrealistic to expect drives of 10-plus plays to carry the Eagles this week. Watch out for Nelson Agholor in the slot. You should be worried about left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai against Everson Griffen; Vaitai hasn't had a matchup this challenging all season.
However, it's also worth wondering how the Vikings will put up points on the Eagles. They've allowed 26 points in the last three games and four touchdowns in the last 14 quarters. The Vikings have a terrific wide-receiver combination that will challenge the Eagles secondary, but the Eagles' defensive line is going to be tough for the Vikings to handle. Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham will pressure Keenum, and the Eagles need the linemen to be the difference Sunday.
Last week, I thought it favored the Eagles if the score was in the teens. But the Vikings can win a game in the teens, too. That's why this is such a tough one to predict. If it was in Minnesota, I'd say the Vikings. But it's in Philadelphia, which is why I'm predicting an Eagles win and a trip to the Twin Cities in two weeks.