The Eagles were labeled a top contender early on this season, while the Vikings took longer to convince doubters of their worth, but both teams find themselves competing this week in the N.F.C. Championship game for a chance to play in Super Bowl LII, which will be held in Minnesota’s U.S. Bank Stadium on Feb. 4. Here is what you can expect in the conference championship:
No. 2 Minnesota at No. 1 Philadelphia
6:40 p.m. Eastern, Fox
Line: Minnesota by 3
The Vikings’ season was basically over. There were 10 seconds left in their divisional round matchup against New Orleans, they were at their own 39-yard line, they had no timeouts remaining and they were down by a point. A 61-yard touchdown pass from Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs changed everything, and brought back the possibility of a team playing at home in the Super Bowl for the first time in N.F.L. history.
It is hard to say how the Vikings (13-3) will react to being brought back from the dead, but it seems like it is bad news for the Eagles (13-3), who had been trying to turn their upset win over Atlanta into something resembling momentum.
When they are not winning games with thrilling 61-yard touchdown passes, the Vikings are really not all that dissimilar to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Keenum is a low-risk, moderate-reward style of quarterback, the team relies on its receivers to take care of the bulk of the work after the catch rather than before it, and they punish teams with a defense that is strong on each level.
Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph wreak havoc on the defensive line, but the crown jewel of Minnesota’s defense is its secondary, where Xavier Rhodes and Andrew Sendejo are top-notch but Harrison Smith is a nearly singular talent. A Pro Bowl safety, Smith was rated by Pro Football Focus as not just the best player at his position in the game, but the top player at any position.
Philadelphia, up until Carson Wentz’s injury, could nearly match the Vikings unit for unit. They have a devastating pass-rush led by Fletcher Cox, a three-headed beast of a running game, and they were a top-five team in both points scored and fewest points allowed. But regardless of how happy they were to turn their underdog status against Atlanta into motivation for a win, their play hardly inspired confidence. Nick Foles dinked and dunked his way to a high completion percentage, and the key play of Philadelphia’s victory required one of the greatest wide receivers who ever played the game — Julio Jones — not to catch a ball thrown to him in the end zone.
Unless Foles can somehow locate the explosiveness he showed in 2013, it is hard to believe the Vikings’ path to the Super Bowl is not clear.