January 15, 2018
The Eagles will take on the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday with a trip to Super Bowl LII on the line.
After beating Minnesota last season, these two sides didn't square off in 2017, so here's a look at what you need to know about the team standing between the Birds and their first conference title since 2005.
For the Vikings, this is the third time they've been to the playoffs in the last six seasons, but they haven't reached the conference championship since 2009 when they lost to the Saints in overtime.
And while both the Eagles and the Vikings have made their share of playoff appearances over the years, the two teams have only met three times in the postseason prior to this season. And all three times, the Birds came away with victories.
• 1980 season: Eagles beat Vikings, 31-16, in the divisional round of the playoffs at Veterans Stadium.
• 2004 season: Eagles beat Vikings, 27-14, in the divisional round of the playoffs at Lincoln Financial Field.
• 2008 season: Eagles beat Vikings, 26-14, in the wild-card round of the playoffs at the Metrodome.
Coincidentally, two of those three years (1980, 2004), the Eagles went on to play in the Super Bowl.
Like Philly, Minnesota is still looking for its first Super Bowl title. The Vikings are 0-4 all-time, with their most recent loss coming back in 1976. Here's a look at their all-time record by round:
• Overall: 20-28
• Wild Card: 6-7
• Divisional: 10-12
• Conference: 4-5
• Super Bowl: 0-4
Here's a look at how the Vikings (13-3, 1st in NFC North) compare to the rest of the NFL, on both sides of the ball.
The above stats tell you everything you need to know about this Vikings team – the defense is clearly its biggest weapon. As Eagles coach Doug Pederson said on Monday, going up against that Vikings D will be "a daunting task" for his offense.
But what makes those numbers even more impressive is that they've been able to be so dominant without recording a ton of sacks or turnovers, the types of things that typically allow defenses to lead the league in both points and yards allowed.
Minnesota is tied for 17th in the NFL with 37 sacks this season and the Vikings are averaging just over one turnover per game. But where they've really excelled is on third down and in the red zone. They boast an NFL-best 25.2 percent opponents' conversion rate on third down and are third in red zone defense at 40 percent.
The Vikings, who play a 4-3 under coordinator George Edwards, also feature a quartet of Pro Bowlers and First-Team All-Pros on defense that could make life miserable for Nick Foles and the Eagles offense. Furthermore, they have one at every level of the defense – the line, linebackers and secondary.
• CB Xavier Rhodes – Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro
• FS Harrison Smith – First-Team All-Pro
• DE Everson Griffin – Pro Bowl
• LB Anthony Barr – Pro Bowl
Once Nick Foles' backup in St. Louis, Vikings quarterback Case Keenum has had a career year in Minnesota. After setting the NCAA career passing record at Houston, Keenum went undrafted in 2012, the same season the Eagles drafted Foles in the third round. He was signed by the Texans and started just 10 games (2-8) over three seasons and they traded him to the Rams for a seventh-round pick in March 2015. In two season with the Rams, Keenum appeared in 16 games (14 starts) and went 7-7 before signing a one-year deal with the Vikings as a free agent this past offseason.
Keenum entered the year as the backup to former Eagles (and Rams) quarterback Sam Bradford, who was acquired a year earlier as a stop-gap while Teddy Bridgewater recovered from a nasty knee injury. But when Bradford went down with an injury, Keenum took over and has kept the job, even with Bradford again active.
Perhaps it's not a coincidence that Keenum has finally found success under offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, the same coordinator who was able to get 27 touchdowns and two interceptions out of Foles back in 2013.
Considering what he did in college as a passer, Keenum's arm gets the majority of the attention, but he can also move outside the pocket as well. His 160 rushing yards (on 40 attempts) may not be eye-popping, but it's more about his ability to extend plays than it is about his ability to get down the field and pick up yards with his legs. In terms of mobility, he's somewhere between Foles and Carson Wentz, but definitely closer to Wentz in terms of avoiding pressure and escaping the rush.
And when that happens, it's typically bad news for the opposing defense.
The reason that's been a problem for whoever the Vikings are playing is the number of legitimate threats Keenum has at his disposal.
Coming into the season, it seemed like wideout Stefon Diggs, who scored the game-winning touchdown against the Saints on Sunday night, and tight end Kyle Rudolph would again be the primary targets. But a breakout season for fourth-year wideout Adam Thielen has not only earned him a team-high 91 receptions (for 1,276 yards and four touchdowns) but a trip to the Pro Bowl as well.
Meanwhile, Diggs and Rudolph haven't been too shabby, either
• Diggs: 64 receptions, 849 yards, 13.3 YPC, 8 TD
• Rudolph: 57 receptions, 532 yards, 9.3YPC, 8 TD
And it doesn't stop there. Running back Jerrick McKinnon caught 51 passes for 421 yards this season (to go along with 570 rushing yards (on 150 carries). He might split the carries with Latavius Murray – rookie Dalvin Cook was their starter at the beginning of the season but suffered an injury in Week 4 – but it's McKinnon who posses the bigger threat in the receiving game.
The Vikings head coach is Mike Zimmer, who spent 14 years as a defensive coordinator mostly in Dallas and Cincinnati before landing the top job in Minnesota.
Now in his fourth season with the team, this is Zimmer's second time in the postseason. He's gone 39-25 in the regular season and 2-1 in the playoffs. Here's a look at where his teams have ranked since he took over in Minnesota:
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