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January 20, 2018

NFC Championship Game: Five over-unders for Eagles vs. Vikings

The Eagles take on the Vikings on Sunday night in the NFC Championship Game, with the winner earning a trip to Super Bowl LII to face either the Patriots or Jaguars.

Here's a look at five numbers to keep an eye on if the Eagles hope to capture the NFC title for the first time since 2005.

Total points: 39

That's the current total being offered over at Bovada, and both our staff predictions and our predictions roundup suggest it could be a much lower-scoring affair on Sunday. After all, this is the NFL's fourth-ranked defense (in both points and yards) going up against the top-ranked defense. Of course, that's what everyone thought of last week's AFC divisional round game between the Steelers (7th in points allowed) and Jaguars (second in points allowed) and they posted a whopping 87 points, more than double the 40.5-point over/under.

With the weather expected to be much nicer than it's been for either of the Birds' last three games, it's tempting to take the over, but everything else about this one is screaming under. With the Birds averaging just 277.5 yards of offense per game under Nick Foles and mustering just 34 points in their last three games combined (11.3 PPG), I'm taking the under here, despite the fact that the Vikings allowed a season-high 24 second-half points to the Saints last week. During the regular season, they held all but three of their opponents to fewer than 24 points ... for the entire game.


Sacks by Eagles defense: 2.5

As I wrote on Friday, getting pressure on Case Keenum will be key to shutting down the Vikings offense on Sunday. 

Over their last seven games, including their win over the Rams last week, the Vikings have allowed 17 sacks. And in the regular season, one of the ways teams were able to limit Minnesota's offense was by putting pressure on Keenum. 

In Keenum's 12 regular season wins (one of which he didn't start but still attempted 21 passes), he was sacked just 12 times total. In his three losses, he was sacked 10 times. Furthermore, he was 7-0 in games where he was sacked just once or not at all. That record drops to just 5-3 when the opposing defense brought him down two or more times.

It's not that I think the defense will struggle, it's just that I don't see Foles having a career day against that Minnesota defense. They'll likely need another performance like they had in last week's win over the Falcons, in which they held Atlanta to just 10 points and sacked Matt Ryan three times, if they want to advance to Super Bowl LII. The Vikings have done a good job of protecting Keenum this year – they only allowed 27 during the regular season – but they also haven't faced a front four that generates as much pressure as the Eagles. 


Nick Foles interceptions: 0.5

Foles was hardly perfect against the Falcons, but he also didn't turn the ball over. And this time of year, that can often be good enough. In what's expected to be a close game, one turnover can decide it. So far, Foles has been able to avoid that sort of costly mistake in his two playoff games.

Luckily, the Vikings defense isn't known for turnovers and have only forced 10 in their eight road games this season. I think Foles has one more clean sheet left in him before this postseason is over. And if it's not on Sunday... 


Eagles rushing yards: 86.5

That's the line being offered over at Bovada if you add up their projections for Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Nick Foles. At first glance, it seems a little low. After all, the Eagles averaged 132.2 yards per game on the ground during the regular season, but that number fell sharply in the weeks since Carson Wentz went down.

•  With Wentz: 143 yards/game
•  Without Wentz: 88 yards/game

And that doesn't even factor in the fact that they're facing the best run defense in the NFL aside from their own. The Vikings allowed just 83.6 yards/game on the ground during the regular season. And last week, facing a Saints rushing attack that finished the regular season fifth in the league in rushing yards (129.4 yards/game) and second in yards per attempt (4.7) to just 80 yards on 24 carries (3.33 YPA). 

I think this one is going to be close, and while I'm taking the over, I doubt the Eagles surpass 100 rushing yards (unless of course, Corey Clement, who wasn't accounted for in the Bovada numbers, breaks off a 50-plus-yard run or something like that).


Adam Thielen + Stefon Diggs receiving yards: 129.5

Individually, each of these wideouts is projected to rack up more receiving yards than the Eagles' top projected receiver, Alshon Jeffery (50.5). But it's a tough one to call because both Thielen and Diggs have the ability to stretch the field and can easily take care of half these yards in one play if Jalen Mills bites on a sluggo. 

That being said, the Birds allowed 151 combined yards to Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu last week, and they still held the Falcons to just 10 points. Atlanta, however, didn't have a tight end as talented as Kyle Rudolph, so if these two wideouts hit the over, they better make sure to keep Rudolph in check.


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