Minnesota Vikings (14-3 SU, 11-6 ATS) vs. Philadelphia Eagles (14-3 SU, 11-6 ATS)
NFC Championship Game
Date/Time: Sunday, January 21 at 6:40PM EST
Where: Lincoln Financial Field
by Evergreen, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: MIN -3.5/PHI +3
Over/Under Total: 38
After an amazing weekend of Divisional Playoff action, who can imagine what is on tap for the NFC Championship round? Truth is, there is little chance the Vikings-Eagles matchup this Sunday can live up to the Minneapolis Miracle that we all saw but we should see a hard-fought game when Minnesota takes on Philly at Lincoln Financial Field. Many believe that the Vikings are a lock to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium, especially given the Eagles are without Carson Wentz, but Philadelphia is not a pushover and matches up well in many areas against Minnesota. Both teams play a run-first scheme and rely on defense. Both teams also have some underrated playmakers on offense. Given all the similarities, this should be a close game as mirror-image matchups often are.
To add to the similarities, both teams sit at 11-6 against the spread heading into the weekend. The online betting sites have Minnesota as 3.5 point favorites with the money nearly at a 50-50 split when the spread sits at that number. When the aggregate line moves to just three points, the money swings heavily onto Minnesota so that gives you a little clue as to where the public sits on this game and the line in general. The Vikings are just 2-5 ATS in their last seven road playoff contests with Philly a similar 1-4 ATS in their last five postseason games. The Eagles are 6-2 ATS in their last eight games overall but many of their positive trends have come with Carson Wentz under center. The over/under total is firmly below 40 and both teams have seen the under as the better play in previous playoff games. The under has hit in four of the last five playoff road games for Minnesota and nine of the last eleven Philadelphia home playoff games have hit the under.
Lost in the celebration for Minnesota last week were some key stats that came while advancing past New Orleans. The Vikings led the league by holding opponents to a 25% third down conversion rate through the season and that stayed true with the Saints converting on just 2-of-9 attempts. New Orleans was held to just 80 rushing yards overall, which is not surprising given Minnesotas 2nd best run defense. The script played out just the way most thought for the Vikings but there were some defensive cracks exposed when S Andrew Sendejo left the game. Sendejo is listed as questionable for Sunday with a concussion. Harrison Smith (5 INT, 12 pass defenses) is getting much more attention as part of that dominant secondary but Minnesota needs all its pieces to play the way they want. Chances are, the Vikings will be able to limit Philadelphias run game in a similar fashion, even though the Eagles are 3rd in rush offense, and that puts a lot of pressure on Nick Foles. Foles has done a fine job to a large degree in Wentz place but the Vikings D leads the league in points allowed and it will be advantage Minnesota if Foles is required to throw in order to catch up.
Folks should not gush too much over Minnesotas defense, at least until they acknowledge that Philadelphia is very good in their own right. The Eagles finished up the regular season ranked 4th in total yards allowed, 4th in points allowed (18.4 per game) and led the league in run stopping at 79 yards per contest. That last bit is ominous for Minnesota considering how run dependant they are. The Vikings do not have a back over four yards per carry so it isnt as if they are exceptional on the ground but they do not waver from their commitment in that regard. Philly should be able to put Minnesota in some third and long situations and that has been key to the Eagles success as opponents have only managed a 32% conversion rate. If Minnesotas rate wasnt record-breaking, we might be talking about Philadelphias defense in the same breath. Case Keenum is shedding the back-up QB tag with every win but he has yet to prove he can throw a team out of a large deficit. Seven different Eagles defenders have at least two interceptions and Philly would have to see themselves at an advantage if Minnesota is forced to throw upwards of 40 times.
We know that Minnesota is going to run and run a lot. Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon mostly ground out yards last week but both were able to find the endzone and the attention that they need to be paid often opens up the play-action. The trio of Adam Theilen, Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph have accounted for 20 of the 25 Vikings receiving touchdowns this season so it is clear that this is not an overly diverse passing game. Keenum is pushing 70% completions however so Minnesota can move the ball with the pass, especially on the easy throws created by the secondary coming down to help with the run. Philly is just 17th against the pass so there are soft spots in that back-seven. If Minnesota feels comfortable letting Keenum unleash a few more throws, it could pay off big.
The Eagles counter the Vikings run game with a three-headed backfield of their own. LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement have a pretty equal share so while none have standout stats, they do perform well in most cases as they are kept fresh all game. The trio has amassed nearly 1,500 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. None of the three are prolific pass catchers but all have at least one receiving touchdown and Clement has emerged as the more effective receiver with a 12.3 yards per catch average. Foles seems to like Clement as a checkdown and found him on five occasions last week against the Falcons. Ajayi leads the team with 5.8 yards per carry and Blount is one of the heaviest hitters in any backfield so while it is expected to be tough against Minnesota on the ground, Philly has the means to try just about every way possible to crack that rush defense. They may actually be in better shape than the Vikings running against them. Philly has a balance in their passing game as Zach Ertz, Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery all reached eight touchdown passes. Ertz led the team with nine scores as Philadelphia tallied 14 total tight end touchdowns. Foles may not be the kind to push the ball down the field but he does have good possession option, good red-zone options and can check it down. If he doesnt throw the ball into trouble, he should be able to keep the Eagles in the game.
These teams did square off last October in Philadelphia. Like this week, Minnesota entered as three point favorites but fell 21-10. That was a Sam Bradford/Carson Wentz game and while much has changed in personnel for both teams, their schemes and tendencies are nearly identical. Philly used a kickoff return score to jump out early and hung on with a dogged running game and solid defense. That is essentially what the gameplan has to be this week as well. The odd thing is, both teams will be doing the same. Neither will care if it is a 10-9 game or something similar, it doesnt matter how or how good it looks. Given that approach, I think you have to like Minnesota the edge. They are just a bit better in the total defense and their backup QB has been able to play more games with more success. I thought the Saints were the main threat for the Vikings until the Super Bowl and I will stick by that and predict a 21-16 Minnesota win this weekend. Give me Keenum over Foles at this point and give me the Minnesota secondary over the outside receivers and tight end for Philly. That leaves the Eagles run game to get it done and no one has been able to simply run their way to a win against the Vikings.
Evergreen’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Minnesota - Bet this game for FREE by taking advantage of a 50% bonus up to $250 at one of the web’s oldest and most trusted betting sites: BOVADA