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2017: Vikings at Eagles NFC Championship Game preview: Three things to know


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Vikings at Eagles NFC Championship Game preview: Three things to know

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Nate Davis 

USA TODAY https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/2018/01/15/minnesota-vikings-philadelphia-eagles-nfc-championship-game-preview/1033309001/

A preview of the NFC Championship Game matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles

When: Sunday, 6:40 p.m. ET (FOX)

Where: Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field

Line: Vikings by 3½

Injuries: Both teams suffered grievous losses throughout the season but enter championship weekend with relatively few questions about their current 53-man rosters — even Vikings QB Sam Bradford is back in uniform as Case Keenum's backup.

Minnesota FS Andrew Sendejo, who went into the concussion protocol during last Sunday's win against the Saints, practiced fully for the first time this week on Friday after being limited Wednesday and Thursday. He's officially questionable. So is Pro Bowl WR Adam Thielen, whose lower back problems prevented him from practicing Wednesday and limited him the rest of the week.

 The only Eagle listed on the injury report is LB Dannell Ellerbe, who's started the past three games but is questionable (hamstring).

THREE THINGS TO KNOW

1. Unfamiliar foes: These teams didn't meet in 2017. But they did clash in Week 7 of the 2016 season, when the Eagles handed the Vikings their first loss of a campaign that spiraled from a 5-0 start to an 8-8 finish. Anyway, throw out that tape. The starting quarterbacks then were Bradford and Carson Wentz. RG Joe Berger is the only holdover from Minnesota's O-line, and he was playing center last year. Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles were Philly's primary backs. The defenses are recognizable but both feature plenty of changes, especially at corner and on the lines.

2. Familiar approaches: Even though the Eagles and Vikes will be studying one another anew, it won't take long to appreciate their joint similarities. Keenum and Philly's Nick Foles, teammates with the 2015 St. Louis Rams, began the season as highly regarded backups, but players more likely to be career journeymen than Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. Both will face dominant D-lines on Sunday, deep units able to cause havoc all day even while typically allowing six or seven teammates to drop into coverage. However Keenum in particular — sacked just 22 times this season, he was one of the NFL's best-protected passers — can take advantage of a spotty Philly pass defense if he can evade the rush long enough to distribute the ball to WRs Thielen and Stefon Diggs, RB Jerick McKinnon and TE Kyle Rudolph.

Both teams are also committed to establishing the run and stopping it. Recently acquired Eagles RB Jay Ajayi averaged nearly 6 yards per carry in seven regular-season games after his trade from Miami. The Falcons did a good job containing him on the ground Saturday, but his 32-yard reception was one of the game's pivotal plays.

3. Murphy's Law: The Falcons scored 10 points Saturday off two Eagles giveaways, miscues that surely would have been fatal had Atlanta converted on fourth-and-goal at the end of the game. A top-ranked Vikings defense that also allowed a league-low 15.8 points per game in the regular season blanked the Saints in the first half Sunday. But after halftime, Minnesota’s D appeared mortal, burned for 24 points and requiring a bailout from a Keenum-to-Diggs miracle on the game's final play.

Given how alike Minnesota and Philadelphia are, mistakes are likely to be magnified in what promises to be a nip-and-tuck affair. One turnover, blown assignment or special teams lapse could very well be the difference, especially if weather further depresses offensive output.

 

 

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