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Championship Sunday game picks: Patriots, Vikings advance

January 19,2018 00:16

That Denver nucleus, including Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway and the premier running back in football, Terrell Davis, fell to the upstart Jaguars, who wound up playing the Patriots the next week in the AFC Championship Game. New England, of ...

This Vikings team is different. Sure, fortune was on Minnesota's side last week. I can dig that, but that last-second touchdown pass still required a high degree of skill, namely from Case Keenum, who threw the ball right where it needed to be. The matchup between Minnesota's "plucky" QB, as my editor calls him, and the Eagles' pass defense will decide Sunday's affair in Philly. Doug Pederson's team might be playing with house money at this point, too, as no one expected the Eagles to get this far with Nick Foles playing in Carson Wentz's place. Philly's front seven has had much to do with this team's survival. Fletcher Cox's ability to blow up the middle of the line is so important, because no quarterback likes pressure in his face, repeatedly. The Saints brought much of that duress to Keenum in the second half last week, allowing them to crawl back in the game. While there's no doubt Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs can beat Philadelphia's secondary on intermediate routes, their quarterback must have time to make the required drops. If he's bailing as soon he plants that back foot, no bueno.
That is how the Eagles win, provided Foles does not force throws, something both he and Keenum do a bit too often. While Keenum has, as Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has noted, gotten away with a few (though Keenum was burned last week), Foles might not be so lucky, especially not against the No. 1 scoring defense in pro football. Minnesota safety Harrison Smith is worthy of Defensive Player of the Year mention. Xavier Rhodes can cover any player on Pederson's play sheet. The key factors here will be: A) Will safety Andrew Sendejo be physically ready to go? B) Can Minnesota's edge rushers beat the Eagles' tackles? Lane Johnson should be able to win most of his battles against Danielle Hunter. Everson Griffen versus Halapoulivaati Vaitai is another story. If ever there was a game in which Philly needed Jason Peters ...
All of this comes down to the Eagles' ability to stay effective on the ground. This could be a Leggie Blount game. He's enjoyed a couple of huge days in the postseason before. If OC Frank Reich uses him to soften the Vikings up for some of these RPOs (run-pass options), Foles should see larger windows downfield. RPOs have become the new RPGs. You know, role-playing games, like "D&D" and "Baldur's Gate." Never mind.
(Not) fun fact: In reference to Foles having opportunities downfield off play-action, @RealJackAndrade is one negative Nancy. This is just slightly concerning:
Carson Wentz, when passing deep (20-plus air yards): 25 of 65, 44.6 accuracy percentage, 10 TDs, 4 INTs, 100.2 passer rating.Nick Foles, when passing deep: 2 of 15, 20.0 accuracy percentage, 0 TDs, 1 INT, 13.8 passer rating.
Interesting tidbit: The Vikings are 12-0 this season when Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon combine for at least 100 scrimmage yards. Those pesky Minnesota running backs counter pressure on Keenum, for sure. The win in Atlanta comes to mind here.
Historical note: For all the droning on about the Vikings never winning the Super Bowl, fans and media alike need to reconsider how successful this franchise has been. While the '90s Bills get a ton of love for losing four Super Bowls in a row, the Bud Grant Vikings teams (1967-1983, 1985) don't receive the same due. Not only did they reach the ultimate game four times during Grant's tenure, they made the postseason 10 times from 1968 to 1978. The '80s might not have seen the same amount of success, but Minnesota did reach the playoffs in 1980, '82, '87, '88 and '89. Don't sleep on the '90s, when Dennis Green's squads made the postseason on seven occasions. This is a franchise steeped in tradition, with #SKOL (SKOAL Bandit?), and all that stuff. It's also rich in winning.

Danny Amendola,LeSean McCoy,Tom Brady,Rob Gronkowski,Andrew Sendejo,Everson Griffen,Nick Foles,Case Keenum,Harrison Smith,LeVeon Bell,Xavier Rhodes,Lane Johnson,Adam Thielen,Jalen Ramsey,Myles Jack,Danielle Hunter,Stefon Diggs,Blake Bortles,Brandin Cooks,Telvin Smith,Halapoulivaati Vaitai,Carolina Panthers

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