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Expert Picks: Vikings Favorites in NFC Championship Against Eagles?

The Vikings are back on the road with the opportunity to #BringItHome to U.S. Bank Stadium.

Minnesota will head to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field for the NFC Championship Game at 5:40 p.m. (CT).

The Vikings are coming off of a miraculous victory over the New Orleans Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium and look to keep that momentum with a bid to play in the Super Bowl in Minneapolis on Feb 4 on the line.

The Eagles won their NFC Divisional playoff matchup against the Atlanta Falcons with a stop in the red zone in the game's final minute. Philadelphia topped Atlanta 15-10 and will look to win another game at home against Minnesota this weekend.

The Eagles are 8-1 in home games this season.

Let's see who the experts pick to win the matchup between the Eagles and the Vikings:

The NFC Championship Game was a harder call for our pundits. Its features two equally matched teams, formidable defenses and questions at quarterback.

And even if you believe the Vikings have a slight edge on paper, it can be argued that's cancelled out by the game being played outside in front of a boisterous pro-Eagles crowd.

Mike Tanier thinks the game's locale could have a big impact on who represents the NFC in Super Bowl LII:

"Right now, mild weather is expected in Philly for the NFC Championship Game," he said. "That was the forecast early last week, too, then a cold front blew an icy gale through Lincoln Financial Field and turned Eagles-Falcons into a frosty defensive duel. Both the Vikings and Eagles are built for low-scoring showdowns, but the Eagles running game and aggressiveness on fourth downs will give them an edge in a game where every point is precious. And no matter how cold it may be outdoors in Minnesota, the Vikings are just another dome team."

However, Tanier and NFL Features Lead Writer Tyler Dunne were the only experts in our group who went with the home team.

NFL analyst Brent Sobleski thinks the Vikings are on a collision course with destiny:

"A perfect concoction of talent, top-notch coaching, injury survival and catching the lightning in a bottle is needed to capture a championship," Sobleski said. "Both the New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings best fit these descriptions. Minnesota appears to be this year's team of destiny thanks to a suffocating defense, Case Keenum's star turn and Marcus Williams' missed tackle."

Fellow analyst Sean Tomlinson expects the Vikings defense to come up big: "Nick Foles did enough after a rocky start against the Falcons. But a repeat performance is tough to imagine against a swarming Vikings defense that picked off *Drew Brees *twice after he threw only eight interceptions throughout the regular season," he said. "The Vikings ... are built to win on the road in January, and maybe at home in February, too."

National lead writer Matt Miller looks for that defense and Case Keenum to carry the day: "I've doubted Case Keenum all season long, and it's gotten me nowhere," he said. "In a battle of two afterthought quarterbacks, it's time to take Keenum seriously. The Vikings defense should have success pressuring Nick Foles and shutting down the size, speed and versatility of the Eagles playmakers. If these teams have taught us anything, it's that we should expect the unexpected, but the Vikings are just too good to stop."

Analyst Brad Gagnon also beat the drum for Keenum — sort of: "This is a toss-up because it's in Philly, and Case Keenum has limited experience in the elements," Gagnon said. "He struggled in Green Bay in December, but that game was a lot colder than this one is expected to be. Having the better defense and quarterback will be enough for Minnesota to pull it off in a tough environment."

I'm inclined to agree with that assessment. Don't get me wrong, it's not at all difficult to see the Eagles winning this game, especially if they can pressure Keenum and the Vikings into turnovers. But on paper, I trust Minnesota's secondary more than Philly's, and Keenum more than Foles.

That will be enough for the Vikings to escape with about a 20-16 win. I see the Vikings making NFL history by becoming the first home Super Bowl team in history.

And their reward for doing so is taking on the big bad Patriots.

7 of 9 experts pick the Vikings,Bleacher Report

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.*

Vikings 20, Eagles 17  — Elliott Harrison,****

How much does emotion and momentum carry over from week to week, including during the playoffs? And if they do, what happens when both teams are riding an adrenaline rocket into their meeting?

It might be smarter to push aside the dramatic endings of the Eagles' and Vikings' divisional-round wins last week and dive into the 58 minutes or so that preceded them.

Through that prism, you find defenses that are far ahead of their respective offenses — a Vikings unit that buttressed a 17-0 lead over Drew Brees and the Saints, and an Eagles unit that kept them within reach against the Falcons until Foles, Jay Ajayi and the rest got the turnovers and gaffes out of their systems.

With no disrespect intended to the Eagles and their goal-line stand to save the game, the Vikings' defense has the edge from front to back and side to side, from Everson Griffen to Harrison Smith to Anthony Barr (he covers the side-to-side). They don't have to apologize for the Brees comeback, or for being bailed out by the Diggs miracle. They have too much potential to make Foles look bad and to overcome gaffes like Keenum's interception that helped the Saints get back into the game. They also have a better chance of matching the coaching of Doug Pederson and his coordinators (with Mike Zimmer and his), than the group last week that included Steve Sarkisian.

The Eagles' underdog narrative will end. The Vikings' home-field Super Bowl dream lives.

Vikings 20, Eagles 16 — David Steele,**Sporting News**

The Vikings are favored as the road team because there's more trust in Keenum against the Eagles' defense than there is in Foles against the Vikings' defense. Yards will be hard to come by on the ground with two premier run defenses facing two inconsistent committees. So the first key is which team will be aggressive enough to call for big plays in the passing game — and be capable of executing them.

The Vikings don't hold back in letting Keenum throw downfield, because the deep ball is an integral part of their offense. With a terrific, speedy wide receiver duo in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, both of whom came up monumental against the Saints, the Vikings will take their shots against the Eagles' cornerbacks, which are Philly's weakness. Keenum will need to use his mobility to buy time against a good edge pass rush to make those plays.

For Foles, the key is protecting the ball and getting it out quickly. Even with what the Vikings have at linebacker, safety and corner, Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and tight end Zach Ertz can be difference-makers with their size, hands and athleticism. Holding the ball too long against the Vikings' unpredictable mix of pressure and coverage looks will spell doom for Foles.

In a close game, it's bound to come down to someone getting a key takeaway on defense and/or a critical special team play. The Vikings will be in better position to do just that, and they will return home for the Super Bowl in Minneapolis.

Vikings 19, Eagles 16 — Vinnie Iyer,**Sporting News**

The Eagles are home underdogs as the No. 1 seed for a second consecutive week. This also is the second consecutive week that multiple insiders are picking against them. Two of the three sided with Minnesota in what could be a defensive battle.

"I'll take the No. 1 defense in the league against a quarterback [Nick Foles] they said they might bench if he's struggling," one of the insiders said, referring to a comment Eagles coach Doug Pederson made, then tempered, before the playoffs. "I did notice the Eagles have allowed 13 points per game at home, so it should be a low-scoring game. But I think at the end of the day, the talent on all three levels of the Vikings' defense is the difference."

The Eagles' 15-10 victory over the Falcons last week marked Philadelphia's first home game of the season against a 2017 playoff team. Foles' average pass traveled 4.9 yards past the line of scrimmage, lowest for any quarterback in the playoffs, as Philadelphia limited risk.

"Atlanta's defense is simple, so if the Falcons can't get to the quarterback — and Philly has a pretty good O-line — you can get Atlanta's defense," one insider said. "Atlanta's style is different versions of one-high: Cover 1, Cover 3s. [Vikings coach Mike] Zimmer has two-deeps, three-deeps, Cover 1, quarters. He has more variety to come at you with, and they blitz so well."

This insider thought the Vikings' defenders would get their hands on the football because Foles' delivery is on the slow side. The Eagles' offense has averaged 44 snaps per game with three wide receivers, including 41 against the Falcons. The Vikings probably wouldn't mind if the Eagles continued using that personnel, although the Vikings still might get to some of their exotic blitz packages even when Philly uses 12 personnel (15 snaps per game).

"If Philly has tendencies in 12, 'Zim' will figure it out by receiver or halfback usage," an insider said. "Last week, he played nickel against 12 whenever 41 [Alvin Kamara] was the halfback. And when Zimmer is in sub, he turns into a blitz magician. It is the 'Where's Waldo' Harrison Smith show I'm down weak, I'm down strong, I'm in the middle; am I blitzing, am I covering the tight end?"

The insider said the Eagles could counter with quick counts, as Drew Brees did last week.

Of course, Foles isn't the only quarterback stepping up in class. Case Keenum is too.

"Philly has a substantially better four-man rush than New Orleans," another insider said. "Combine that with the crowd noise fueled by the 6:40 p.m. [ET] kickoff, and there is a big advantage getting off the line. [Eagles defensive coordinator] Jim Schwartz will let his four-man dogs hunt and play large doses of off-coverage from his back-seven, with quarterback vision, setting up takeaways. Case threw four ill-advised passes last week, and New Orleans made him pay only once. Don't expect Philly to be as gracious."

Another insider said he'll be watching how both teams handle fourth down. Philly finished the regular season with a league-high 17 conversions on fourth down. Minnesota finished tied for last in the league with just one. Of course, much of the Eagles' fourth-down production came with Carson Wentz behind center.

"The big thing about the NFC games is, they are so tight," another insider said. "Atlanta and New Orleans easily could be playing each other right now. Even Carolina could be playing in the championship game right now. The margin of error is so small that a turnover could literally be the difference in the game."

2 of 3 experts picked the Vikings — Mike Sando,**ESPN**

The Eagles defense played better against the Falcons than what the Vikings showed against the Saints. But that was Drew Brees having a big day throwing it this past week. Foles is not Brees.

Vikings 21, Eagles 16 — Pete Prisco,**CBS Sports**

FiveThirtyEight's 2015 NFL forecast uses an Elo-based model to calculate each team's chances of winning each week.

Pre-game win probabilities: Vikings 43

7 of 8 experts pick the Vikings,**CBS Sports**

Opinions are split on the NFC side, but the edge goes to the Vikings, trying to complete their quest to become the first team to play a Super Bowl on its home field.

4 of 6 experts pick the Vikings,**USA TODAY Sports**

For this week's matchups, the NFC game is harder to pin down. On one hand, the Vikings are a complete team. Their defense is dominant, and they're going up against a *Nick Foles-led offense. But the Vikings aren't writing the Eagles off as an easy win, and nobody else should, either. *

Philadelphia's defense has been stingy all season, *and it's even better at home. Just ask the Falcons. The Eagles held them to just 10 points after the Falcons averaged more than twice that number per game this season.*

5 of 8 experts pick the Vikings,**SB Nation**

Philadelphia coaches began their championship week practices by repeatedly showing players video of the Minny Miracle play that lifted the Vikings past New Orleans last Sunday night. While the Eagles were impressed with Stefon Diggs' acrobatic moves on that play, they found Case Keenum's throw to be most surprising. That's because the Eagles haven't seen their quarterback throw a touchdown pass since Christmas.

Vikings — Kevin Cusick, Pioneer Press

The Vikings' defense had a late-game letdown that nearly cost them the game against the Saints, and it all happened after safety **Andrew Sendejo** suffered a concussion. Sendejo appears ready to go for Sunday, which should boost a good Minnesota defense. On the other side of the ball, I think **Case Keenum** will keep playing good football as he has all year, and he'll lead Minnesota to a Super Bowl on its home field.

Vikings 24, Eagles 20Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk

Flip a coin, throw a dart, light a match. I've gone back and forth on this one all week. At the end of Friday's PFT Live, I had to finally pick a winner. I blurted out the Eagles. It could be a mistake (**hardly my first**), but home-field advantage is the difference in this one. If the game were being played in Minnesota, the Vikings would win easily; in Philly, it's going to be a close, grind-it-out game that eventually wears down Minnesota's defense and offensive line, allowing the Eagles to make that one key play needed to win the game. The best hope for the Vikings? Come out of the gates hot, pressuring (and demoralizing) Eagles quarterback **Nick Foles** and establishing a double-digit lead, which the Vikings have down many times this year (10 games saw the Vikings build leads of 16 points or more). Quarterbacks like **Kirk Cousins****Matthew Stafford**, and **Drew Brees** were able to carve into those margins. Nick Foles wouldn't be, if it comes to that. Based on 45 years of following the NFL closely (old), and witnessing the Vikings coming up short in a big spot again and again and again, the home team gets the edge — and the Eagles secure the right to lose in the Super Bowl. Unless they can get the Super Bowl moved to Philadelphia.

Eagles 16, Vikings 13Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk

The battle of the backups, Case Keenum and Nick Foles, will be the focal point but one of the key matchups will be how left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, filling in for the injured Jason Peters since Week 7, handles Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen.

Griffen was credited with 13 sacks during the regular season and finished 2017 as the 10th best edge rusher per the game charters at Pro Football Focus. He had a sack against Drew Brees in the Divisional playoff game on Sunday in addition to deflecting a pass into the arms of teammate Anthony Barr for the Vikings' second interception of the day. Griffen now has at least one sack in each of his three playoff games.

Vaitai, meanwhile, ranks 52 out of 55 qualified tackles after allowing nine sacks, 10 hits and 20 hurries this season. That could spell disaster for Foles, whose passer rating drops from 106.3 to 34.0 under pressure. An incomplete pass, by comparison, carries a passer rating of 39.6.

Vikings — Neil Greenberg,**Chicago Tribune**

3 of 6 experts pick the Vikings,**MMQB**

It took the Vikings longer this season than the Eagles to prove they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Now, here they are, one game away from the Super Bowl after surviving a near-death playoff experience against the Saints. Minnesota was built to overcome the loss of *Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook, as well as countless injuries along the offensive line, and the acquisition of Case Keenum in the offseason has played out as the most beneficial free-agency move across the league. Without Keenum, the Vikings don't win eight consecutive games, notch six road victories or put themselves in a position to be the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium. We knew Minnesota had a championship-caliber defense going into the year, and what it did as the season wore on was nothing shy of elite by closing out games when called upon and finishing No. 1 in yards and scoring for the first time since 1970. The Vikings have some conference title game woes they need to overcome this Sunday, having lost their past five appearances, three of which came by seven points or less. Pitting strength against strength, we get to see the best defenses in the league wreak havoc on the opposing offenses. Given how much the Vikings' offense has been able to endure and outlast the past five months, they'll be the ones standing at the end.*

Vikings 21, Eagles 19 — Courtney Cronin,**ESPN**

The Eagles and Vikings were the best two teams in the NFC for the bulk of the season and mirror each other in multiple ways, from their crushing defenses, to their quality of coaching, to the fact that they're now being led by a pair of former Jeff Fisher castoffs at quarterback. The major difference is Minnesota enters the NFC title game with its identity intact Case Keenum first stepped in as its starter in Week 2 while the Eagles continue to adjust to life without budding star and MVP candidate *Carson Wentz. Coach Doug Pederson deserves immense credit for getting his team to push through the adversity of losing Wentz to a torn ACL in Week 14. The Eagles have won every meaningful game they've played since, including a 15-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round to set up this matchup. Jim Schwartz's defense has made up for the slide in offensive production by tightening the screws, yielding 26 points total over the past three games. That defense backed by a frenzied, dog mask-wearing Philly crowd will give the Vikings all they can handle Sunday night. The concern lies on offense. The Vikings have the No. 1 overall defense in the league, and have a major advantage (on paper) in the matchup of Eagles left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai vs. edge rusher Everson Griffen (14 sacks). That's Foles' blind side. The veteran QB did enough in the second half against Atlanta to push the Eagles over the top, but has also had his share of shaky moments since he took over. He'll have to elevate his game in order to push the Eagles into the Super Bowl a tough ask against this caliber of defense.*

Vikings 20, Eagles 16 — Tim McManus,**ESPN**



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