The Vikings were 5-0 when they last faced the Eagles in Philadelphia, back in October 2016. Minnesota lost 21-10. It would go on to finish 8-8 and out of the NFC playoffs. The Eagles finished a game behind the Vikings at 7-9.
A year and a half later, the rematch in Sunday's NFC championship game will be a lot different. First, this season's Vikings and Eagles (14-3) carry the same record through the divisional round. Second, neither Sam Bradford nor Carson Wentz will be starting at quarterback.
Instead, there's a less than marquee QB matchup between two backups pressed into duty by knee injuries to both Bradford and Wentz — Case Keenum and Nick Foles. Keenum, a No. 1 for most of the season, has found a groove in the Vikings' offense to the point where he's about to hit the jackpot as a free agent. Foles, through a few bumps and lumps after taking over in December, has become a good complement for the Eagles' many other strengths on both sides of the ball.
These were the two best NFC teams during regular-season play because they were the conference's most complete and deepest. They survived tense finishes last weekend to advance to where they belong.
With a trip to Super Bowl LII at stake Sunday night, who will be more up to task? Here are Sporting News' predictions for what should be a classic, physical, defensive-minded game.
NFL playoff picks: Vikings (-3.5) at Eagles
- Date, time: Sunday, 6:40 p.m. ET
- Location: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
- TV: FOX
- Live streaming: FuboTV (7-day free trial)
- Odds: Vikings -3.5; total: 40
Vinnie Iyer: 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.
Pick: Vikings 19, Eagles 16
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Jaguars-Patriots picks, odds
David Steele: 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.
Pick: Vikings 20, Eagles 16