NFL

The Backup Bowl: NFC Conference Championship preview

The Minnesota Vikings, after upsetting the New Orleans Saints in the most epic of fashions this past Sunday, have a date with the No. 1 seeded Philadelphia Eagles this coming Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field in the NFC Conference Championship game. A game that has been regarded by many as “The Backup Bowl”.

The fact that two perennial backup quartebacks are starting in a game for a bid to play in the Super Bowl could make this game either one of two things. Either this will be an absolute slopfest or possibly the greatest playoff game played in recent memory.

The suspense has been killing me all week long. This should be yet another riveting football game.

The strangest thing about this game is that not too long ago, both quarterbacks were seen as journeymen and afterthoughts among other NFL QB’s  when they were teammates on the then St. Louis Rams in 2015.

Nick Foles was the embattled starter after being traded from Philadelphia for Sam Bradford and Case Keenum was his backup. Funny how life comes at you, isn’t it?

The Minnesota Vikings have been rock solid with Case Keenum as their quarterback. Sam Bradford, the original QB1 in Minneapolis started the season off red hot, but a knee injury he suffered during a Monday Night Football tilt with the Chicago Bears opened the door for the 7th year product out of Houston University to lead the offense.

Keenum had his NFL epiphany, throwing for 3,547 yards and 22 TD’s while completing 67.6% of his throws while drawing up MVP considerations.

The Vikings with their suffocating, young defense, compiled a 13-3 record and advanced to the Conference championship game on a miraculous play made by none other than their trusty backup.

Keenum hit Stefon Diggs on an absolute rope to the sideline. Diggs then managed to avoid Saints safety Marcus Williams’ poor tackle attempt and took it the distance for the 61-yard walk off TD. Keenum for the game was solid, completing 25 of 40 passes for 318 yards with 1 TD & 1 INT.

The Philadelphia Eagles also finished the season at 13-3 and won the NFC East. It came with a huge price, however. 2nd year phenom Carson Wentz shredded his ACL while being restled to the ground by safety Mark Barron and defensive end  Morgan Fox on a scramble attempt against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 14.

Nick Foles would be called on to start the final 3 games of the regular season. He managed to help them win two of the three games and posted decent numbers (57/101 passes, 56.4% completion, 537 yards, 5 TD’s, 2 INT’s), but struggled mightily in their final two home games. A win over the Oakland Raiders on Christmas Day and a 6-0 blanking by the Dallas Cowboys where Foles was horribly inaccurate and looked to have 0 chemistry with his receivers.

Fast forward to the NFC Divisional playoff game vs. Atlanta, Foles turned in an absolutely brilliant performance. He overcame a sluggish start and a Jay Ajayi 1st quarter fumble to complete 23 of 30 passes for 246 yards. Foles rode the defense and their solid running game to a 15-10 victory over the Super Bowl runner ups. In the 2nd half, he hit open guys consistently and didn’t turn the ball over, which was key in the low scoring affair.

Both teams have incredible defensive units that differ slightly. Philadelphia has a menacing front seven led by All Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and defensive end Brandon Graham. Even with injuries to Jordan Hicks (ACL) and 2017 2nd round pick Sidney Jones (achilles), they have allowed the 4th fewest total yards this year with 4,904 and allow 18.3 points per game, good for 4th in the NFL. Not to mention, they only allow a pedestrian 79.2 yards a game on the ground.

The Minnesota Vikings have the best defense in the NFL led by shutdown corner Xavier Rhodes and wood layer Harrison Smith. They were No. 1 in the NFL in points allowed per game (15.8), total yards allowed (4,414), and finished in run yards allowed per game at 83.2, which is something they haven’t done in almost a decade.

Due to both teams bringing extremely strong defenses, especially against the run to the tables, I’m expecting an absolute slugfest on Sunday. Offense will be very difficult to come by and both quarterbacks will more than likely be asked to throw the ball for rushing yards may be very scarce.

I don’t expect the passing games for either team to do much in this game, even with weather not being much of an issue. Game time temperature is set to be around 39° at kickoff (6:41 p.m.). One thing is for sure, though. This game will be a dogfight to the max and shouldn’t disappoint.

As for a winner, I’m picking the Philadelphia Eagles to ride their current momentum and ice this game by a score of 14-12. Thus completing the bid for the team’s 3rd Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.

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