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Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles: Prediction, preview, pick to win

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The Sports Xchange
Case Keenum and the Minnesota Vikings visit the Philadelphia Eagles to vie for the NFC championship Sunday. Photo by Brian Kersey/UPI
Case Keenum and the Minnesota Vikings visit the Philadelphia Eagles to vie for the NFC championship Sunday. Photo by Brian Kersey/UPI | License Photo

MINNESOTA VIKINGS (14-3) at PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (14-3)

GAME SNAPSHOT

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KICKOFF: Sunday, 6:40 p.m. ET, Lincoln Financial Field, TV: Fox, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews (field reporter), Chris Myers (field reporter). WESTWOOD ONE: Kevin Harlan, Trent Green, Ross Tucker. SIRIUS: 88 (WW1), 83 (Min), 82 (Phi). XM: 88 (WW1), 83 (Min), 82 (Phi).

SERIES HISTORY: 27th all-time meeting. Series tied, 13-13. Vikings are 6-9 on the road, including 0-2 in the playoffs. The teams last met in Week 7 last season. The Vikings were 5-0 and coming off their bye. They traveled to Lincoln Financial Field and were trounced 21-10 while being unable to protect quarterback Sam Bradford. The teams have met three times in the playoffs. The Vikings are 0-3 in those games. The last playoff meeting came during the 2008 season. The Vikings lost 26-14 at home as the No. 3 seed in a wild-card matchup. The Vikings also lost at Philadelphia in the playoffs during the 2004 (27-14) and 1980 (31-16) seasons.

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KEYS TO THE GAME: Last week, quarterback Nick Foles and the Eagles attacked the Falcons defense with mostly short, quick passes off run-pass options. Just four of his 23 completions came on passes that traveled longer than seven yards in the air. Six were throws behind the line of scrimmage.

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"Last week, I think we had three (scoring) drives of over 10 plays," said offensive coordinator Frank Reich. "So that's the challenge going up against one of the better defenses in the league. So I think one thing is we have to scheme and we have to find ways to make a few chunk plays here and there."

That's not going to be easy. The Vikings have given up just 35 pass plays of 20 yards or more. That's the fewest in the league.

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Defensively, Vikings quarterback Case Keenum only threw seven interceptions this season. But the Eagles feel that if they can get pressure on Keenum, he will put the ball up for grabs.

The Vikings hope to be able to start fast, protect the ball and take the crowd out of the game, so the defense can smother Foles and the Philadelphia offense.

Field conditions also have to be watched closely after numerous players were slipping in last week's game in Phuiladlephia. Said Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, "With the cleat situation, you have to go out there, try the field out, wear seven studs (in your cleats) and see if that will help."

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MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

--Vikings RT Rashod Hill vs. Eagles LDE Brandon Graham. Hill has been a huge surprise this season. Signed off the Jaguars practice squad out of sheer desperation for depth on the offensive line, Hill has become a reliable starter at right tackle. He has started eight games at right tackle and one at left tackle. He has played so well on the right side that the Vikings have used their original starting right tackle, Mike Remmers, at right guard and left guard the past two games. Graham, who lines up primarily over the right tackle, will be a tough test. He has a team-high 9.5 sacks and the experience of having been in the league since 2010.

--Vikings RG Joe Berger vs. Eagles DT Fletcher Cox. The interior of Minnesota's line will have its hands full with what Philadelphia is able to do inside. Cox is often unblockable, and that will be an enormous challenge for the Vikings in establishing the run and keeping the pass rush away from QB Case Keenum

--Eagles LT Halapoulivaati Vaitai vs. Vikings DE Everson Griffen. This will be one of Vaitai's toughest challenges of the season. The 6-foot-3, 280-pound Griffen, who head coach Doug Pederson described as a "game-wrecker," has 13 sacks.

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--Eagles CBs Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson vs. Vikings WRs Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Thielen, who lines up both inside and outside, and Diggs, have combined for 155 catches, 2,125 yards and 12 touchdowns. Thielen is second in the NFL in third-down receptions (33).

WEDNESDAY INJURY REPORT

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Practice Report

DID NOT PARTICIPATE IN PRACTICE

--Wednesday: DT Shamar Stephen (knee, ankle), WR Adam Thielen (back)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION IN PRACTICE

--Wednesday: CB Mackensie Alexander (rib), S Andrew Sendejo (concussion)

FULL PARTICIPATION IN PRACTICE

--Wednesday: C Pat Elflein (shoulder), S Anthony Harris (knee)

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Practice Report

DID NOT PARTICIPATE IN PRACTICE

--Wednesday: LB Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring)

FULL PARTICIPATION IN PRACTICE

--Wednesday: CB Sidney Jones (hamstring)

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Vikings WR Stefon Diggs. Well, what will Diggs do for an encore after having the wherewithal to catch, turn and sprint for the first game-winning touchdown as time expired in the history of NFL playoff football? We're about to find out. His 61-yard catch from Case Keenum is the kind of electric play that he or fellow receiver Adam Thielen can make when one or the other is taken out of a play. Diggs had six catches for 137 yards in the 29-24 divisional playoff win over the Saints.

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FAST FACTS: Vikings -- QB Case Keenum set career-highs in pass yards (3,547), pass TDs (22) & rating (98.3) in 2017. Passed for 318 yards & TD in postseason debut last week. RB Latavius Murray ties for NFL lead with 22 rush TDs since 2016 (incl. postseason). Had rush TD last week. Aims for his 3rd playoff game in row with TD. WR Adam Thielen ranked 2nd in NFC with 1,276 rec. yards & 4th with 91 receptions. Joined Rod Smith & Wes Welker as only undrafted players since 1967 with 90+ catches & 1,200+ rec. yards in single season. TE Kyle Rudolph tied for 2nd among NFL TEs with 8 TD catches. Has 37 career rec. TDs, most in franchise history among TEs. DE Everson Griffen tied for 4th in NFL with career-high 13 sacks. Had sack & FF last week. Aims for 4th playoff game in row with sack. S Harrison Smith was only player in NFC with 70+ tackles (78), 5+ INTs (5) & sack (1.5). Since 2014, leads NFL safeties with 8 sacks. Had 7 tackles & sack in Div. LB Eric Kendricks led team with 113 tackles, his 2nd consecutive 100+ tackle season. Led team with 10 tackles last week. ... Eagles -- QB Nick Foles has completed 46 of 63 (73 pct.) with 2 TDs & 0 INTs for 102.7 rating in 2 career playoff games. In 2 career games vs. Min., has 596 pass yards (298 per game) with 3 TDs & 1 INT. RB LeGarrette Blount rushed for TD last week. Has 9 rush TDs in 9 career postseason games. Since entering NFL in 2010, ranks 3rd in league with 60 rush TDs (including playoffs). RB Jay Ajayi has 98 scrimmage yards (54 rush, 44 rec.) last week. WR Alshon Jeffery tied for 4th in NFL with 9 TD catches. Has 7 TD catches in 9 career games vs. Min. TE Zach Ertz tied for 2nd among NFL TEs with 8 TD catches & ranked 3rd with 824 rec. yards. Jeffery (9), Nelson Agholor (8) & Ertz (8) were only trio of teammates in NFL with 8+ TD catches each. DE Brandon Graham led team with career-high 9.5 sacks. Had sack & FF in his last game vs. Min. Since 2016, DT Fletcher Cox is 1 of 6 NFL DTs with 10+ sacks (12) & 2+ FFs (2). Had 7 tackles & sack last week. S Rodney McLeod had sack last week. Had INT, sack & FF in his last game vs. Min. LB Nigel Bradham led team with 88 tackles. Had sack in Div. Had sack in his last game vs. Min. DE Derek Barnett ranked 2nd among NFC rookies with 5 sacks.

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PREDICTION: The Eagles are again playing the underdog to the hilt, as their opponent is the favorite for the second consecutive game. Unless there are an inordinate number of turnovers, this should be a defensive struggle. Minnesota's offensive line will be challenged by the talent on the other side as well as dealing with noise, but the Vikings believe they are team of destiny after last Sunday's win leaving them one game away from being the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium. Call this a toss-up.

OUR PICK: Eagles, 16-14

--Howard Balzer

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