Today we’re going to break down each positional group by team and compare them, then decide which team gets the advantage.
Vikings: Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater: Keenum is enjoying the best season of his career so far. His 22 touchdowns nearly match his career total before this season. While he’s not elite, he can make all the necessary throws and doesn’t turn the ball over in crucial moments. Sam Bradford is easily the best backup in the league.
Eagles: Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld: Philly brought Nick Foles back as an insurance policy for Wentz, it turned out to be a good move. While he can be shaky at times, Foles is a solid veteran quarterback who can move the offense when he gets into a rhythm and the run game is successful. He doesn’t have to win the game for Philadelphia, but he has to keep from losing it for them. Nate Sudfeld has no real game experience, his only playing time coming in the regular season finale against Dallas that had no meaning.
Latavius Murray, Jerrick McKinnion: After the season ending injury of Dalvin Cook it took a few weeks before a lead back was established. Murray came out on top, he’s not quite the same back he was when he played for Oakland but he still possesses good vision and power. McKinnion is an excellent 3rd down back and receiver out of the back field. The Vikings finished the season with the 7th ranked rushing attack.
Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement: After being the Eagles lead back for most of the regular season, Blount has taken a back seat to ex-Dolphin Jay Ajayi. Since arriving in Philly Ajayi has averaged 5.8 YPC and run like a man trying to prove himself. This leaves Blount fresh to come in late and help bleed the game clock. Corey Clement has gone from an undrafted free-agent to a bonafide play maker. He has sure hands coming out of the back field and is reliable in pass protection. The Eagles finished the season with the 3rd ranked rushing attack.
Vikings: Minnesota has some solid players along their line with Pat Elfein at center and Riley Reiff at left tackle. They’re a little weak at guard since regular season starter Nick Easton broke his ankle against Green Bay. Mike Remmers started at guard against the Saints, he’ll need plenty of help as Minnesota faces Philadelphia’s talented front four.
Eagles: This is one area where Philly is really stout. They have Jason Kelce at center who graded out as the best in the league at his position, Brandon Brooks at right guard who is an absolute mauler in the run game, and Lane Johnson who has given up one sack all season and can make the claim that he’s the leagues best tackle regardless of side. Left guard Steven Wisniewski is finally back healthy and had some really great moments against Atlanta. Their biggest weakness is Hal Vaitai at left tackle, look for Minnesota to try and expose him.
Receivers and Tight Ends:
Minnesota: Stefon Diggs, Adam Theilen, Jarius Wright, Kyle Rudolph: The Vikings have a nice duo with Diggs and Theilen who have both developed alongside each other. Diggs is coming off a huge play last week and Theilen is Keenum’s favorite target, eclipsing the 1,000 yard mark this season. Kyle Rudolph is a dangerous red zone threat with his 6’6 size. He’s scored 8 times this season.
Philadelphia: Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz: Alshon is a good possession receiver who made some crucial catches last week, Agholor has enjoyed a career renaissance this season since moving to the slot, while Torrey Smith still possesses long speed to stretch defenses. Zach Ertz is a legitimate top 3 receiving tight end. Jeffery, Agholor, and Ertz are the only trio in the league to all score at least 8 touchdowns.
Advantage: Draw, slightly in Minnesota’s favor
Minnesota: Minnesota has a defensive line filled with power and size designed to eat up blockers to allow their linebackers to roam freely. Danielle Hunter, Tom Johnson, and Linval Joseph are all solid players but not superstars. That’s part of what makes this unit so effective, they’re all selfless players. Everson Griffen is the only player with superstar numbers as he’s registered 13 sacks and is seemingly getting better with age.
Philadelphia: The Eagles have done a great job building their team around their lines on both sides of the ball. Fletcher Cox is the big name here, he’s the best DT in the league trailing only Aaron Donald. He commands double teams on every snap. He’s partnered in the middle with Tim Jernigan to create the best DT combo in the league. Brandon Graham is a top 5 defensive end, grading out as the leagues top end against the run and providing consistent pass rushing pressure. Vinny Curry starts at the other end spot, he’s always been solid against the run but has now become a serviceable pass rusher as well. Veterans Chris Long and Beau Allen combine with rookie Derek Barnett to form key pieces in the defensive line rotation.
Minnesota: Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, Ben Gedeon: Kendricks and Barr make up one of the league’s top linebacker duos. Kendricks has a good blend of size and speed that allow him to excel in both the run and passing game, he also led the team with 113 tackles. Barr has elite speed for the position and provides consistent pressure on the QB. Gedeon is serviceable but not elite, not a very special player.
Philadelphia: Dannell Ellerbe, Nigel Bradham, Mychal Kendricks: Nigel Bradham is the best of the bunch, he’s an absolute monster against the run and a sure tackler in the open field. Bradham has been playing out of position since the injury to Jordan Hicks, he’s led the Eagles in tackles the last two seasons. Kendricks is playing much better in his second season in Jim Schwartz system, he has elite speed but can sometimes be a liability it coverage, he’s the older brother of Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks. Ellerbe is the newest addition coming to the team late in the season, after a few weeks getting familiar with the scheme he’s become a pleasant veteran signing.
Minnesota: Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Harrison Smith, Andrew Sendejo: The Vikings secondary is probably neck and neck with Jacksonville as the league’s best. Waynes is having the best year of his career, while Rhodes has developed into an elite corner who can completely remove his opponent from the game. Sendejo is serviceable and made a few splash plays against the Saints, Harrison Smith is arguably the best safety in all of football. Smith is the rare “do it all” player, he led the Vikings in interceptions with 5, was 3rd on the team in tackles, and had a huge sack on Drew Brees last week. He was a first team All-Pro selection.
Philadelphia: Malcolm Jenkins, Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, Rodney McLeod: Jenkins is a top 5 safety in the league, he’s one of the best against the run and is versatile enough to play in the box or cover slot receivers. McLeod is a solid complementary player to Jenkins and has come up with interceptions in big moments all season long. Jalen Mills has played beyond expectations since being drafted in the 7th round last season. He’s been constantly tasked with covering the opposing team’s number 1 receivers and he’s risen to the occasion. He’s a high motor player that plays with passion, look for him to draw Theilen for most of the game. Ronald Darby has had an up and down season since returning from injury. He’s shown flashes of being a true number one corner, while also at times missing easy tackles and assignments. Both Darby and Mills have been susceptible to being beaten by double moves.
Minnesota: Ryan Quigley, Kai Forbath, Marcus Sherels: This is a solid unit, but they rank around the NFL average. Not much to write home about overall.
Philadelphia: Donnie Jones, Jake Elliot, Kenjon Barner: This unit hasn’t been the same since losing ace Chris Maragos and returner Darren Sproles for the year. Donnie Jones has been solid as has Barner in the return game. The superstar here is Jake Elliot who may have the league’s strongest leg. Elliot sometimes struggles with his short range kicks, but has been money from 50+ yards. He’s also come up big in key moments. The Eagles also have one of the best special teams coordinators in the league in Dave Fipp
Overall these teams seem to be a fairly even match with Minnesota being a hair better. This game will more than likely come down to who has the ball last. Turnovers will be key with these two elite defenses facing less than stellar quarterback talent. Look for a low scoring game. I’m going to take the Eagles here, home field advantage will make the difference. Eagles 17-14