The second-seeded Vikings (14-3) travel to Philadelphia for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the top-seeded Eagles (14-3) after an incredible and historic 29-24 comeback victory over the Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium. With one more victory, the Vikings will be back here for Super Bowl LII. Star Tribune staff writer Andrew Krammer examines five key matchup points for Minnesota’s bid to a home Super Bowl:
Foles’ fall vs. Zimmer
Eagles QB Nick Foles is 0-2 against Mike Zimmer-coached defenses in his career. Foles, who earned his first playoff victory in Philadelphia’s 15-10 win over the Falcons on Saturday, lost to the Bengals in 2012 and to the Vikings in 2015 (as the Rams quarterback). Foles was ineffective with both the Eagles and Rams offenses in those games, completing 51.5 percent of his passes for 348 yards, a touchdown and an interception in two losses. Both were late-season outdoor games, like Sunday’s NFC title game in Philadelphia.
Eagles get after Vikings QBs
In the last Vikings-Eagles game, QB Sam Bradford was hit 17 times. Minnesota’s injury-riddled offensive line was beat up by Philadelphia’s pass rush in a 21-10 loss at Lincoln Financial Field in October 2016. Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham, who led his team with 9.5 sacks this season, had his way with Vikings tackles while racking up six quarterback hits (one sack). Tackles Riley Reiff and Rashod Hill have improved the Vikings’ pass protection, which Minnesota will need against a strong Philadelphia front.
The NFC will be decided by a time-of-possession battle. The Eagles and Vikings ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in time of possession during the regular season. Both offenses thrived off keeping their strong defenses fresh and keeping the ball away from their opponent with efficient, if not electric, offenses. Philadelphia’s average of 32 minutes and 41 seconds of possession per game barely edged Minnesota’s 32 minutes and 26 seconds per game this season.
Alshon Jeffery still a tough out
Eagles WR Alshon Jeffery is no stranger to the Vikings. His seven TD catches in nine games vs. Minnesota are his most against any NFL team. The ex-Bears star led the Eagles with nine touchdown grabs on a team-high 120 targets in Philadelphia. Jeffery’s connection with Foles hasn’t been excellent so far, catching 11 of 22 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown from Foles since quarterback Carson Wentz went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes has previously shadowed Jeffery in Vikings-Bears matchups and could draw the assignment once again on Sunday in Philadelphia.
Eagles D is just as good
The Vikings defense has shut down opposing tight ends; up next is one of the NFC’s best. Eagles tight end Zach Ertz was tied for third among all tight ends with 74 catches while leading Philadelphia’s offense with 824 receiving yards and 46 first downs. It’ll be strength against strength on Sunday. Only two tight ends eclipsed 50 receiving yards against the Vikings during the regular season: the Saints’ Coby Fleener (54 yards) and Washington’s Vernon Davis (74 yards).