With three weeks left in the regular season, the Vikings and Eagles — who faced each other in the NFC Championship Game in January — are battling for the sixth and final NFC wild-card playoff spot.
The Vikings are 6-6-1 with three games to play against the Dolphins, at Detroit next week and the Bears at home on Dec. 30.
The odds are that the NFC North-leading Bears won’t need to win that final game. The Dolphins are in the AFC playoff race and beat the Patriots on Sunday in Miami. The Lions are completely out of the playoff picture.
The Eagles, along with the Panthers and Redskins, are 6-7. Philadelphia has a tough contest Sunday against the Rams in Los Angeles before facing another playoff-bound team, the Texans, at home and finishing the season at Washington.
Neither the Vikings nor the Eagles have started the same quarterbacks that led them to the NFC Championship Game last season. Both teams have had new offensive coordinators who haven’t replicated that success.
Kirk Cousins hasn’t posted the kind of record Case Keenum had last year through 13 games, when the Vikings were 10-3 after Keenum took over for the injured Sam Bradford in Week 2.
Carson Wentz led the Eagles to an 11-2 start last season before tearing his ACL and being replaced by Nick Foles, who helped win five of the next six games to lead the Eagles to their first Super Bowl title.
Wentz returned as the starter in Week 3 this season, but the Eagles have only gone 5-6 since then. And now the news out of Philadelphia is that Wentz might be out against the Rams (and possibly the rest of the season) because of a back injury, opening the door for Foles to again start.
The Eagles didn’t add many big names in the offseason, but the Vikings did. They brought in Sheldon Richardson at defensive tackle and, of course, signed Cousins to an $84 million contract to be their franchise quarterback.
One of the biggest differences from a year ago for the Vikings is the offensive and defensive lines were rated with the top units in the NFL. This year, without Nick Easton (herniated disc) and Joe Berger (retirement), the offensive line hasn’t played nearly as well.
The Vikings and Eagles had to replace their offensive coordinators during the offseason.
The Eagles lost Frank Reich, who became head coach of the Colts. Indianapolis is in the AFC playoff hunt at 7-6.
The Vikings lost Pat Shurmur, who took over as head coach of the Giants. They are 5-8, but have won four of their past five games.
When the Vikings lost Shurmur, they immediately targeted Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo to be their new offensive coordinator. Shurmur asked to interview Vikings quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski to be his offensive coordinator, but the Vikings and coach Mike Zimmer turned down that request.
Now only a few months later, the Vikings have fired DeFilippo and Stefanski will get his shot as the new offensive coordinator.
Before the Patriots game on Dec. 2, the Vikings’ outstanding wide receiver duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs were averaging a combined 17.2 receptions, 175 yards and 1.3 touchdowns per game. In the two games since, their production has dramatically dropped.
In the 24-10 loss to the Patriots, Diggs had five receptions for 49 yards and Thielen had five catches for 28 yards and one touchdown. Against the Seahawks, a 21-7 loss on Monday night, Thielen had five receptions for 70 yards and Diggs had four catches for 76 yards. In those two games, they have averaged only 9.5 total receptions for 111.5 yards.
After the loss in Seattle, the receivers said opponents are defending them differently.
“When we get opportunities, you have to make plays and have to move the sticks,” Thielen said. “We’ve got to start fast.”
Said Diggs: “When I get double- or triple-[teamed], I’ve got to win. I don’t care. I’ve got to win.”
There’s no doubt the Vikings are still trying to find ways to use their running backs, no matter who the offensive coordinator is.
Against Seattle, Dalvin Cook had 13 carries and seven pass targets. Those 20 looks were his second-highest total of the season, trailing only Week 1 against San Francisco (23, with 16 rushes and seven targets). He finished the Seahawks game with 55 rushing yards and five receptions for 28 yards and one touchdown.
But the Vikings looked awful in several short-yardage situations, which stalled several drives in a low-scoring game.
“It’s frustrating to not execute,” Cook said after the game. “I’m going to nip this in the bud. Fourth-and-1s, we didn’t execute. We’ve got to put it together, go back to the drawing board and figure out what we need to do. Every situation that we didn’t execute, it’s frustrating.”
Whatever the Timberwolves thought they were getting when they signed Derrick Rose to the $2.4 million veteran minimum contract this offseason could not have been anywhere near what he has produced through 25 games.
Rose is tied for 31st in the league in scoring enter Wednesday’s games at 18.4 points per game. He is fourth in three-point shooting percentage at 47.6.
The Wolves had lost two consecutive game going into Wednesday’s contest in Sacramento, but Rose’s play has been steady. He had 18 points, nine assists, one block and three steals in a 113-105 loss at Portland. At Golden State, he had 21 points, four assists, three rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
Tom Thibodeau, who coached Rose in Chicago from 2010-2015, was asked if Rose is playing as well as when he became the youngest NBA player to win the MVP award at age 22 in 2010-11.
“He really is,” Thibodeau said. “The shooting is probably a little bit better now and I think that comes with experience. He’s really shooting the ball well and that opens up what his other strengths are, and he has always been a great downhill player. He puts a lot of pressure on the rim and you can see the speed and the attack and what that does to defenses. That’s what makes him special.”
Even more vital to the Wolves has been Rose’s willingness to come off the bench.
“He is a team-first guy,” Thibodeau said. “That is what’s important to him, the winning is important to him. Whatever you ask him to do, he is willing to do it for the team. We ask him to come off the bench, he is a former MVP. He embraces it and stars in that role.”