Minnesota Vikings @ Philadelphia Eagles
Sunday January 21, 23:40 GMT
TV - Live on Sky Sports Action and Main Event
Vikings close to Valhalla after epic victory
They should retire New Orleans corner-back Marcus Williams' jersey in Minnesota if the Vikings finally make it over the Super Bowl hump this year.
His ducked tackle will go down in league lore if the Vikings can break their Super Bowl duck. Their past is littered with freak plays and results going against them, now they've caught a break, they need to most of it.
They are good enough to take advantage of their luck and the Eagles with Nick Foles at QB this week, provided they've kept focused after that amazing turnaround last Sunday.
Eagles and Vikings battle through adversity
Considering the losses they've endured, and the quality of the NFC season, both sides have done well to make it this far. Career journeyman Case Keenum was not supposed to be starting Vikings quarterback, and Dalvin Cook's loss in week four could've devastated their season as well, as he looked so good in those opening weeks.
Philadelphia suffered the lower key losses of Darren Sproles, Jordan Hicks and offensive lineman Jason Peters before Carson Wentz's cruciate tear sucked much of the pep from their NFC-leading step in week fourteen.
Since then, they've limped to the first-place seed in the NFC with prodigal QB Nick Foles as their signal-caller. An unconvincing win against a weak Raiders team, and a 6-0 loss to Dallas to close the season, suggested they'd be fodder for lower seeds in the playoffs.
However, on a weekend full of drama, the Eagles upset of the Falcons flew under the radar to an extent, the Falcons rolling into Philly as road favourites, and leaving with a 15-10 defeat.
Defence keeps Eagles flying
Key to that game was their defence. Coordinator Jim Schwartz has an abundance of talent to choose from along the defensive line, where Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry are supported by rookie Derek Barnett, Timmy Jernigan and veteran Chris Long, making them one of the toughest fronts in the league.
Their linebackers have coped without Hicks' pass coverage talents, and their secondary is as intimidating as their line, with Ronald Darby's arrival from Buffalo building on a strength.
That defence held the Falcons to ten points last week, grinding out a result few thought possible. Atlanta still has the pieces in place from their Super Bowl run last season, and their numbers closing the season were as impressive as any side.
The case for Keenum
The Philly defence will need to pressure Case Keenum this week. His story is a bright spot in a season full of stars dimmed by injury. Keenum has always had fans, but doubts about his size - he doesn't look like a franchise QB - have limited his opportunities.
Behind a much improved Vikings line Keenum has shown patience and control throughout the season, and nowhere more than in the closing stages last week. He looks like he can deal with the pressure of a Conference Championship and Super Bowl. Philadelphia's defence will test that this Sunday.
Having receiver Adam Thielen available would help. His tale is as unlikely as his quarterback's. From Minnesota and undrafted after college, he worked his way up from the Vikes practice squad to become their number one receiver. He has been dealing with a back injury this week, and would ease the burden on Keenum if he comes through.
The Vikings defence will be expected to terrorise Foles, who has not impressed since taking over for Wentz. Last week, the Eagles game plan worked, aided by some strange play-calling by Atlanta. Will Foles be so lucky this week?
Atlanta's defence had improved in recent weeks, but Minnesota is on another level. They will hope safety Andrew Sendejo suits up on Sunday. New Orleans' comeback coincided with his concussion. He, along with Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Harrison Smith, can shut down elite pass attacks. One led by Nick Foles should not intimidate, but you'd still prefer to have your elite starters on the field for a game like this.
This weekend sees the three best defences in the league competing. Philly, Minnesota and Jacksonville all can make a case for theirs being the best in the league, so this game will likely come down to whose offence can handle the pressure of a top tier pass rush and secondary.
Purely on that basis I find it difficult to trust the Eagles, even with home field advantage and confidence from that Atlanta win. Case Keenum has shown he's got the nerve for occasions like this. Nick Foles last week was hidden by Philadelphia, and they'll try to do the same this week.
I can't see it working against a Vikings team who have been much better all year than Atlanta. I don't love the line because I think Philly can keep this close with the home crowd on their side, but Minnesota should win, and I think taking the Vikings -3 on the Handicap at 2.021/1 is the most reasonable play this week.
I'd expect this to be a similarly tight affair to the Eagles game last week, so would look at Under 38.5 on the Total Points market at 2.0421/20.
As such, it's hard to expect too many touchdowns. I'm tempted by 70/1 on No Touchdown Scored on the Sportsbook First Touchdown market, but assuming you want cheer for touchdowns rather than a field goal fest, Corey Clement of the Eagles is nice price at 18/1 for First Touchdown.
On the Vikings, with Adam Thielen in doubt, opportunities for others open up. Jarius Wright made a few plays last week and could see an expanded role if Thielen is limited. He's 22/1 in the First Touchdown market.