PHILADELPHIA – Drama was thick in the divisional round of the NFC playoff for the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings.
Cornerback Jalen Mills obstructed Julio Jones from catching a potential game-winning touchdown on fourth-and-goal from 2-yard line, giving the Eagles a 15-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
Minnesota wide receiver Stefon Diggs caught an incredible 61-yard touchdown from quarterback Case Keenum for a dramatic 29-24 walk-off win over the New Orleans Saints.
As a result, the No. 2-seeded Vikings will visit the top-seeded Eagles in the NFC Championship Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. Keenum against Nick Foles is hardly what any expert could have predicted before the season at quarterback.
One of these teams will advance to the Super Bowl and attempt to capture the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in franchise history. The Vikings are 0-4 and the Eagles are 0-2 all-time in the Super Bowl.
Here are the five matchups that will determine the outcome of Sunday’s NFC Championship in Philadelphia:
5. Vikings WR Stefon Diggs vs. Eagles CB Jalen Mills.
Diggs continued his stellar play in the postseason with the spectacular game-winning score against the Saints. During the regular season, Diggs had 64 receptions for 849 yards and eight touchdowns. Mills had an up-and-down season with many solid moments. Though Mills struggled in the final few games, he came up huge in the biggest defensive play of the season against an elite receiver last week. Diggs has plenty of speed and strength and has the ability to get deep with double moves.
4. Vikings DE Everson Griffen vs. Eagles LT Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
Vaitai more than held his own against Falcons defensive end Vic Beasley. Facing Griffen will be an even more daunting challenge. Griffen had 13 sacks during the regular season and was disruptive on a consistent basis against the run. Vaitai must keep Foles upright throughout the game. In addition, the Eagles will look to establish the run and Vaitai must control Griffen for the bulk of the snaps to avoid third-and-long situations. Vaitai surely gained confidence with the playoff win and he’ll need an even stronger performance to contain Griffen.
3. Vikings QB Case Keenum vs. Eagles DE Brandon Graham.
Keenum’s remarkable season will continue following the miracle finish against the Saints. The backup quarterback has played at a high level the entire season with 3,547 yards passing, 22 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Graham registered 9.5 sacks and wasn’t even picked for the Pro Bowl. Graham’s penetration through the offensive line will be needed and that’s his major skill set. Look for Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to call for a number of plays in the blitz package to break Graham through the line.
2. Vikings CB Terence Newman vs. Eagles WR Nelson Agholor.
The Eagles have an advantage with Agholor’s speed and ability to catch balls in the slot and deep down the field. The Eagles also utilized Agholor in a different way with a couple of carries out of the backfield against the Falcons. Newman is vulnerable with Agholor’s array of skills and the Eagles can take advantage of this matchup even more in the early stages of the game before the teams settle down. Agholor caught three passes for 24 yards and rushed twice for 21 yards against Atlanta.
1. Vikings DE Brian Robison vs. Eagles RB Jay Ajayi.
Robison is the longest-tenured player on the Vikings’ defense and he’ll be tested against Ajayi as the Eagles try to establish the run throughout the game. Robison joined the Vikings in 2007 and if the they’re able to advance to the Super Bowl, stopping Ajayi before he gets momentum behind his pads to truck through the second level of the defense will be vital. Ajayi rushed 15 times for 54 yards and added three receptions for 44 yards though he did lose one fumble. The Eagles acquired Ajayi for a fourth-round draft pick from the Miami Dolphins and he’ll look to expose Robison through the Vikings’ solid defensive line.
FLM prediction: Vikings 14, Eagles 13.
–Andy Jasner, Field Level Media