Chunky Vikings vs. Eagles playoff preview
The Purple aren't getting much love for their first playoff game in four seasons. Ticket sales have been slow, sports pollsters and sportswriters about the web (save for S.I..com's Adam Duerson) are going with the Eagles, War Games-like AccuScore and it's 10,000 simulations isn't leaning toward the Bread Basket (so the computers are against us, too), and oddsmakers have Philly as a three-point favorite. At least the Vikings aren't alone in regard to the latter as the Wild Card weekend finds three of the four games sporting home dogs.
Much has been made -- and rightfully so -- of the relationship between Brad Childress and Philly head Andy Reid, for whom Chilly coached above long ago at Northern Arizona, and more recently beneath (1999-2005) in the City of Brotherly Love. Additional comparisons of the two clubs readily note quarterback Donovan McNabb's overt superiority over Tarvaris Jackson, the Eagles' 2005 27-14 win over Minnesota in the NFC Divisional Playoff (the Vikes' last postseason game), and the barbaric blitzing scheme of Eagles' luminary defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.
All of these things are true, and scary. But for my dollars, too much of this game is being said of pedigree, while too little is being made of the numbers. The Vikings are 6-2 at home, while Philly is a mere 3-4-1 on the road this year, with just a lone road win against a winning team. Both teams come into this showdown on hot streaks, with the Vikings having won five of their last six and Philly having taken four of their last five. The Eagles made a splash with last week's 44-6 stomping of the Cowboys in what essentially amounted to a Week 17 playoff game. But the NFL is maddening in the focus on "last week." What about two weeks ago when Philly lost 10-3 to a non-playoff Redskins club? And let us not forget the Eagles Week 11 tie against crappy Cincinnati.
There's wiggle room for success on Sunday, and I'm going with the Purple.
Consider that the Vikings led the league in run defense (76.9 yards per) for an unprecedented third straight season. That hasn't been done since the merger. Big Pat Williams is iffy to play (broken shoulder) as of this writing, but if he can sweat it out for just 20 plays, we'll take it. Of Philly's six losses this season, every single damn one has come against as team with a top-12 rush defense.
And herein, from my vantage, lies the rub. This game will be about who can run the ball. While backs Adrian Peterson and Brian Westbrook won't see each other on the field, this playoff game comes down to which opposition can stop the other's stud.
In games that league-leading rusher Adrian Peterson has accrued 100-plus ground yards, the Vikings are 7-3. Philly's rush defense is no slouch either, with a #4 league ranking of 92.3 yards per, but look for Peterson to make amends for his NFL-topping nine fumbles and put on a memorable performance amidst the national glow. The doesn't mean he may not be good for coughing it up once, yet forever Purple fans collectively recognize that the Vikings have never entered a postseason game with this kind of weapon.
For what Peterson offers in nuclear power, Philly counters with in the electric heart attack that is Westbrook. With extraordinary vision and grease-lightening feet, the oft-injured Westbrook can prove the death knell to opposition in a one-game universe. The Eagles are 3-0 when he runs for 100 yards and 5-2 when he accrues 90-plus all-purpose yardage. He should line up all over the field and touch the ball with ad nauseum proportions. True, his 54 receptions this season were his lowest since '03, but dude still caught 6 balls in six different games this year, and we best hope that the likes of Chad Greenway are up to the task of chasing Westbrook from sideline to sideline.
Should we control the ground game and win turnover differential, we'll move on the play Carolina next weekend. I'm taking the Vikings 28-24. This game is all about the alphabet. Before the "W," there must come the "A," followed by the "P."
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