Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:06 AM

NFC - Vikings vs. Eagles

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Minnesota Vikings (-3, 39.5) at Philadelphia Eagles, 6:40 ET, FOX

Neither Cam Newton nor Drew Brees reached this NFC Championship. Matt Ryan fell short too, failing to eliminate an Eagles team that is being looked at by many as a paper No. 1 seed after losing Carson Wentz to an ACL tear in Week 14.

Instead, Nick Foles, fresh off his best game since taking over as starter, leads Philadelphia (14-3 SU, 11-6 ATS) on to the field as a home underdog for the second straight week. Case Keenum leads Minnesota (14-3 SU, 12-5 ATS) in, having earned his place under center thanks to wins in 11 of his last 12 starts. Despite Sam Bradford being healthy enough to again be the backup for this one, it’s Keenum who the Vikings will again rely on to complement an elite defense that finally showed some signs of cracking after surrendering a 17-0 lead against the Saints last week.

Keenum went 11-3 in starts this regular-season, throwing for 22 touchdowns while being intercepted seven times. He’ll look to become the first Minnesota QB since Fran Tarkenton to take the Vikings to Super Bowl after getting a reprieve thanks to New Orleans safety Marcus Williams whiffing on a tackle of Stefon Diggs that allowed a ridiculous last-second touchdown to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat last Sunday.

Oddsmakers looked at the unlikely QB matchup for an NFC Championship game that would be played in a cold-weather city and placed the opening total at 38. The forecast calls for much milder weather than the temperatures in the teens and biting wind gusts that helped trip up Atlanta last Saturday. While this game will kick off over an hour after the sun sets, temperatures are expected to be in the high 30s and wind gusts will be minimal, giving both offenses a fighting chances against defensive units that are expected to control the action.

“The action report for the NFC Championship isn't nearly as exciting as the AFC, that's for sure. We haven't moved off the key number since an early adjustment to -3.5,” said [...] spokesman Scott Cooley. "Sharp and square bettors are pretty split on the side. We have just over 50 percent of the action on Philadelphia while nearly 60 percent of the tickets are on the home dog.

"The total has been bet up to as high as 39.5, but it's back down near the opener currently. It doesn't look like we'll have much exposure on this game from a total or side standpoint.”

Considering the Eagles showed their hand as to how they want to handle moving the ball in must-win games, head coach Mike Zimmer is likely to force Foles to beat him over the top by stacking the box to stop the run and take away quick looks. Philadelphia’s best bet to move the football in this one will likely involve getting strong protection that allows Foles to beat the Vikings over the top by finding Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor or tight end Zach Ertz against a linebacker.

Unlike Keenum, Foles did little to inspire confidence late in the season with a pair of dreadful performances, though he was able to help the Eagles secure the homecourt advantage that comes into play here. To be fair, he did respond last week in making sure not to put his defense in a bind last week, keeping the Falcons honest with short, quick throws, averaging 2.24 seconds snap-to-release. Foles ended up 23-30 for 246 yards without throwing for a score or being picked off.

Philadelphia head Doug Peterson says his team has rallied around Foles, while a running game that features Jay Ajayi but also relies on LeGarrett Blount and Corey Clement comes in knowing that ball security will be crucial and there will be plenty of touches to go around given the need to keep things simple against Minnesota, which features elite playmakers on that side of the ball in Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr and safeties Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo.

From an injury standpoint, Sendejo’s back issue was the biggest question mark coming into the NFC Championship, but he’s expected to play. The same can be said for corner Mackensie Alexander, but starting defensive tackle Shamar Stephen has been ruled out with a knee injury. Jaleel Johnson will step in for him.

Offensively, Minnesota will have Keenum’s favorite target, Adam Thielen, available despite a back issue, but he’s not at 100 percent. WR Michael Floyd was ill earlier in the week but practiced late and should be good to go here. Philadelphia came out of the divisional playoff relatively unscathed. The Eagles list MLB Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring) questionable but he played last week after carrying the same designation into the weekend and is expected to do so here.

One other potentially major development to be aware of is that the Vikings didn’t practice outdoors all week in preparation for their first game in the elements since a 34-29 win at the Giants where they failed to cover. According to St. Paul Pioneer Press beat writer Chris Tomasson, the Vikes didn’t practice outside all week because the field conditions weren’t good enough.

That should cause some worry if you’re laying the points and riding Minnesota because of its recent playoff history. The Vikes haven’t won outdoors in the postseason in three tries, last winning in 2004 at Lambeau Field against the Packers. Minnesota, which typically plays on turf, is 4-2 on grass this season and went 4-2 in outdoor stadiums. The ‘over’ went 3-2-1.

You should be less worried about the fact that the Vikings have lost five consecutive NFC Championship games with five different quarterbacks, since that’s a historical trend with no bearing on this particular situation.

These teams last played one another in 2016, where the Vikings prevailed 23-10 at Lincoln Financial Field, capitalizing on turnovers. Philly has won all three playoff meetings too.

None of that stuff matters when the teams take the field, so expect the final ticket to the Super Bowl to come down to mistakes. It became easier to forget that Keenum missed throws and had a critical error that opened the door for the Saints due to his improbable late heroics. Foles threw four touchdowns in his first start after taking over for Wentz, but has managed just one with a pair of interceptions over his last three games. Can he keep from being a liability?

It certainly appears that this will be a game decided by defense and the running game, but quarterbacks will play the most crucial role. We may get an NFC Championship decided not by which QB wins it, but rather, who manages not to lose it for his team.

GAME PROPSAccording to Las Vegas Westgate Superbook

Will either team score three straight times
Yes (-170)
No (+145)

Shortest Touchdown of game
OVER 13 ½ (+110)
UNDER 13 ½ (-130)

Largest Lead by either team
OVER 1 ½ (-120)

Total Completions - Nick Foles
OVER 20 ½ (-110)
UNDER 20 ½ (-110)

Total Touchdown Passes - Case Keenum
OVER 1 ½ (+130)
UNDER 1 ½ (-150)

Total Rushing Yards – Jay Ajayi
OVER 56 ½ (-110)
UNDER 56 ½ (-110)

Total Rushing Yards – Latavius Murray
OVER 60 ½ (-110)
UNDER 60 ½ (-110)

Total Gross Passing Yards – Case Keenum
OVER 239 ½ (-110)
UNDER 230 ½ (-110)

Total Touchdown Passes + Interceptions - Nick Foles
UNDER 2 (-120)

Total Receiving Yards – Zach Ertz
OVER 47 ½ (-110)
UNDER 47 ½ (-110)

Total Receiving Yards – Alshon Jeffery
OVER 52 ½ (-110)
UNDER 52 ½ (-110)

Total Receiving Yards – Stefon Diggs
OVER 62 ½ (-110)
UNDER 62 ½ (-110)

Total Receiving Yards – Adam Thielen
OVER 69 ½ (-110)
UNDER 69 ½ (-110)

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA

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