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2017 NFC Championship: Here’s The Deal

What do the Vikes need to do to come home with one more game to play?

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings
Field position will be huge on Sunday. Marcus Sherels can tilt that to Minnesota’s favor.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Destiny. That’s a dangerous word, and it’s used a lot right now, by both the Minnesota Vikings and the Philadelphia Eagles. After the Minneapolis Miracle, it’s hard not to think there’s something special going on in Minnesota right now, yet the Eagles have continued winning without Carson Wentz, and dispatched the defending NFC Champions last week. Both franchises have storied yet unfulfilled histories, and both fan bases firmly believe fate and destiny is on their side this time:

Destiny and fate aren’t going to bring home a win on Sunday, though. Solid, fundamental football will, and if the Vikings are going to get to the Super Bowl, here’s what they’re going to need to do.

Survive the initial wave of emotion. In the aftermath of the Saints game Minneapolis Miracle, a lot of folks asked me who I would have rather the Vikes played, Atlanta or Philadelphia. My answer was and still is Atlanta. Matt Ryan is better than Nick Foles, but the rest of the Falcons team isn’t as good as Philly, and Atlanta would have been a home game. Lincoln Financial Field is going to be a madhouse, and the energy level will be off the charts. The Eagles are 7-1 at home this year, and have scored first five times.

My big worry with this game is that the Eagles will feed off of that, jump out to a quick lead, and then the Vikings will start pressing. Things will then compound and steamroll, and we’ll be in for a long day. Minnesota’s 6-2 road record is impressive, but consider: their two losses came at the hands of two playoff teams, Pittsburgh and Carolina. In both games the home team jumped out to quick leads, and the Vikings could never dig themselves out of a hole.

In all eight of their road games this year, the home team scored first in six of them, and that is something the Vikings must avoid at all cost on Sunday.

But the flip side to that if the Vikings can survive that wave, and maybe get an early lead in Philly, it’s really going to affect that crowd. Look, in some ways, these two fanbases are kindred spirits in terms of their team’s fatalism and belief in being cursed. We don’t boo Santa or throw batteries at him like Philly Fan, but if Minnesota can go up say 10-0 or 14-0 early, that crowd is going to get uneasy. If the crowd can get taken out of the game, they could even start to turn on the home team the later the game gets. That could be an advantage for the Vikings and it might make Philly press, and hopefully things will start snowballing in the wrong direction for them.

Win field position. Philadelphia’s defense is every bit as good as Minnesota’s, and neither offense is going to go on 12 play, 80 yard drives consistently. Ryan Quigley has been a cold blooded assassin when it comes to pinning teams deep this season, and when he’s called on, he’s going to need to flip field position and/or pin the Eagles deep in their own territory. When fielding punts, Marcus Sherels is going to need to make a couple of big plays to get the Vikings in good position. Playing on Philly’s side of the 50 for a majority of the day is going to be tough, but essential.

Win the turnover battle. I firmly believe this is where the game will be won or lost. It proved to be the difference last week in Minnesota, as the Vikings stopped a Saints drive in the red zone with a tipped interception by Anthony Barr near the goal line. And later, an ‘OH MY GOD WHAT ARE YOU DOING’ throw by Case Keenum was nearly the trigger that started an all time Vikings meltdown. With under two minutes remaining in the first half, Everson Griffen sacked Drew Brees and forced a fumble on the Saints 27, but the Saints recovered. A turnover there and a touchdown by Minnesota might have put the game out of reach before halftime. All four remaining teams are a plus in turnover margin this year, with the Eagles being the best of the bunch at +11. The Vikings CANNOT turn the ball over if they expect to win.

Explosive plays, and score touchdowns in the red zone. The Vikings offense has lived on the explosive play this year, and after being mostly absent the last couple weeks of the regular season, they got some huge plays at critical times last week. As I mentioned earlier, long sustained drives will be tough, so these chunk plays are going to be critical for the Vikings to get in to scoring position. Once they’re in scoring position, finishing the drive is essential. Last week the Vikings scored on their first drive, and got down to the New Orleans one on their second drive. It stalled, and they kicked a FG. As the game wore on, that loomed larger and larger, and the inability to convert almost cost them in ways I was starting to come to grips with as the clock wound down to 10 seconds left to play..

Kicking game. Although Kai Forbath was a steel eyed killer last week, hitting two clutch fourth quarter field goals last week, the Eagles have the advantage here, and I don’t want this game coming down to a field goal to win it for either team. But if Forbath makes his kicks through out the course of the game, hopefully the Vikings won’t find themselves in that position either way. His 49 yard miss at the end of the first half, combined with the TD that wasn’t and became a field goal, turned a potential 24-0 lead into a 17-0 lead, and the door was left open, ever so slightly, for the Saints to climb back in it. And they did.

Prediction: Last week, I felt supremely confident that the Vikings would handle their business against the Saints, and do it by a fairly comfortable margin. At halftime, I felt like a genius. With 10 seconds left in the game, I was questioning every life decision that brought me to that point in Vikings fandom.

The last time I had that much of an emotional swing in that compressed amount of time was in Afghanistan, in 2001. I’m 100% serious. Now granted, the emotions I felt were kinda sort different (abject misery to pure bliss in 10 seconds vs. stark raving terror, the most relieved I’ve ever been X1000 that I’m still alive, then utter fury at those bastards so let’s bring the bad attitude right f***ng now boys in about half a second), and I never want to go through that kind of swing again.

I won’t avoid it this week either, at least I don’t think so. This game is going to be a nail biter, the two best teams and the two best defenses going toe to toe for three hours. It’s going to come down to the last possession, and someone will make a play we’re going to talk about for years.

Vikes win, 16-13.

Skol. Let’s Bring It Home.