2008 Playoffs: Eagles at Vikings

Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1) at Minnesota Vikings (10-6), 4:30 p.m., FOX

Broadcasting Team: Troy Aikman, Joe Buck, and Pam Oliver (Field Reporter)

Two teams that many left for dead around the 11-game mark of 2008 NFL season (Eagles were 5-5-1 and Vikings 6-5 at the time) will meet in a crucial wildcard match-up. The fifth seeded NFC North champion Vikings got here after a 1-3 start by winning five of their last six.  The sixth seeded Philadelphia Eagles also surprisingly made it to the big dance after winning four of their last five games and a myriad of games fell their way in Week 17, so that they could claim the NFC’s final playoff berth.  These two teams may have had help in gaining the postseason, but fueled by close-knit lockerrooms, they are here and ready to do battle against each other.  As Eagles Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins recently said, “Everybody turned their backs on us, but we believed in one another.” 

This game will feature two coaching staffs and teams that know each other well — played in 2007 (Eagles 23-16 win in Minnesota) and Vikings head coach Brad Childress and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier spent significant time on Andy Reid’s staff —  so few surprises should come in game planning.  When Eagles have the ball on offense, they will look to get quarterback Donovan McNabb (345-571, 3916 yards, 23 TDs, and 11 INTs) going with play-action passes to rookie receiver DeSean Jackson (62 reception for 912 yards, 14.7 ypr, and 2 TDs) driven by hand-offs and screens to all-purpose running back Brian Westbrook (233 rushes for 936 yards, 4.0 ypc, and 9 TDs) and capable backup Correll Buckhalter (In Week 17 had 63 rushing yards and 3 receptions for 59 yds with 1 TD). McNabb has looked very efficient during the Eagles crucial 5-game playoff push —  has thrown nine touchdowns and just one pick in the past five games — and I won’t even mention his 2nd half benching in Baltimore in Week 12. 

The key word for the Eagles offense will be “balance” as they cannot forget to run the football as well as pass it.  This fact was never more evident than in Week 16, when the Birds differentiated from their previous success — ran the ball efficiently in wins over the Cardinals, Giants, and Browns including a franchise high under Reid of 41 rushes in their Week 14 win against the Giants — to the throw the ball 46 times while only running it 16 times in a crucial 10-3 road loss to the Redskins.  Somehow the Eagles luckily stepped around the Week 16 Redskins’ loss like a pile of “poo” to still make the playoffs.  But this time against the Vikings in the one-and-done playoffs, non-balance offensively will most likely lead to defeat.  The Vikings’ pass rush, led by Jared Allen, is above average and their secondary led by hard-hitting Antoine Winfield and Michael Griffin is also a strong unit, but balance on offense will be the Eagles’ best friend.  I know Andy Reid can be stubborn at times, but the Birds must commit to running effectively on offense even if both members of the Williams Defensive Tackle Tag Team play (Pat has injured shoulder) and/or the Birds fall behind.

When Vikings have the ball offensively everyone from South Philly to Minneapolis knows that NFL leading rusher Adrian Peterson (363 rushes for 1,760 yards, 4.8 ypc, and 10 TDs ) is going to be the Vikings first and second options.  However the Eagles have done been very stout against the run this season (3.5 yards per carry and only seven rushing touchdowns allowed).  So expect the Eagles to force the Vikings to pass meaning their young offensive unit, in particularly inexperienced Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, better be ready for the maniacal zone-blitzes and schemes that Eagles veteran defensive coordinator Jim Johnson hatches up.  Jackson has played extremely well since coming in for an injured Gus Frerotte in a Week 14 win over the Lions — record of 3-1 with a respectable 8 touchdowns and only 1 interception thrown.  But the 3rd year passer from Alabama State has no idea what Johnson has in store for him.  If Jackson is feeling brave, then the young passer should or should not depending on how strong is stomach is, take a look at how Johnson’s NFC leading defense led by rejuvenated Pro Bowl veteran safety Brian Dawkins bruised and battered the Cowboys offense in Week 17 producing 5 turnovers, 4 sacks, and 2 defensive touchdowns.

LV‘s Pick: Even though the Vikings were 6-2 at home this season, you know there will be a lot of Green in the Homer Dome – over 8,000 tickets were still available as of Friday.  I see this game being close early, but in the end the Eagles playoff experience will take hold.  Remember Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb have never lost to the Vikings with a mark of 4-0 against the men in purple. Plus Reid has never lost in his first playoff game (6-0) in the seasons he had made the postseason.  With all of these factors working in their favor look for the Eagles to continue their winning ways up North 31-21.

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