Vikings-Eagles Star in ‘The Backup Bowl’
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Playing the underdog isn't a one-way street this week as the Minnesota Vikings prepare to invade Philadelphia for the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.
Yes, Las Vegas has installed the Vikings as a slight favorite due to the NFL's top-ranked defense but if you take the temperature of many "experts," the belief is the Eagles will find a way as they usually do at Lincoln Financial Field.
So while Philadelphia stretches the limits of manufacturers producing creepy german shepherd masks, Minnesota arrives with a similar chip on its shoulder.
And both complexes can be tied directly to the starting quarterbacks -- former teammates and friends Case Keenum and Nick Foles.
Doug Pederson, a long-time backup QB himself, understands what each signal caller is going through.
“In both cases, there’s been a lot of talk about both these guys the whole season, and in our case, the last month,” the Eagles coach said. “They just seem to sort of keep defying the odds and stepping up to the challenges each week. That’s what’s exciting and fun to see about these two guys. They’ve just overcome everything and have really, really helped their teams get to this position."
If you count up the number of believers in both, however, it's likely limited to their friends and family plan.
Keenum played great in the regular season in place of the injured Sam Bradford but too often looked like the journeyman he once was in the divisional round against the New Orleans Saints.
Foles, meanwhile, looked incompetent during his final five quarters of the regular season before rebounding to play very well in a 15-10 win over Atlanta on Saturday.
As players Keenum is far more explosive than Foles because of his ability to extend plays with his mobility and perhaps his stable of receivers, particularly second-team All-Pro Adam Thielen and the explosive Stefon Diggs, while Foles is considered the less likely to make mistakes, which may end up being the trump card because both are facing top-tier defenses.
The numbers aren't close and slant heavily in Keenum's favor:
Too often, however, fans and analysts boil all football games down to one thing: who has the better quarterback?
And if that's the case how do you explain Foles beating 2016 MVP Matt Ryan and Keenum having one more play in him than future Hall of Famer Drew Brees last weekend?
This time around, Keenum has played better than Foles in a much larger sample size but he's not as good as Ryan. The Vikings defense, however, is far better than Atlanta's, ranking No. 1 in total defense, scoring defense and third-down defense.
So use any transitive property you want to pick your favorite but one outcome is guaranteed.
No matter what happens, a QB no one believes in will be advancing to Super Bowl LII, potentially against the greatest of all-time.
And the hype for that potential matchup will be tired and cliched, ignoring the 45 other players that will be suiting up for each team to focus on Tom Brady vs. Keenum or Foles.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen