Editor’s note: NESN.com’s Mike Cole, Ricky Doyle and Andre Khatchaturian deliver their against-the-spread NFL picks every Thursday of the season, and here’s who they like in this Sunday’s Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles NFC Championship Game, with the line from OddsShark.
(-3) Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles, 6:40 p.m.
It’s hard to lay points on the road when the home team has won the last eight conference championships. And the Eagles reminded everyone last week that despite having Nick Foles under center, their defense is legit. But the Vikings’ defense is better than the Atlanta Falcons unit that Philadelphia beat in the divisional round, and the Eagles scored just 15 points last week. The Falcons missed far too many tackles, which allowed Foles the luxury of not having to throw downfield. That won’t be the same case this week against a Vikings defense that’s among the better tackling teams in the NFL. As long as Case Keenum takes care of the ball — he has just three interceptions in his last eight games — Minnesota should be able to get a win and head home to host the Super Bowl.
The ground game feels like a wash thanks to both teams fielding elite run defenses, in which case I turn to the air, where the Vikings are more likely to have success — relatively speaking, of course — than the Eagles. Minnesota ranks first at defending running backs in the passing game and second in defending tight ends (per Football Outsiders’ DVOA), which could lead to some ill-advised throws by Nick Foles, who won’t have any security blankets to rely on. Conversely, Philadelphia ranks 10th and 17th in those categories, respectively, and Minnesota just so happens to have a good pass-catching running back in Jerick McKinnon and a solid pass-catching tight end in Kyle Rudolph. The Vikings also have an excellent red-zone defense, which might be the ultimate difference-maker against an Eagles offense that’s experienced a noticeable drop-off in the red zone without Carson Wentz.
Case Keenum won the starting job over Nick Foles back in St. Louis for a reason: He’s the better quarterback. Since Foles took over, the Eagles have a yards-per-play differential of -0.58. To put that into context, only four teams had a worse yards-per-play differential throughout the entire regular season. Long story short, the Eagles’ offense has been stagnant because of Foles. Minnesota’s defense simply is too strong and it’ll give Foles plenty of problems. Ricky made excellent points about Minnesota’s ability to defend tight ends and pass-catching running backs, and as Mike said the Vikings just don’t turn the ball over. They only had 14 giveaways this season, third-fewest in the league.
Thumbnail photo via Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports Images
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