Eagles-Vikings: Wild Card Preview

Matthew GilmartinSenior Analyst IJanuary 3, 2009

The Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings look to keep their respective momentum going from regular season finale wins that clinched them playoff berths as they face off for the right to advance to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.

Both teams are built on defense.  The Eagles rank third in the NFL in total defense, and fourth and third, respectively, in rush defense and pass defense.  The Vikings rank sixth in total defense, and first and 18th in rush defense and pass defense, respectively.

However, it's obvious that the Vikings' pass defense is the weakest link in that group.

Look for Eagles WR DeSean Jackson to have a big day against Minnesota's lacking pass coverage.  RB Brian Westbrook should also be a thorn in the Vikings' side by catching dump-off and screen passes.

Despite the fact that the Eagles' pass defense is one of the best in the NFL, Minnesota quarterback Tarvaris Jackson can scoot.  If he recognizes the blitz fast enough and gets out of the pocket, he could stretch the Eagles' pass defense and create opportunities to scramble for himself, and for his receivers to score downfield. 

However, he's more or less a true rookie again because he's never played in a playoff game, much less started.  Who knows how he will react to the pressure of the postseason?  To his credit, though, he came back in the heat of a division title race and led his team to the playoffs.

Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson could have a major impact on the game—if he can hold onto the ball.  Peterson fumbled nine times in the regular season, easily the most of anyone in the league.  Moreover, he coughed up the ball three times in the last two weeks.

The Vikings as a team are no better than Peterson when it comes to turnovers.  Minnesota finished the season with a -6 turnover rating.  The Vikings fumbled 31 times in the regular season, a figure which equals that of the worst teams in the NFL.  They also threw 17 interceptions, 10th-most in the league. 

When a team is as turnover-prone as the Vikings, it makes you wonder how they ended up in the playoffs at all.

Plus, you always talk about home-field advantage at the Metrodome and how loud that stadium can get.  But turnovers kill momentum—and silence crowds.  There's a good chance that the Vikings could take away their crucial home-field advantage by committing bad turnovers. 

Not to mention that if you turn the ball over, you usually give the other team favorable field position and sometimes give away points you'd otherwise have.  You simply can't have that in the playoffs, especially not a defense that was almost in the top ten in interceptions and fumbles forced during the regular season.

You also have to keep in mind that, even if Peterson has a good game, it's more because of his yardage totals than his scoring.  He accumulated 1760 yards in the regular season (which was the leading figure in the NFL) but scored only 10 times, well out of the league lead.

The Eagles, on the other hand, don't fumble.  They've only coughed up the ball four times all year as a team.  However, they have thrown a few too many interceptions—16.  But the Vikings aren't particularly good at picking passes off.  They only had 12 interceptions this season.

Still, even without the aid of turnovers, the Vikings' run defense is strong enough that Westbrook will probably get shut down.  The elusive runner will have to work for every yard.

I see the Eagles winning.  In spite of not having especially fearsome names in the passing game, the incompetence of the Vikings' pass defense should make up for that.  The Vikings turn the ball over too much to be considered a major threat on offense.  That's particularly true of their most notable offensive weapon, Peterson.  Add an all-around stingy Eagles defense, and the Vikings could very well have a lot of trouble scoring.