The Minnesota Vikings take on the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday afternoon at Mall of America Field in Minneapolis, with nothing on the line for the home team other than a lot of people trying to keep their jobs.
We'll take a look at some of the key matchups for Sunday's tilt, but first let's all rub our eyes and shake out the crazy events of last Sunday's football game.
No, you weren't dreaming; that game against the Baltimore Ravens actually happened.
The Vikings and the Ravens played a prototypical snow game through three quarters—well, actually, through three quarters and roughly 13 minutes of the fourth quarter.
As often happens in snow games, and especially in snow games that turn into freezing rain games, both teams struggled mightily on offense, with the Ravens leading 15-12.
It was a fun game to watch; the snow brings a novelty to the proceedings that's always enjoyable. It's just that normally nothing really happens.
Last Sunday's game was headed in exactly that direction when somebody must have bumped the hyper-speed button. Suddenly it was a football video game between two teenagers who were paying zero attention to their defense buttons.
There were five touchdowns in just over two minutes. That's right, five touchdowns in just over two minutes! You have to say that twice to wrap your brain around how absurd things got in Baltimore last Sunday.
On the bright side, the Vikings offense scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. On the down side, they didn't even win the quarter.
OK, enough of that; if you're reading this, you probably watched the game anyway. The truly good news for Vikings fans is that they saw a lot of good things from some of their younger players and they helped themselves get a higher pick in next spring's draft.
This Sunday brings the NFC East-leading Eagles, who are 8-5 and a game ahead of the Dallas Cowboys in their division. The Eagles have won five straight games to assume control of their division and are 5-1 on the road this year. Sunday's game will be the Eagles' first indoor game in 2013.
Here are a few matchups that will go a long way in determining who comes out ahead on Sunday.
Nick Foles vs. Minnesota's Secondary
Second-year quarterback Nick Foles has been one of the breakout stars of the 2013 NFL season. Philadelphia is 7-2 since Foles took over the starting role when Michael Vick was injured. Of the two losses, Foles was injured in the first one and didn't play in the second one.
Foles returned to the starting lineup with a bang, tying an NFL record by throwing seven touchdown passes in a 49-20 win over the Oakland Raiders. The Eagles have set sail from there, winning five in a row.
The 6'6", 243-pound Foles leads the NFL in passer rating, posting a gaudy 120.0. He's thrown 20 touchdown passes and just one interception.
The speedy DeSean Jackson is Foles' go-to target, with 65 receptions for 1,080 yards and eight touchdowns. Riley Cooper has been a dependable second option with 37 catches for 714 yards and seven touchdowns.
Foles also has an excellent checkdown option in running back LeSean McCoy, who not only leads the NFL in rushing with 1,305 yards but also has 40 catches for 439 yards.
All of these impressive numbers add up to the Eagles ranking sixth in the league in points scored (25 per game) and third in yards per game with 409.3.
|Michael Vick||77/141||1,215 yards||5 TDs||3 Int|
|Nick Foles||135/218||1,970 yards||20 TDs||1 Int|
|Christian Ponder||152/239||1,648 yards||7 TDs||9 Int|
|Matt Cassel||94/159||1,122 yards||7 TDs||4 Int|
Obviously it will take a tremendous team effort from the Vikings defense to slow down the Eagles high-flying offense. The bad news for Minnesota is that they have a banged-up secondary. Starters Harrison Smith and Josh Robinson remain out with injuries and now both Xavier Rhodes and Jamarca Sanford are nursing foot and ankle injuries.
Rhodes has looked every bit the first-round pick over the last five weeks, virtually locking down every opponents' No. 1 receiver. Rhodes has proved to be fantastic in man coverage and is playing better as the season wears on. If he's able to go on Sunday he'll have to be very careful with both Jackson and Cooper.
With Rhodes hobbled, the Vikings will need solid games out of Chris Cook, Marcus Sherels and Shaun Prater. Robert Blanton and Andrew Sendejo will also need to contribute on pass defense for the Vikings to have a chance against the Eagles.
LeSean McCoy vs. Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart
When healthy, Adrian Peterson is the best back in the NFL. Peterson has struggled with nagging injuries for most of 2013 and a foot injury suffered last week against the Ravens has him listed as questionable for Sundays game.
Both Peterson and Gerhart (sore hamstring) missed practice on Wednesday, but as NFL.com's Marc Sessler reports, head coach Leslie Frazier expects both of them to practice on Friday.
With Peterson at less than 100 percent, the best back in the league in 2013 has been the Eagles' LeSean McCoy. McCoy's 1,305 yards rushing is tops in the league, with Peterson right behind him with 1,221. McCoy has also been a constant threat catching passes out of the backfield, and his 1,744 all purpose yards leads the NFL.
Gerhart has had a superb season in spot duty, filling in nicely for Peterson when called upon. He's averaging almost eight yards a carry and has proved that he has the ability to be a feature back in the league. The Vikings are faced with a very interesting decision when it comes to re-signing Gerhart this offseason.
The entire Vikings defensive unit will have to be on their toes when facing McCoy, who might be the slipperiest back in the league. McCoy changes direction and cuts back against the grain as well as anyone, and he'll certainly be dangerous in the climate friendly dome.
The Vikings can only hope that either Peterson or Gerhart heal sufficiently to play effectively on Sunday.
Matt Cassel vs. The Vikings Quarterback Carousel
Veteran Matt Cassel will get his second straight start and fourth of the season against the Eagles. Cassel played very well considering the conditions against the Ravens, throwing for 265 yards and two touchdowns without turning the ball over.
While the Vikings have continued to give Christian Ponder every opportunity to prove that he can be a starting quarterback in the NFL, it is now abundantly clear to anyone who watches the team that Cassel gives them a far better chance to win.
Cassel certainly hasn't set the world on fire in his appearances, but he's far more comfortable in the pocket and does a much better job of surveying the field and making accurate throws than Ponder.
The Vikings seem to have thrown in the towel on the Josh Freeman experiment. Signed with the hope that he could resurrect his floundering career that once showed great promise, the Vikings have seemingly seen the same things from Freeman that caused the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to cut him.
All things considered, the Eagles seem to be playing at too high of a level right now for the Vikings to keep up with them. That, coupled with too many Vikings being nicked up heading into Sundays game, makes it seem like it should be an easy win for Philadelphia.
For the Vikings, it's another great opportunity to see progress from some of their younger players like Audie Cole, Xavier Rhodes and Jeff Baca. And, of course, rookie Cordarrelle Patterson will continue to make his case to be considered for offensive rookie of the year.