Most of the major impact players on the respective rosters of the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles should be set to make their marks in Sunday's NFC Championship Game at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles, who earned home-field advantage in the NFC, only have three players listed on their injury report, with linebacker Dannell Ellerbe listed as questionable, per the team's official website.
Wide receiver Adam Thielen is the Vikings' main concern, as he was limited in practice Thursday and Friday. According to the team's official injury report, Thielen is questionable for the NFC Championship, as well as safety Andrew Sendejo and defensive back Mackensie Alexander. Defensive tackle Shamar Stephen is out with a knee/ankle injury.
Although Thielen's back injury hampered his practice time ahead of the game, he appears to be ready to go with the questionable listing.
Thielen, Diggs Will Outperform Eagles Wide Receivers
This isn't the boldest of predictions given who will be starting at quarterback for both teams, but Vikings wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Thielen will both outperform the Eagles players at that position.
Diggs and Thielen are going up against a secondary, led by corners Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, that's been susceptible to big plays, especially toward the end of the regular season.
Although safety Malcolm Jenkins could affect the Vikings wideouts' performances, he won't be able to because he will be occupied in the box, trying to stop the run and limiting tight end Kyle Rudolph's production.
Diggs, who caught the game-winning touchdown in the divisional round against the New Orleans Saints, struggled a bit against playoff teams in the regular season, with his best showing in those games coming against the Saints in Week 1.
The receiver out of Maryland will separate himself from the Eagles defensive backs on play-action passes, as Darby or Mills will bite on a few fakes and get burned by Diggs.
Even with his bad back, Thielen could benefit the most from running routes across the middle of the field, which will be packed, with Jenkins and the Eagles linebackers looking to stop the threat of Rudolph. Thielen will be able to find space between the yard markers because of his size and speed.
With Eagles quarterback Nick Foles struggling to throw the deep ball, the Philadelphia wide receivers won't have as many opportunities to beat the opposing defensive backs as the Vikings will. Expect the Eagles to rely more on running backs and tight ends on short throws in the passing game.
Running Backs Will Be Key for the Eagles
The Eagles boast a tremendous stable of running backs, with Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement being the main figures.
Ajayi will be counted on to earn yards on the edge and out of the backfield in the passing game on first and second downs.
Blount will be the workhorse on short-yardage plays and when Ajayi needs a rest. The former New England Patriots player's best quality is his power, which the Eagles could use to wear down the Minnesota front seven.
Clement, who joined the team as an undrafted player out of Wisconsin, is tasked with catching balls out of the backfield on third down, and he might have an impact on the ground as well depending on the situation.
While it may be too much to put a large amount of pressure on one position group, the running backs are crucial to Foles' success as the Eagles try to replicate a game plan loaded with short throws from the divisional-round win over the Atlanta Falcons.
If Ajayi and Blount are able to make progress against the league's second-best rushing defense, it will open the door for Clement to get around the edge and connect with Foles.
However, if the Vikings succeed in stopping the run, the pressure will be put on Foles, who hasn't proved he can beat a secondary on his own since taking over for the injured Carson Wentz in December.
Prediction: Vikings 17, Eagles 13
Points will be hard to come by with two of the best defenses in the NFL on the field, which means the finer details will decide the victor Sunday night.
Vikings quarterback Case Keenum should be able to hook up with Diggs and Thielen for a few big plays that will put the visitors ahead at halftime.
Defensive stops on the interior will be the deciding factor in the second half, as the Vikings become the first team to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium.
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