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Matchups for the NFC championship game Sunday between the Minnesota Vikings
and Philadelphia Eagles:

When the Vikings (14-3) have the ball

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Watch out for Stefon Diggs (14) on a desperation pass!

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 , Vikings receivers are more dangerous than
given credit for. Indeed, that’s also true for Philadelphia’s wideouts.

Diggs, breakout star Adam Thielen (19), Jarius Wright (17) and even
journeyman Michael Floyd (18) can make plays, though the big confrontations will
be Thielen and Diggs against CBs Jalen Mills (31) and Ronald Darby (41). These
matchups favor QB Case Keenum (7), who has gone from undistinguished fill-in to
standout clutch passer.

The passing game will be a key for the Vikings, who will want to get TE Kyle
Rudolph (82) involved early. Although the Vikes rank seventh in rushing yardage
gained this season – Latavius Murray (25) led the way with 842 yards and eight
touchdowns, and was backed by Jerick McKinnon (21) – the Eagles, led by DT
Fletcher Cox (91) on a solid front seven Derwin
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 , were stingiest against the ground game.

If DLs Cox, Brandon Graham (55), rookie Derek Barnett (96), Chris Long (56)
and some of the linebackers can win against an offensive line filled mostly with
castoffs – but an efficient enough unit to help Minnesota’s offense score 40
touchdowns – Keenum will need to improvise.

Of course, he’s shown he’s pretty good at that.

When the Eagles (14-3) have the ball:

The Vikings have the NFL’s top-ranked defense overall, with splits of second
against the rush and the pass. It is led by cornerback Xavier Rhodes (29) and
safety Harrison Smith (22), both All-Pros, and a terrific line featuring ends
Everson Griffen (97) and Danielle Hunter (99). Few teams have a better
linebacking group, with Anthony Barr (55) the main playmaker.

Philly’s challenges include protecting QB Nick Foles (9) Wholesale Jihad
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 , who’s not nearly as creative or elusive as Carson
Wentz was. Foles needs time to connect with the likes of WRs Alshon Jeffery
(17), Nelson Agholor (13) and Torrey Smith (82) and TE Zach Ertz (86). Ertz’s
matchups with Barr or Smith could be decisive.

The Eagles have a deep backfield, though the way they use Jay Ajayi (36),
LeGarrette Blount (29) and Corey Clement (30) can be confounding.

If they get room to run, it will be because All-Pros center Jason Kelce (62)
and RT Lane Johnson (65) won against that impressive D-line on the other

Foles comes off a strong performance that should silence the doubters. He
also is facing a better defense – the best D – this week.

Special Teams

Kai Forbath (2) has missed 8 of 55 extra points in 24 games with Minnesota.
After going 15 for 15 on field goals in 2016, he fell off in 2017 by converting
32 of 38. But Forbath went 3 for 3 in single-digit temperatures at Green Bay on
Dec. 23, including a 49-yarder. In the divisional-round win at home over New
Orleans, he went 3 for 4, including the go-ahead 53-yard kick with 1:23

Marcus Sherels (35) is one of the smallest players in the NFL Mason
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 , but one of the most accomplished punt
returners with five touchdowns over the past six seasons. He ranked seventh with
an average of 9.5 yards in 2017.

Ryan Quigley (4) finished his first regular season with the Vikings without a
touchback, just the second punter to do so in a full season since the NFL began
tracking the statistic in 1991.

The player to watch the most is long snapper Jeff Overbaugh (44), who became
an emergency replacement after Kevin McDermott hurt his shoulder at Green

Philadelphia’s Jake Elliott (4) set a postseason club record with a 53-yard
field goal last week, but he missed his fourth extra point in 43 tries this
season. Elliott is 6 of 7 from 50 or more yards, including a 61-yarder.image

P Donnie Jones (8) ranked 17th in net average and Kenjon Barner (38) filled
in nicely after Darren Sproles (43) was injured. Barner’s best return went for
76 yards.

Coverage units are solid despite losing special-teams captain Chris


Two longtime assistants who have had impressive success in charge.

Mike Zimmer achieved plenty as Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator, but often
was passed over for head coach openings. That changed in 2014 when the Wilf
family turned to Zimmer, whose upfront style has been refreshing in the Twin
Cities. He is 40-26.

In Pat Shurmur (offense) and George Edwards (defense), he has two top
coordinators. Shurmur, a former head coach in Cleveland Orlando
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 , has been on several team’s radars for such
openings this month.

Former NFL QB Doug Pederson was a loyal assistant for Andy Reid, and he’s got
Reid’s former team back in contention for the big game. Pederson’s best skill
might be finding the right players for each situation.

He’s 21-12, and he got the Eagles this far despite losing MVP contender QB
Carson Wentz in December.

Offensive coordinator Frank Reich also has plugged in plenty of players –
including Foles – and prospered. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz could be
headed for another head coaching opportunity.


Neither team has won a Super Bowl. The Vikings haven’t even been to one since
their fourth loss in as many tries, in the 1977 game. No member of the current
team was born then.

Minnesota’s incentive is enhanced by the chance to become the first franchise
to host the big game in its stadium. Don’t underestimate that kind of

And don’t overlook the impetus the Eagles are getting from being a top-seeded
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