NFC title showdown between Vikings and Eagles has a familiar feel to it
They have a backup quarterback at the helm, a defense that can steal all the oxygen from a stadium and an electrified fan base that can almost touch the Super Bowl yet is quietly convinced that, like always, something is about to go wrong.
The ring this franchise wears is an “0,” as in zero Lombardi Trophies.
It’s the Philadelphia Eagles.
And the Minnesota Vikings.
In their quest to get to U.S. Bank Stadium, home of Super Bowl LII, these two NFL teams are the Minnesota twins. So alike in so many ways.
The Eagles and the Vikings will square off Sunday evening in the NFC championship game at Lincoln Financial Field, with the prize being a trip to the Super Bowl to face the AFC champion, which will be decided between Jacksonville and New England earlier in the day.
Philadelphia’s Nick Foles and Minnesota’s Case Keenum are close friends and former Rams teammates, thrust into starting quarterback roles because of injuries to Carson Wentz and Sam Bradford, respectively. The spotlight will be on Foles and Keenum and their ability to move the ball against a couple of elite defenses.
“Case’s success and the way he plays doesn’t surprise me because him and I were together and we prepared together,” Foles said this week. “We were around each other every day. But I think the big message there is no matter what happens, you’ve just got to keep believing in yourself, keep working hard and just never give up.”
The Eagles lost Super Bowls in 1980 and 2004 and were defeated in four conference title games between 2000 and 2008.
“I try not to get caught up in the magnitude of what this game really means,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “But at the same time, when you have time away and you can reflect not only on the season but where this team is and the things we’ve faced all year, it does kind of put it into perspective. … Emotions are going to run high.”
The top-seeded Eagles got to this lofty perch despite losing Wentz, the league’s leading most-valuable-player candidate at the time, as well as nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, standout middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, explosive returner Darren Sproles and special teams captain Chris Maragos.
The Vikings lost Bradford (and before him, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater), as well as playmaking rookie running back Dalvin Cook. More recently, they lost starting left guard Nick Easton to a fractured ankle, a key piece of their running game.
“We’ve got a bunch of fighters on this team,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “They’ve been a resilient bunch all year long. I expect it to continue that way.”
The Vikings are looking for their first trip to the Super Bowl in 41 years, and they have the added incentive of becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl on its home field. Although they were 6-2 on the road this season, their 6-16 record in road playoff games is less impressive.
They are coming off the “Minnesota Miracle” — the club has already filed to trademark the slogan — a reference to the last-gasp, wildly improbable, winning 61-yard touchdown reception by Stefon Diggs (complete with a nuclear meltdown on defense by New Orleans) on the final play last Sunday.
The Eagles, meanwhile, held on for a 15-10 victory over Atlanta, with the pivotal play being a pass breakup of a throw to All-Pro receiver Julio Jones on fourth and goal from the two-yard line.
Both these teams are majoring in drama.
There’s even a bizarre family connection in this game.
Mychal Kendricks is a starting outside linebacker for the Eagles. His younger brother, Eric, is the starting middle linebacker for the Vikings. Both were second-round draft picks, Mychal out of Cal in 2012, Eric out of UCLA in 2015.
“It’s unreal,” Mychal Kendricks told reporters this week, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I’ve tried not to think about it just because I’ve lived in a room with this kid for 17 years, you know what I mean? And we’ve pretty much lived the same lives on opposite sides of our state. And now we’re on different teams and we’re in the same scenario, playing the same position. It’s crazy, man.”
Crazy, yes. But in this matchup, with two franchises essentially looking in the mirror, is it really a surprise?
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer
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