Starting around week 7 and going through week 14, the spirited debate among NFL fans was who was the true best team in the NFC: The Eagles or the Vikings. Philadelphia had the better record most of the season, but the Vikings played the tougher schedule. The Eagles had the MVP-candidate quarterback, but the Vikings had the best one-two punch at receiver in the league. Philadelphia had a bruising defensive front and the number one run defense in yards allowed. The Vikings had the top scoring defense.
It was a debate that proved testy with Minnesota fans especially, as the national narrative favored Philadelphia. Carson Wentz was the league’s new darling, the exceptional athlete who found new and interesting ways to get the ball to his receivers and into the end zone. Their team was young, exciting and rebounding strong from a sub-.500 2016.
The Vikings, on the other hand, were under the radar. Their defense had great players but great in ways that largely do not show up on the stat sheet. The quarterback was a sixth-year journeyman who everyone expected to come back to earth. Their best offensive player was an undrafted wide receiver. And as crazy as it sounds, there were some who contended they were only leading the division because of a certain quarterback’s injury.
Of course, Minnesota has put all of that behind them. Case Keenum‘s transformation has become a major story nationwide and Adam Thielen was honored with an All-Pro selection alongside three players on the defense. The Vikings are no longer hidden. In fact, they are now the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
But it is that stretch of relative anonymity that makes this matchup so compelling for Vikings fans. They did not get the opportunity to see their team prove that they were better than the Eagles during the regular season. They have that opportunity now.
Is it quite the same without Wentz? No. Wentz’s presence would have provided a whole other wrinkle to this story. But even with Nick Foles starting in his stead, the narrative is intriguing.
In a way, when these teams meet on Sunday it will be like looking in a mirror. They were built similarly: Defensive front first. Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham anchor the stout Eagles defense in the same way that Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph do for the Vikings. Malcolm Jenkins is the star do-it-all safety, just like Harrison Smith. Both teams have thunder-and-lightning running backs. Both teams have weapons on the edge and a solid pass-catching tight end. And both teams enter with a once-backup quarterback who has had nothing but doubts cast upon them since the postseason started.
The Eagles are more vulnerable than they were a couple of months ago, no doubt about that. And some may use that as a reason to downplay a potential Vikings victory. But there are no moral victories or defeats in the NFL. No team has ever hosted their own Super Bowl. The Vikings have a chance to do that. And they have that opportunity against the team that kept them down in second place for much of the season. They will never admit it, but one has to assume that provides just the tiniest bit of extra motivation to the Minnesota players.
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