With the Eagles and Vikings scheduled to face off on Sunday, I reached out to the SB Nation Vikings site: Daily Norseman. Eric Thompson kindly took the time to answer my questions.
Let's take a look at the answers.
1) Name a Vikings player who the Eagles need to watch out for on offense.
I'd normally be obvious here and say Adrian Peterson, but he probably won't play on Sunday. (Let me clarify: he probably shouldn't play on Sunday. Knowing AP he'll try to play and they will probably have to hide his cleats to make sure he doesn't.) After last week's game my answer shouldn't come as much of a surprise: watch out for Cordarrelle Patterson. The rookie wide receiver is a touchdown waiting to happen every time he has the ball in his hands. Whether it's on a kickoff return, a WR screen, an end around, or a normal passing route, Patterson is flat out dangerous. It took a while for the coaches to give him the reps he needed to excel but he has quickly turned into one of the team's biggest weapons on offense.
2) Name a Vikings player who the Eagles need to watch out for on defense.
Thank goodness I can finally say this again: watch out for Harrison Smith. The standout second-year free safety has been sidelined since Week 7 but is slated to make his return on Sunday. He might not get the lion's share of snaps; the Eagle's fast-paced offense will probably necessitate a rotation with Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo. But when Smith is patrolling the back end of the Vikings defense you usually notice him. He's a hard hitter and is basically the only member of the Vikings secondary that can intercept passes on a semi-regular basis.
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3) This seems like it could be a trap game for the Eagles. The Vikings (3-9-1) are the only team remaining on the Eagles' schedule with a remaining record. Philly is hot: they're riding a five game winning streak coming into Minnesota. To what extent do the Vikings stand a chance to upset the Eagles?
This does have all the makings of a trap game for the Eagles. While the Vikings' 3-9-1 record is atrocious, it's not like they've been getting blown out every week. In fact, if games were 59 minutes long instead of 60, the Vikings would be 8-5 this year. No, really. I'm serious. They have lost FIVE leads this season in the final minute of the game. So if the Eagles think they can just walk in and out of Minnesota with an easy W, they could get upset.
The only realistic chances for an upset that I see hinge on two facets of the game: big plays and turnovers. If the Vikings can get a few explosive plays from their offense and limit guys like LeSean McCoy, Riley Cooper, and DeSean Jackson from getting behind them, they'll have a decent shot. Of course turnovers can change the outcome of even the most lopsided game. Unfortunately the Eagles are 16 turnovers better than the Vikings this year (+9 to -7) and Nick Foles' only interception this season came in a blizzard, so I don't exactly have high hopes for that.
4) What's the biggest matchup that favors the Vikings? What's the biggest matchup that favors the Eagles?
I think the matchup that best favors the Vikings is their pass blocking against Philadelphia's rush. With Matt Cassel starting and Christian Ponder on the bench (where he should be), Minnesota doesn't give up much pressure. The possible of absence of emerging RG Brandon Fusco will hurt if he can't go but it doesn't seem like the Eagles' pass rush is their strong suit on defense. If Cassel can break his occasional habit of staring down receivers and the Vikings receivers get a bit of separation, the line should give him enough time to make some plays.
The biggest matchup advantage for the Eagles? Hmm...can I just say "anyone on their offense against anyone on Minnesota's defense"? No? I should be more specific? OK then. I'll say that McCoy in the open field against the Vikings linebackers. Dick Vitale would call this one MISMATCH CITY BABY! Second-year MLB Audie Cole has been much better than current WLB Erin Henderson was in the same role but he still has a lot to learn in the team's zone coverages. Chad Greenway has fallen off a cliff this year. He's been hindered by a broken wrist for much of the year but that doesn't explain how he suddenly got about three steps slower. If McCoy can get to the second level with some space via pass or run, it could be a long day for the Vikings defense.
5) Let's hear a score prediction. Who wins this game and why?
I already posted my Week 15 preview and picks over at Daily Norseman and I predicted an Eagles victory. I think the Vikings will hang around for a while--they have been playing much better football lately than their record would indicate--but I just don't see how they can go score-for-score against Philadelphia's offense with the way that unit is playing. I think the Eagles pull away late with a couple long scores against the Vikings' beat-up defense and win by a final score of 37-20.