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Experts make their Eagles-Vikings predictions
Eagles (8-5) at Vikings (3-9-1)
1 p.m., FOX
Eagles by 6½
Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010: The Eagles, winners in five of their last six, are headed into Week 16 at 10-4 with a legitimate shot at a postseason bye week. A 1 p.m. kickoff against the 5-9 Vikings is flexed to Sunday night, and then, after a heavy snowfall in the Delaware Valley, to Tuesday.
We all know what happened next: Joe Webb (see story). Then a loss at home to Dallas in the regular-season finale. Then a home playoff loss by five points to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Packers.
Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013: The Eagles, winners of five straight, head to Minnesota with a chance to take a chokehold on the NFC East. The lowly Vikings may be without their MVP running back. Or his backup. And they're starting their backup quarterback.
It's time for the Birds to exorcise their Joe Webb demons.
Here are five things you'll need to know:
1. Where do they rank?
Offense: 409 yards per game (3rd), 251 passing (13th), 159 rushing (1st)
Defense: 398 yards per game (30th), 285 passing (31st), 113 rushing (15th)
Turnovers: 25 takeaways (T-5th), 16 giveaways (T-5th), plus-9 differential (6th)
Offense: 346 yards per game (14th), 215 passing (22nd), 131 rushing (7th)
Defense: 401 yards per game (31st), 283 passing (30th), 119 rushing (22nd)
Turnovers: 18 takeaways (T-19th), 25 giveaways (T-27th), minus-7 differential (T-26th)
After racking up 299 yards on the ground — 217 of which came from LeSean McCoy on a record-setting day — last week against the Lions, the Eagles again hold the title as the NFL's most prolific running attack. McCoy leads the league in rushing yards (1,305), ahead of Adrian Peterson (1,221) and five yards away from setting a new career high.
The defense played its best game of the season in limiting Detroit to 231 yards and eight points on offense. Of course, the snow had something to do with that — although it didn't seem to be a problem for the Birds. The Eagles have also limited opponents to 21 points or fewer in nine consecutive games, the league's longest active streak.
With Peterson, the Vikings' ground game has obviously also been terrific. But at quarterback, they've been horrific. Christian Ponder, the former 12th overall pick, hasn't progressed since last season — he has seven TDs against nine INTs and was so bad he at one point lost his job to Josh Freeman. He's out anyway.
Starting in his place will be Matt Cassel, who has been mediocre (1,122 yards, 7 TDs, 4 INTs) in six games (three starts) under center.
2. Is A.P. invincible?
Adrian Peterson was carted off the field in Sunday's loss to the Ravens with a sprained right foot. Relegated to a walking boot, he didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday but was back in action Friday, albeit on a limited basis.
"He's so different than everybody else when it comes to recovering from injuries," Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier told the Associated Press. "We've been in situations in the past where you thought he wouldn't make it and then he made it. It was always in the back of my mind there was a chance he'd make it. He's amazing."
The halfback's official status going into Sunday is questionable, and Frazier said he'll be a game-time decision. If the reigning MVP goes, the Vikings get his league-leading 10 rushing TDs, 1,221 yards (2nd) and 4.6 yards per attempt (8th).
If he can't play, Toby Gerhart — who's also questionable — could get the nod. Gerhart ran for 89 yards on 15 carries last week, including a 41-yard go-ahead TD with 1:27 left. The former Heisman finalist is averaging 7.9 yards per carry this season on a limited basis (he has just 36 attempts).
If both Peterson and Gerhart can't play, the duties fall to third-stringer Matt Asiata. The second-year pro has three career carries and none this season.
The Eagles have allowed just one 100-yard rusher this season: Rashad Jennings (102) in Week 9.
UPDATE: Reports indicate neither Peterson nor Gerhart will play on Sunday (see story).
3. Light 'em up
The Eagles' third-ranked offense matching up with the Vikings' No. 31 defense has the potential to let this game get out of hand.
Whereas the Eagles have limited opponents to 21 or fewer points in nine straight, the Vikings have allowed 23 or more points in 12 of 13 games this year. They've given up at least 30 points in six games and at least 40 twice. They yielded 22 points in the final 2:05 last week. The only team that allows more points per game than Minnesota (30.4) is Washington (31.3).
Although the Vikings can move the ball on offense, they're also prone to shooting themselves in the foot. Whether it's through the air or on the ground — even Peterson has lost three fumbles — they've given it away 25 times. Only the Giants (34), Jets (28) and Lions (28) have coughed up the football more.
During their five-game winning streak, the Eagles have turned the ball over just twice.
4. Playoffs? Yes, playoffs
After the Cowboys fell on Monday night to the Bears, the Eagles found themselves all alone atop the NFC East. Obviously if the Birds win out, they'll claim their first division title in three years.
But now they don't need to win out. With a game in hand over Dallas, if the Eagles lose to either Minnesota or Chicago next week, they'll still win the division by beating the Cowboys in the finale. Here are some other interesting playoff scenarios:
• If the Birds beat the Vikings and the Cowboys fall to Green Bay this week — don't hold your breath, the 'Boys are 6½-point home favorites vs. the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers — then the Eagles enter next week's tilt with the Bears with a chance to clinch the division with a win.
• If the Eagles drop two straight and the Cowboys win both against Green Bay and Washington, the Cowboys win the division before Week 17's finale.
• The Eagles still have an outside chance at a wild-card if they can't win the division. Carolina (9-4) and San Francisco (9-4) currently occupy both wild-cards, but if one of those teams were to lose two of three to end the season and the Eagles won two of three (with the loss coming to Dallas), then the Eagles would hold the conference record tiebreaker.
• A shot at a bye week now seems very unlikely since the Saints (10-3) beat the Panthers last week. However, if New Orleans somehow loses two of three against its remaining opponents (at St. Louis, at Carolina, vs. Tampa Bay), and the Eagles win out, then the Eagles would hold the conference record tiebreaker and get the No. 2 seed. The Saints are six-point road favorites against the Rams on Sunday.
5. This and that
• Last time they met in December 2010, we all know what happened. Joe Webb won his first (and only) NFL start at QB, throwing for 195 yards and running for 31 more and a score as the Vikings handed the Eagles a 24-14 defeat in the NFL's first Tuesday game since 1946. Michael Vick threw a pick and fumbled twice, and McCoy managed just 44 yards on 13 carries.
• Last week, the Vikes scored two touchdowns in the final 90 seconds and still managed to fall, 29-26, in an exciting affair with the Ravens. Minnesota held a 12-7 lead until Baltimore scored a go-ahead TD with 2:05 to go. The teams swapped TDs until Joe Flacco found Marlon Brown in the back of the end zone with four seconds left for the win.
• Joe Webb is now the Vikings' No. 5 wide receiver. He has five catches for 33 yards this year.
• McCoy has four games of 150 rushing yards or more this year. No other RB has more than one.
• The Eagles have won five of six and eight of their last 10 games against the Vikings.
• The Eagles are 5-1 on the road, tied with the Chiefs for the best mark in the league.
• Minnesota safety Harrison Smith will return after an eight-game absence because of turf toe.
• This will be the Eagles' final trip to the Metrodome and the second-to-last game the building will ever host. The Vikings will close it out in Week 17 against the Lions and move to the University of Minnesota's (outdoor) TCF Bank Stadium next season. Their new stadium is scheduled to open in 2016.
• Injury Report: For the Eagles, S Earl Wolff (knee) and LB Najee Goode (hamstring) are doubtful; CB Cary Williams (hamstring) and CB Brandon Boykin (hip) are probable. For the Vikings, TE John Carlson (concussion) and CB Josh Robinson (chest) are out; CB Xavier Rhodes (ankle) and OG Brandon Fusco (knee) are doubtful; RB Adrian Peterson (groin/foot), RB Toby Gerhart (hamstring) and CB Chris Cook (knee) are questionable; and LB Chad Greenway (wrist) and LB Larry Dean (knee) are probable.
• Recommended reading:
Eagles-Vikings: Our (cough) expert predictions
Scouting report: Eagles' offense vs. Vikings' D
Staying healthy, Eagles' O-line continues to grow
In Peterson, McCoy sees the RB he wants to be
Finally healthy, Peters back to dominant self
Cooper glad his speed is finally being respected
Overcoming health disorder keeps Polk grounded