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NFL Preview - Philadelphia (8-5) at Minnesota (3-9-1)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings had enough time to defrost from their snow-bound Week 14 and will square off Sunday in the climate-controlled confines of Mall of America Field.
The Eagles survived an afternoon blizzard to upend the Detroit Lions, 34-20, and rallied from a 14-0 deficit to record their fifth straight win. Running back LeSean McCoy set a franchise record for most rushing yards in a game with 217 and two long touchdowns on 29 carries. The shifty McCoy had a 40-yard touchdown run and a 57-yard scoring scamper, and leads the NFL with 1,305 yards, a 100.4 ypg average and 1,744 yards from scrimmage.
A lot of credit goes to the Eagles' offensive line and its ability to slow down Lions interior linemen Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.
"I think the snow took everybody out of the game a little bit," Eagles center Jason Kelce said. "Those guys (Suh and Fairley), they survive on such explosion. So I think that slowed them down a bit. But I think overall, we went into the game knowing that those were their two primary guys that we needed to take care of. So all week we were preparing for that."
Neither defense recorded a sack and Eagles quarterback Nick Foles didn't have to do much to keep the Eagles atop the NFC East. Foles completed 11-of-22 passes for 179 yards with a touchdown and his first interception of the season. Foles sailed a ball over the head of Riley Cooper and into the arms of Lions defensive back Chris Houston, ending his streak of 237 consecutive pass attempts without an interception, a new franchise record.
Foles threw 19 touchdown passes to start the season before throwing his first pick, which is the second-best mark in NFL history just behind Broncos future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning tossed 21 touchdowns before his first interception earlier this season.
The Eagles had lost 10 in a row at home dating back to last season and have ripped off three straight wins at Lincoln Financial Field. Now they will try to add to their 5-1 road record and are unbeaten in the past four games as the visitor, last winning on the road Nov. 10 against Green Bay.
By virtue of Chicago's Monday night win over Dallas, the Eagles are in sole possession of first place in the NFC East. However, the Cowboys own the tie- breaker should the top two teams in the division finish with identical records. Dallas will host Philadelphia in the regular season finale Dec. 29.
The 2013 season couldn't end any sooner for the 3-9-1 Vikings, who are last in the NFC North Division and coming off Sunday's heart-breaking 29-26 loss at a snowy M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
A total of 42 points were scored in the fourth quarter, including 36 in the last 2:05. The lead exchanged hands several times and Minnesota took the lead on a 79-yard touchdown catch by Cordarrelle Patterson with 45 seconds on the clock. However, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco countered with a nine-yard TD pass to Marlon Brown with four seconds to go for the win.
"The conditions were tough," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "The players, they competed, they played hard. Both teams battled right down to the very end."
Patterson ended with 141 yards on five receptions and Matt Cassel passed for 265 yards and a pair of TD strikes. Cassel will be under center once again versus Philly and gives the Vikings the best chance to win over Christian Ponder or Josh Freeman.
But the biggest story was the foot injury to running back Adrian Peterson. Peterson underwent X-rays, which were negative, and there was no torn ligaments or tendons. Peterson, who was wearing a protective boot to promote faster healing, could miss Sunday's game, according to reports.
Per Frazier, the Vikings are waiting the results of more tests before making a determination on Peterson's status for this week. Backup running back Toby Gerhart ran for 89 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries in relief of Peterson and is nursing a balky hamstring. Matt Asiata is next on the depth chart and could be in line for the start if both Peterson and Gerhart are out.
Fullback Jerome Felton will see added carries if needed.
"Nothing new to me. So if that's the case, I'll be ready," Felton said.
Vikings right guard Brandon Fusco suffered a knee injury in the first quarter Sunday and did not return. He was replaced by Joe Berger.
The all-time series between the Vikings and Eagles is even at 12 wins apiece, while Minnesota won the previous encounter, 24-14, on Dec. 28. 2010 at the Linc. That game was pushed back to a Tuesday because of inclement weather.
Philadelphia had won the last five meetings, including the playoffs, before the loss almost three years ago. The Eagles have won two straight games in the Twin Cities.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Vikings have pride and respect to play for at 3-9-1, so look for them to throw early and often against Philadelphia's inept secondary. Yes, the Eagles' defense has played well the past month or so and was able to contain Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson, but Sunday's game is indoors and a trio of Minnesota receivers could come into play.
Patterson is coming off a strong game against Baltimore, while leading receiver Jerome Simpson and veteran Greg Jennings will also see some passes thrown their way. The Vikings are only 22nd in passing yards per game (214.8) and can still cause issues for opposing defensive backfields. Patterson is the one to watch and Eagles CB Cary Williams will most likely see plenty of him.
Patterson leads the NFL in kickoff return yardage (1,199), kickoff return average (33.3) and kickoff return touchdowns (two), and is a solid candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year. The Vikings, who finished 3-13 in 2011, cannot turn the ball over and give the Eagles' potent offense a chance.
The Eagles have not allowed more than 21 points in a game since Week 4 against the Denver Broncos. They are, however, 30th in total yards allowed (398.1) and 31st in passing yards allowed (285.3).
When it comes to the Eagles lately, it has been all Foles and McCoy. Foles, who is on the recent cover of Sports Illustrated, leads the NFL with a 120 passer rating to go along with 20 TD and one interception. Look for Foles to take advantage of Minnesota's 30th ranked passing defense (282.5). Minnesota is also 31st in both yards allowed (401.2) and points allowed (30.4).
The Vikings and Cowboys are the only teams to give up more than 400 yards, while Minnesota and Washington are the only clubs to allow 30-plus points. Vikings defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison both have seven sacks this season, but have to beat a conditioned and talented Eagles offensive line. Eagles rookie tackle Lane Johnson could struggle this week and there should be no worries for his teammate and fellow tackle Jason Peters.
Robison has a sack in each the last five games (6 total). The Vikings need their front line to get hot and disrupt Foles' timing in the pocket and with receivers DeSean Jackson and surprisingly Cooper. Jackson needs 77 yards to surpass his career high of 1,156 yards set back in 2009. He has eight TD receptions this season and had a career-best nine in 2009.
The Eagles have been using their tight ends (Brent Celek, Zach Ertz) lately and that could work in their advantage Sunday.
"I think it's an unselfish group," Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said of the receivers. "We're really all focused on trying to win the game. We like to run the football, and there are a lot of times when we choose to hand it off or it might be a zone read and all of a sudden the ball is out on the perimeter. They all have opportunities to catch balls, so they all have to block for each other. It's a very unselfish group. They just like to try to contribute any way possible."
While it appears the Vikings could play it safe by not thrusting Peterson back onto the field with a bum foot, they are still banged up at the running back position and will have to rely on the pass attack. Peterson said the foot is still sore and hasn't swelled up too much.
The Eagles, though, must not underestimate Minnesota's backup running backs and force the Vikings to beat them through the air. Philadelphia has the advantage with its impressive road record (5-1), which is tied for the best in the league, and McCoy, who has five games with 100-plus rushing yards this season and is hoping to go against the great Peterson on Sunday.
Minnesota is allowing more than 100 yards rushing a game (118.8) and McCoy could hit that mark by the third quarter.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eagles 34, Vikings 23
12/12 13:55:09 ET
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