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NFL Preview - Minnesota (5-9) at Philadelphia (10-4)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The emotion of joy probably wouldn't feel so good had it not been for pain. The mental state of Philadelphia Eagles fans was a mix of both when franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb was traded on Easter Sunday.
Several pundits had the Eagles tabbed to finish near the bottom of the NFC East when head coach Andy Reid pulled the trigger on the blockbuster deal that sent McNabb to Washington and opened the door for Kevin Kolb to be the team's starting quarterback.
Open doors eventually close, however, and it slammed shut on Kolb. The NFC East-champion Eagles are now Michael Vick's team, and the former incarcerated star has helped give Reid his sixth division title since taking over in 1999. The Eagles locked up the division crown when the Giants lost in Green Bay Sunday.
The Eagles will take on the Minnesota Vikings for a rare Tuesday night game at Lincoln Financial Field. The game was supposed to take place on Sunday night, but a snowstorm forced the game to be postponed.
Vick and the Eagles are coming off an improbable road win over the New York Giants, scoring 28 points in less than eight minutes to go in the game for a 38-31 victory.
Vick earned NFC Player of the Week honors by accounting for three touchdowns, two of which were through the air, 242 passing yards and 130 yards rushing. The dynamic MVP candidate has captured the conference honor three times this season and understands the ramifications of the game against the Vikings. The Eagles still have a chance at a first-round bye in the playoffs.
"We know the magnitude of this game and what's at stake, and we have to go out and get it," Vick said. "Nothing is going to be given to you; everything has to be earned. We just have to continue to move forward. This is just one stepping stone, with plenty more hurdles to cross."
Philadelphia will be searching for its fourth straight win and seventh in eight weeks, and has won 10 or more games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since turning the trick from 2000-2004.
Already assured of their first losing season since the 2006 campaign, the Vikings' role has been relegated to spoiler.
Minnesota has dropped two straight, four of six and six of its last nine games, including an embarrassing 40-14 defeat at the hands of the NFC North- rival Chicago Bears on Monday night. Besides having the game relocated to the University of Minnesota's outdoor TCF Bank Stadium after the Metrodome's roof collapsed the previous week following a heavy snowfall, the Vikings got a surprise return of quarterback Brett Favre, who shook off an injured shoulder to make the start.
Favre's heroics were short-lived, however, as he was knocked out of the game in the second quarter after sustaining a concussion on a sack. With backup Tarvaris Jackson already on injured reserve, the Vikings could be forced to turn to rookie Joe Webb for his first NFL start, though completely ruling out Favre is always a quandary.
Webb came on in relief of Favre against the Bears and threw for 129 yards with no touchdown passes and a pair of interceptions for the Vikings, who have been outscored by a 61-17 margin in their last two games.
"My stubbornness, hardheadedness and stupidity at times has enabled me to play for 20 years and play the way I've played," the 41-year-old Favre said after the game. "It's just the way I've always approached it, the way I play. I wouldn't trade it for anything."
Vikings interim head coach Leslie Frazier has stood by the future Hall of Famer and said things could change if Favre is cleared by the doctors. Under the rules of the NFL, a player who suffers a head injury must undergo post- concussion testing on a daily basis until proving there are no symptoms.
Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson also has to show that he is ready to return from a leg issue after he missed the Chicago game. The NFC's second- leading rusher will not be put at risk if he's unable to go at 100 percent, according to Frazier.
Peterson suffered the injury against the Giants on Dec. 13 and is listed as questionable for this game. Rookie Toby Gerhart would handle backfield duties again if the former University of Oklahoma star is unable to go.
The Vikings could use their top offensive weapon, since they haven't won in Philadelphia since 1985.
Minnesota holds an 11-9 edge in its all-time regular-season series with Philadelphia, but the Eagles have won three straight and six of the last seven meetings in the set. The clubs last squared off in a non-playoff setting in 2007, a 23-16 Philadelphia triumph at the Metrodome, and the Vikings were 41-17 losers in their most recent regular-season trip to the City of Brotherly Love, which took place at Veterans Stadium in 2001.
The last matchup between the teams occurred in the 2008 NFC Wild Card Playoffs, with the Eagles besting the North Division-champion Vikings by a 26-14 count. Philadelphia also prevailed in two other postseason bouts against Minnesota, scoring a 31-16 win at home in a 1980 Divisional Playoff and a 27-14 verdict at Lincoln Financial Field in the 2004 Divisional Round.
Counting the postseason, the Vikings have lost six consecutive times in Philadelphia since a 28-23 victory on Dec. 1, 1985. Minnesota's last win of any kind over the Eagles was a 28-19 home decision on Sept, 28, 1997.
Reid has never lost in five lifetime encounters with Minnesota. Frazier, who served four seasons under Reid as the Eagles' defensive backs coach from 1999-2002, will be opposing both his former boss and one-time employers for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
It seems the Vikings will most likely settle with Webb for this road bout, and the rookie out of UAB has appeared in only two games this season. Webb (137 passing yards, 2 INT) first saw action in Week 14 setback to the Giants and completed 2-of-5 passes for eight yards. He then played an extended amount of time Monday night in frigid conditions, passing for 129 yards and completing 15 of his 26 attempts with two interceptions. Webb's also rushed for 54 yards this season and compiled 38 yards and a score on six scrambles last week. Recently-signed quarterback Patrick Ramsey is expected to back up Webb for the rest of the season if Favre is unable to play in either of the final two games. It's been a tumultuous season for the Vikings, who have also been ravaged by injuries to key players such as wide receivers Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin, Favre and now Peterson. The in-season firing of head coach Brad Childress may have soothed some of the players' minds, but it still represents turmoil within an organization, especially for a team is coming off an NFC Championship Game appearance in 2009. Gerhart (304 rushing yards, 1 TD) led the ground attack with 77 yards on 16 carries against the Bears, while Peterson (1,149 rushing yards, 11 TD) needs 151 yards to join Earl Campbell as the only players to rush for 1,300-plus yards and 10 touchdowns in each of their first four NFL seasons.
Philadelphia has been able to handle the run lately and will still prepare for Peterson, since his true status is unknown. Gerhart is a beast of a man much like the Giants' Brandon Jacobs, but the Eagles limited New York's power back to 34 yards on 12 carries. Eagles rookie middle linebacker Jamar Chaney (35 tackles) made his first NFL start at the New Meadowlands Stadium last week and finished with a game-best 16 tackles and a forced fumble. Chaney did a fine job calling the signals in place of injured starter Stewart Bradley, who's unlikely to return with a dislocated elbow. Speaking of not returning, Eagles rookie and starting safety Nate Allen (48 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 INT) is done for the year after suffering a knee injury on Sunday. He already underwent successful surgery to repair his ruptured right patella tendon, but has been placed on injured reserve. Fellow rookie Kurt Coleman (29 tackles, 1 INT) has some big shoes to fill and will take over Allen's spot. Coleman had four tackles and a pass defensed against the Giants, but has to be wary of Vikings all-purpose receiver Harvin. Cornerback Asante Samuel (25 tackles) owns seven interceptions this season and returned from a three-game absence due to a knee injury last week, posting two tackles. The Eagles have forced a total of 11 turnovers in their last four victories.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
Philadelphia's explosive offense is one of the best in the NFL this season and has scored at least 26 points in each of the past seven games, averaging 34.3 points per contest over that stretch. The Eagles have been able to turn it on down the stretch, right about the time Vick took over for good under center. They averaged 372.6 yards per game over the first seven contests of the season, but have posted 435.3 yards per week in the last seven. Philadelphia has been able to rally from fourth-quarter deficits four times since mid-November and has outscored the opposition by a 66-21 count in the final stanza in that time. Vick (2.755 passing yards, 20 TD, 5 INT) is a main reason for that, as he's accounted for nine touchdown passes and three rushing scores in his last four games. The left-hander out of Virginia Tech, who owns eight rushing scores in 2010, has thrown for two or more touchdown passes in a game seven times this season and is the NFC's top passer with a 103.6 rating. Philly's receiving corps is led by DeSean Jackson (45 receptions, 1,024 yards, 6 TD) and Jeremy Maclin (64 receptions, 890 yards, 10 TD). Jackson was the hero in the miracle win over New York with a game-ending punt return for a score and is a home-run threat nearly every play. Maclin had two touchdown catches last week. Running back LeSean McCoy (1,036 rushing yards, 7 TD) leads the Eagles with 74 catches and is averaging 5.3 yards per carry as well. McCoy hasn't scored in the last two games, however.
The Vikings have given up 61 points in their last two games and are in for a long evening if they fail to stop Philadelphia's potent offense. They have to be prepared for Vick, who can kill defenses with both his legs and cannon of an arm. Minnesota will most likely drop some players back in coverage and make sure Vick has no running lanes around the ends. End Jared Allen (52 tackles, 10 sacks) will be up for the challenge and has 8 1/2 sacks in his last seven games. Ray Edwards (28 tackles, 7 sacks) plays on the opposite side of Allen and returned from injury to post a sack against the Bears. Minnesota is eighth in rushing yards allowed this season (101.5 ypg) and still has veteran tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams plugging the lanes. The two mammoth defenders could easily make it difficult for Vick and McCoy to find running room inside, though Bears running back Matt Forte posted 92 yards on 17 carries in Monday's win. The Vikings played tough pass defense that game and held Jay Cutler to 194 yards, but he also had three touchdown strikes to go along with an interception. Cornerback Asher Allen (50 tackles, 2 INT) has posted his first two picks of the season in each of the last two games for Minnesota's 10th-rated pass defense. Safety Madieu Williams (75 tackles, 1 INT) suffered a concussion last week and is questionable.
If Peterson doesn't play, Gerhart will get the nod again for fantasy owners. Harvin, Rice and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe are solid options against Philadelphia's suspect pass defense. Give kicker Ryan Longwell a chance as well.
The Eagles are loaded with fantasy talent, starting with Vick. Maclin, DeSean Jackson and McCoy are capable of totaling more than 60 combined points, while kicker David Akers is enjoying one of his finest seasons.
The Eagles are 5-0 in primetime games this season and will be making their sixth appearance on national television. Vick's redemption song is clearly bringing in all the ratings and has Philadelphia headed to the playoffs as NFC East champions. The talented veteran will have a raucous crowd cheering him on at Lincoln Financial Field and looks to avoid any possible chances of a letdown after what he and his teammates were able to accomplish a week ago. Minnesota has pulled out some stops along the way, but this time the upset train gets derailed.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eagles 31, Vikings 23
12/26 19:39:17 ET
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