Four will become two this Sunday as the AFC and NFC Championship games decide the participants for Super Bowl LII.
In the NFC, the Minnesota Vikings travel to Philadelphia to face the Eagles, with quarterback Case Keenum hoping Sunday's game will be less dramatic but equally as fulfilling as their historic last-gasp victory over the New Orleans Saints in the Divisional round.
The Eagles will be looking to spoil the party and deny the Vikings a Super Bowl game at their U.S. Bank Stadium home. Philadephia are also out to prove that they can go all the way without their MVP calibre quarterback Carson Wentz, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in December's victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
The battle of two of the most well-rounded teams in the NFL will be pulsating. Here is where the game at Lincoln Financial Field will be won and lost...
If the Vikings have a weakness, it is their offensive line. While only giving up 27 sacks during the regular season, Minnesota's solid running game and Keenum's ability to escape the pocket have masked the amount of pressure they have surrendered.
The Eagles boast one of the best front sevens in the league, led by star defensive lineman Brandon Graham. Philadelphia's 38 sacks (tied 15th-most in the NFL) in the regular season do not tell the whole story as their constant pressure has forced quarterbacks into poor decisions. If Philadelphia can turn up the heat on Keenum, they may expose the Vikings' signal-caller.
The same is true of the Vikings and their ability to get pressure on Nick Foles. Their complex blitzes led to an overwhelming number of QB hits - only six players managed more than defensive end Everson Griffen's 26 in the regular season.
If the front seven of Minnesota can get to Foles, their secondary, led by dominant safety Harrison Smith, has what it takes to create turnovers and set their offense up with favourable field position.
ESTABLISHING THE RUN
This game features the regular-season's top two defenses against the run. Philadelphia allowed a league-low average of 79.2 yards against the run, with the Vikings not far behind with an average of only 83.6 yards. Whoever can establish the ground game better will stand the best chance of punching their ticket to the Super Bowl.
Philadelphia found it tough to get going on the ground against the Atlanta Falcons in their Divisional matchup with the backfield trio of Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement rushing for just 78 yards between them.
Minnesota found it equally difficult to get any ground attack going. The duo of Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon totalled only 84 rushing yards, with Murray averaging a meagre 2.6 yards per carry against New Orleans.
Whoever can get their ground game going quicker can take the pressure off their quarterback, both of whom are facing formidable defenses.
These are two of the best-coached teams in the entire league.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur have done outstanding work getting Keenum up to speed after losing starting quarterback Sam Bradford early in the campaign.
Rookie running back Dalvin Cook looked a star in the making until he tore his anterior cruciate ligament, but his absence has been negated by the solid form of Murray and Jerrick McKinnon and the outstanding play of former undrafted free agent wide receiver Adam Thielen, who has delivered All-Pro performances this season. The impact of such masterful coaching cannot be understated
For the Eagles, Wentz is an MVP candidate, but Philadelphia still managed to win two from three with Foles under center to preserve their number one seeding. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor is making big plays on a consistent basis and Alshon Jeffery is revitalised - his matchup with All-Pro cornerback Xavier Rhodes is certainly one to watch.
Both Zimmer and the Eagles' Doug Pederson will have to formulate a plan to help their quarterbacks settle. The pair have combined for just three playoff starts - and both are bound to be nervous in the early going.
Whichever coach can calm their man quickest, while also making the right decisions in critical moments, will give their side the best chance of victory on Championship Sunday.
19 de febrero 2018
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