The road to get here was filled with unexpected challenges for both teams, but in the end, the No. 1 seed Philadelphia Eagles and the No. 2 seed Minnesota Vikings advanced to the NFC title game. 

Both teams are using players that began the season as their backup quarterback under center. Both are using primary running backs that did not begin the season as starters. Both have excellent defenses against both the run and the pass and both have creative, confounding offenses that found much more success during the regular season than anyone expected coming in. 

On the line on Sunday is a trip to Super Bowl LII. On Tuesday, my colleague Ryan Wilson detailed how the Vikings can become the first team to play in a Super Bowl held in their home stadium. Below, I'll dive into how the Eagles can play spoiler and ruin Minnesota's plans. 

How to Watch

Who: Vikings vs. Eagles
Where: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
When: Sunday, Jan. 21, 6:40 p.m. ET
TV: Fox

Pressure Case Keenum into mistakes

Without Carson Wentz on the field, the greatest strength the Eagles have is their defensive line. Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Tim Jernigan, Derek Barnett, Chris Long and Beau Allen comprise one of the deepest and most versatile defensive fronts in the NFL. The Eagles are stout against both the run and the pass. They have power rushers and they have speed rushers. They have players that operate only inside or only on the edge, and they have players that can move all over the formation. 

The biggest thing that group brings is the ability to generate sacks, hits, and hurries without extra help from the linebackers or defensive backs. The platonic ideal for a defense is being able to pressure the QB without having to resort to the blitz, and the Eagles can do it better than almost anyone. 

Philadelphia had a 41.5 percent pressure rate this season, per Pro Football Focus. That's a considerably above-average figure -- the league as a whole got pressure on 34.7 percent of opponent drop backs during the regular season. What's most impressive about Philly's pass rush, though, was that they generated pressure on 38.3 percent of snaps when sending only four rushers after the quarterback. 

Bad news for the Vikings: Case Keenum was among the most heavily-pressured quarterbacks in the NFL this season. Among 29 qualified passers, Keenum had the third-highest rate of pressure at 39.3 percent. Like almost every quarterback in the league, Keenum also performed considerably worse when under pressure than when throwing from a clean pocket. 

Pro Football Focus

We saw last week how pressure could potentially force Keenum into uncomfortable throws as well. He completed only 3 of 11 passes under pressure against the Saints, per PFF, and those throws yielded just 42 yards and also included his terrible interception. 

Conversely, he was 22 of 29 for 276 yards and a touchdown when throwing from a clean pocket. That's a massive differential, and the Eagles need to make sure they put him in similar positions. 

Control the clock with the run

The Vikings have lost three games this season. They lost to the Steelers in Week 2, the Lions in Week 4, and the Panthers in Week 14. Here are the time of possession figures for the Vikings' opponent in each of those games:

  • Steelers: 34:22
  • Lions: 36:27
  • Panthers: 31:18

Those three teams all attempted to run the ball at least 30 times, and they combined to average a run-pass split of almost exactly 50-50. The Vikings have one of the NFL's best run defenses (fifth in yards per carry allowed, fifth in run defense DVOA) because, like the Eagles, they have an excellent defensive front; but they also have arguably the fastest linebacker corps in the NFL. It's incredibly tough to control the game against them on the ground. 

But it's even tougher to control the game against them through the air, and for the Eagles, the current strength of their offense is unquestionably the Jay Ajayi-led running game ahead of the Nick Foles-led passing game. Foles is one of the most heavily affected-by-pressure passers in the NFL, and asking him to drop back against the Vikings' terrific pass rush and sling the ball all over the field against their star-studded secondary is not a winning strategy. 

Instead, leaning on Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement is a better idea. 

The Eagles did not have too much success running the ball last week against the Falcons -- they averaged just 3 yards per carry, and that included two carries for 20 yards by Nelson Agholor. They stayed committed to the run despite that apparent lack of success, though, running the ball 32 times. As a result, they out-possessed the Falcons 32:06 to 27:54. They'll need a similar or better time of possession advantage against the Vikings in order to ensure the game is played in the teens or 20s and not the 30s. 

Minimize Foles' risk

While leaning on the running game is the best option for the Eagles' offense, Foles will surely need to be an important part of the game plan. You can't win in the NFL in 2018 without making plays in the passing game, after all. The Eagles would do well to make Foles' job as simple as possible against a fast and aggressive Minnesota defense. If that means half-field reads, so be it. If that means an over-abundance of short, quick passes, that's fine, too. 

The one thing Foles really needs to be sure of is that he doesn't turn the ball over. The Eagles are "underdogs" in this game by the point spread, but they have some built-in advantages playing at home, outdoors, and with a strong defense of their own. They don't necessarily have to take a ton of chances to come away with a win -- even against an offense as good as the Vikings'. Instead, a conservative game-plan centered around not making mistakes, or even better, using what the Vikings do defensively against them, is more advisable. 

Run-pass option plays are a huge part of the Philadelphia offense, and Foles has experience with those from his time playing for both Andy Reid and Chip Kelly. Asking him to read a linebacker or safety and either hand it off or throw a quick pop pass based on that player's post-snap reaction is a good way to let him gain yards quickly with minimal risk. Screens could also work well against this Minnesota defense, though they're likely to be more successful when thrown to running backs or tight ends than wide receivers on the perimeter, because the Vikes' defensive backs are very good at making tackles on quick throws to the outside. 

All of these types of throws are low-risk, and even if the gain is only a few yards, that keeps the chains moving and avoids the possibility of a turnover.