NFL Playoffs 2018: The wild, intertwining story of Nick Foles and Case Keenum

It is entirely possible Case Keenum is a real-life Simba. Having nearly slipped through Rafiki's hands (falling in the draft despite a great pedigree), the Vikings quarterback took a circuitous route through the early portion of his NFL career, spending too much time with Jeff Fisher (Poomba?) before eventually landing in a spot where the situation and his skill-set allow him to thrive as the king of his domain. 

Or not. At the very least, it's a terrible segue to talk about the NFL "Circle of Life" situation unfolding between Keenum and Eagles  quarterback Nick Foles

The NFL can be incestuous, sure, so it should never be a surprise when paths cross. Did anyone catch former Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden calling a Bucs-Falcons game while the guy who replaced him, Raheem Morris, spent his time as defensive coordinator for Dan Quinn, who replaced Mike Smith, who was the defensive coordinator for the Buccaneers?

The Keenum-Foles connection involves more people and it's even more amazing and wildly intertwined. 

The Rams run

When he left Houston, Case Keenum was -- and still is -- the all-time leader in NCAA career passing yards. That didn't help him much as he went unchosen in the 2012 NFL Draft. He would sign with the Texans and eventually start eight games for them in the 2013 season (losing all of them). He would be waived in the offseason, sign with the Rams, get waived by the Rams and then sign with the Texans again before the 2014 season.

Foles was in the same draft, selected in the third round by the Philadelphia Eagles and Andy Reid. Foles would set the NFL record for single-season touchdown-to-interception ratio (27:2, later broken by Tom Brady) in 2013 and lead Philly to the playoffs under Chip Kelly, before regression struck during the 2014 season.

The 2014 season was an improvement for Keenum, who won both of his starts with the Texans.

But on March 11, 2015, Keenum was traded from the Texans to the Rams, for his second stint with Jeff Fisher, who acquired Keenum exactly one day after he shipped Sam Bradford to Philadelphia in exchange for ... Nick Foles. 

The investment in Foles gave him a leg up on becoming the starter and he would hold that title until mid-November when Fisher benched him for Keenum. Do not let history forget: Fisher claimed he turned down a first-round pick to get Foles back instead.

The two would team up together in 2015 to help etch Fisher's name in the history books. The 7-9 season they authored with the Rams made Fisher synonymous with the numbers after he declared during the team's 2016 "Hard Knocks" appearance he was sick of the "7-9 bulls--t" and would not be going "f---ing 7-9 or 8-8." (The Rams went 4-12 and Fisher was fired.) 

At the 2016 NFL combine, Fisher promised Keenum would be the starter in 2016 with Foles having a "chance to compete." No one really believed him because he did the exact same thing in 2015 with Bradford before trading him. 

Sure enough, the Rams would package a bunch of picks to trade up and draft Jared Goff and then later release Foles. Yes, Jeff Fisher employed the starting quarterbacks for the top three NFC seeds on a single team -- one that won four games -- at one point in time before the 2016 season. It boggles the mind.

Meanwhile, the Eagles were busy collecting quarterbacks too. Having already traded for Bradford, the Eagles got really aggressive and traded up in the draft as welll, securing the No. 2 pick, which they would use on Carson Wentz

Foles, a free agent, signed with the Chiefs on a two-year deal that featured a Kansas City option in the second year. (If you want to go down a different rabbit hole, think about what would have happened if Foles signed with the Cowboys, the other team he was considering, and takes over for Tony Romo instead of Dak Prescott in 2016.)

Both Foles and Keenum looked destined to be backups for the foreseeable future. Then one horrific injury would change everything.

The Bridgewater butterfly effect

Teddy Bridgewater was coming off an impressive second season, throwing for 3,200 yards and leading the Vikings to an 11-5 record, a division title and a brutal 10-9 home playoff loss (the Blair Walsh game). And then, before the 2016 season began, Bridgewater suffered a gruesome knee injury in training camp that some believed could be career ending. The Vikings were in a horrible spot -- they had a promising young defense, a division title to defend and no quarterback. 

It was Rick Spielman's turn to get aggressive, and he dealt a first-round pick to the Eagles in exchange for Bradford. The Eagles had sworn up and down they would be letting Wentz redshirt for a year while Bradford played, but the opportunity to recoup a first-rounder was too much for Howie Roseman to turn down.

Bradford would, surprisingly, play all 16 games in 2016. Keenum would get benched for Goff. Foles saw action in one game when Alex Smith went down with a concussion. 

The following offseason, the Chiefs declined Foles' option and he signed with the Eagles. Keenum signed a deal with the Vikings to back up Bradford, with Bridgewater's status for 2017 uncertain. 

Which leads us to the current season -- Bradford lit up the Saints, who Keenum just beat in the playoffs, in Week 1, sparking wild ideas about what the Vikings offense could do with him at full health and maximum efficiency. They looked like, well, a Super Bowl team. Then Bradford's knee flared up and Keenum was thrust into the starting role, a gig the Vikings never really gave him on a permanent basis. (It's his now, by the way.)

Foles would quietly sit behind Wentz, who put together an MVP-caliber season, right up until he injured his knee playing against Goff and the Rams, ending his season and forcing Foles into the starting quarterback role for the Eagles. 

Two divisional round playoff wins later, here we are. 

Feel the flow, it's circular 

So if you're scoring at home: Nick Foles and Case Keenum entered in the NFL in the same year and landed on the same team after Foles was traded for Sam Bradford. Foles was benched for Keenum, who was benched for Jared Goff who was drafted one pick ahead of Carson Wentz, who was the reason the Eagles traded Bradford to the Vikings. Bradford would later get hurt, allowing Keenum to start. Wentz would later get hurt -- playing against Goff -- allowing Foles to start.

And on Sunday, when the Eagles host the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game, Foles and Keenum will square off. 

Neither guy was supposed to be here. The Keenum path, when you see it in visual form, is stunning. 

Foles admitted this year he DID almost retire, having lost his love for the game of football. He went from Chip Kelly promising he would start for the Eagles for the "next 1,000 years" to being cast off by Fisher and the Rams. That's a wild pendulum ride.

You could forgive either guy for giving up before now. Instead one of them is headed to Super Bowl. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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