By GORDON GLANTZ
GORDONVILLE — Let the oddsmakers make their odds.
Let the doubters doubt.
Let the naysayers nay.
Let the Nick Foles haters hate.
Let the national networks do their little human interest features on players from other teams.
They neither have the Eagles pegged nor right where they want them.
They have the Eagles right where they need to be – the No. 1 seed, playing at home in a championship game against the second-seeded Minnesota Vikings.
Chips on shoulders aside, there are several reasons for optimism heading into Sunday night’s game, the outcome of which will determine if the Eagles will go to the third Super Bowl in their history.
Let us count the ways:
In Through the Outdoor: While the forecast does not call for the same kind of bitter cold that served as the backdrop for the 15-10 win against the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons, the game will still be played outside and not in the cushy temperature-controlled environment in which the Vikings played 11 of theirs games, counting playoffs (10-1 inside).
Plus, with kickoff coming at 6:40, there should still be a chill in the air – and enough of a wind to affect kicks and punts and passes that it will be felt, even if it is not to the extreme.
This is not to say the Vikings are ill-equipped to play outside. These are professional athletes, and the No-Dome Syndrome might have been more of an issue with a high-octane team like the Saints, who were defeated last Sunday by the Vikings on a miracle heave-ho from quarterback Case Keenum (1-4 on the road against teams with winning percentages of .666 or better) to Stefon Diggs (getting behind a safety not named Malcolm Jenkins).
The Vikings, like the Eagles, play stifling defense and effective offense. However, it should be noted that their defense is not quite as prone to stifledom on the road, where they give up just under 20 points per game. They pitched one road shutout – in Green Bay – but that was with Brett Hundley quarterbacking the Packers. Take that out, and they are giving up 22 points per game.
For as maligned as Philadelphia fans are for throwing snowballs at Santa Claus around the time of the American Revolution, they will be bringing the noise to back a defense that has been stifling at home.
Wiz With: There was a lot of worried talk – maybe too much, in retrospect – when MVP candidate Carson Wentz went down with a season-ending knee injury. Even though Nick Foles guided them to a crucial victory against the playoff-bound Rams in Los Angeles (playoff spot clinched) and then looked like his 2013 version against the lowly Giants (division clinched), the haters started hating after a forgettable performance in a win over the Raiders (home field advantage clinched) before not getting out of his funk in a cameo against Dallas.
Reality is that football is the ultimate team game, even when you lose your franchise quarterback. While the game plans were purposefully vanilla against the Raiders (a risk that almost backfired) and the Dallas in a glorified preseason game, other players were not on the field as well.
Let’s focus on one in particular: left guard Stefen Wisniewski, who was out of the lineup for the Giants and Raiders games before coming back for a few “timing” snaps against Dallas.
The unsung hero of the line, whose assertion into the starting five instead of Isaac Seumalo seemed to make the difference in the offense, Wisniewski used the bye that Foles helped earn to be back in midseason form against the Falcons. Result? Left tackle Hal Vaitai was more stable, while center Jason Kelce – a finesse pivot who thrives between physical guards like Wisniewski and Brandon Brooks – played outstanding.
Against a stellar Vikings’ front line, featuring a defensive end in Everson Griffen (13 sacks), who will likely big looking to take advantage of Vatai, the presence of a healthy Wisniewski – instead of Seumalo or Chance Warmack – is not as sexy to talk about as a receiver-corner showdown, but it’s vital. Games are still won and lost upfront. That’s why these two teams are still playing.
Second Helping: In many ways, if you break it down, last week’s meeting with the Falcons was more daunting, and it was more understandable that the Eagles were underdogs. Atlanta was the defending NFC champions and really made blowing a Super Bowl into an art form. It was a team that had been there, with something to prove, and had the hot hand. Conversely, the Eagles were loaded with players in their first NFL playoff game. Combine that with the layoff, and it could have spelled doom. Instead, the Falcons scored all 10 of their points off turnovers (a field goal after a Jay Ajayi fumble and their only touchdown following a fluke where a “poison” punt seemed intent on ricocheting of every guy in a green uniform). With that first experience in the books, and all the rust shaken off, the Eagles will go in relatively healthy and raring to go.
Celluloid Heroes and Zeroes: The Eagles have likely been scouting the Vikings for a while now, and vice-versa, but they couldn’t ask for a better game film to look at than last week’s miracle win against New Orleans. They get to study the Vikings (two of their losses outside) looking flawless in the first, looking flawed in the second as they blew their seemingly insurmountable lead, only to reclaim it on a play that will not only never happen again for a long time, but might have them in a psychological mode where the way they won syphoned a lot of gas in the tank. The emotional needle could be close to E on Sunday. The Vikings are talking about the walk-off touchdown more than they are the Eagles. It’s not a knock on the talent level, as nobody gets this far without a lot of it, but it is still a game of emotion. The Eagles’ win over the Falcons was a more businesslike win in a defensive slugfest.
History is Our Story: As mentioned earlier, as the No. 1 seed at home, the Eagles are on the right side of a 28-12 record. They are also 4-0 as home underdogs. In their history, they are 3-0 against the Vikings in the playoffs. Most notable are home wins in 1981 (1980 postseason) and 2005 (2004 postseason), which ended with the Eagles in the Super Bowl. In 2005, they beat the Vikings (27-14) and then the Falcons. Will it be the inverse order this time around? The oddsmakers, naysayers, self-proclaimed experts and Nick Foles haters all say no. But a lot of signs point the other way as well.
This analysis originally appeared at http://www.phillyphanatics.com