NFL 2018 Season - Week 16
 

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Different Year
by Dennis Ranahan

If you check your calendar you will note that it is 2018. This is a year that does not seem as fortuitous for the two teams squaring off at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday; the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings.

The Eagles won the Super Bowl last season, and the Vikings were favored over them in the NFC Championship Game played in Philadelphia. Last year, the Vikings had the best defense in the league and the Eagles were trying to overcome the loss of starting quarterback Carson Wentz.

Now it is 2018, and a totally different story for both these teams.

While it could creditably be argued that the Eagles and Vikings were the two best teams in the NFC last year, maybe all of football, these two squads appear more like middle of the league teams this year. Neither the Eagles nor Vikings have a winning record this season, and Minnesota’s defense is no where near the imposing unit it was in 2017.

The Eagles are not looking to do without Wentz, but looking for him to regain his 2017 form in his third start of the season. He won his first start against the Indianapolis Colts, but was tripped up last Sunday in Nashville by the Tennessee Titans.

Both the Vikings and Eagles have one advantage this year, no team in their division races appears capable of running away from the pack. In the NFC North, the Vikings catch Green Bay with a hobbled Aaron Rodgers and only the Chicago Bears lead them, by one game, in the standings.

The NFC East doesn’t look strong this season, offering the Eagles an easier path to a division title. The New York Giants, with only one win, are one of the major disappointments in the league, while both the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins appear vulnerable.

Still, both the Vikings and Eagles need a win on Sunday to harbour any hopes of catching their division front runners this week. With a loss, either team could drop to the cellar in their division race.

While the Eagles ran the table behind Nick Foles last January to pick up their first Super Bowl win, the magic that seemed to bend in Philadelphia’s favor last season has now clearly shifted to other teams. The Eagles are good on defense and hope Wentz can match his 2017 efforts … minus the injury. But, his third pro season may prove very challenging, as often the case with a team that won the Super Bowl after a losing straight-up record the prior season.

The Vikings made wholesale changes to their offense this year, most notably bringing in Kirk Cousins to run their offense. He has looked no better than the guy he replaced, Case Keenum, who is now plying his trade as the Denver Broncos starting quarterback.

While Minnesota could have expected a slow start offensively with a new quarterback and new offensive coordinator, what has happened to their defense is more unexplainable. While it is difficult to be the best offense or defense two years in a row, it was not expected that Minnesota would go from the best to only an average stop unit.

While these two teams met in the NFC Championship Game a year ago, neither appear to be playing at a playoff pace right now.

What that leaves us with is a Minnesota team focussed on gaining some revenge for last season’s playoff loss and an Eagles squad seemingly incapable of stopping them.

Qoxhi Picks: Minnesota Vikings (+3) over Philadelphia Eagles