Two months ago, Carson Wentz was sitting out the rest of the preseason with a fractured rib. The quarterback of the Eagles’ future could do nothing but watch and learn while the incumbent, Sam Bradford, fought to prove he was still the best quarterback on the field.
Now, Bradford has a chance to do that as a part of the opposing team, competing when the games really matter and with Super Bowl aspirations increasing every week.
Bradford’s shocking trade from the Eagles to the Vikings, one nobody could have expected during the summer, has worked out well for both sides. Minnesota has found itself benefiting from the same hunger Bradford had shown during Eagles minicamp during the summer; it’s a signal-caller eager to prove his worth, showing a near-decade’s worth of injuries and inconsistent play are behind him. The potential one-year fill-in for Teddy Bridgewater is building a bridge to success, leaving the Vikings the lone undefeated team in the league.
Then there’s Wentz, positioned on the other side as one of the season’s true freshmen standouts. Dallas’ Dak Prescott may have taken the lead in this year’s Rookie of the Year race but the No. 2 overall pick has still proven himself to be a potential franchise player.
Who would ever believe this matchup would even happen? With two teams critics thought were destined for failure at one point before the start of the season? Their stories of redemption have been a reminder why so many still tune in to watch every Sunday.
Series History: Vikings lead 13-12 (Won last two meetings)
Minnesota at Philadelphia
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 21 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Vikings -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Carson Wentz stay upright?
Last week, after tackle Lane Johnson’s 10-game suspension was upheld the Eagles were forced to start a fifth-round rookie pick on the offensive line. Say the name after me: Ha-la-pou-li-vaa-ti Vai-tai.
Don’t worry if you struggled to pronounce it; if the poor kid keeps playing like he did on Sunday he won’t be around the league for long. Vaitai was burned consistently as protection for Wentz broke down badly against the Redskins. The rookie was sacked five times for 34 yards, hurried repeatedly and completed a season-worst 50 percent of his passes.
The line itself will remain stable Sunday as head coach Doug Pederson said that Vaitai will start again. He’ll hope the group can build chemistry and the showing against the Redskins was just a one-week aberration. But for Wentz, still brimming with unlimited potential, the last two weeks have now been pedestrian: eight sacks, an average of 208.5 passing yards and only two touchdowns. And Minnesota, who leads the NFL in opponent’s passer rating (65.3) and is tied for the NFC lead with 19 sacks, is not the defense you play to get back on track. But that’s the challenge that lies ahead of Philadelphia’s young quarterback and his offensive line.
2. Can the Vikings’ run game get going?
Of course all eyes will be on Sam Bradford and how he’ll do against his former team. But the run game for the Vikings, a rare weakness with Adrian Peterson out, could be the key to buying Bradford time.
The Eagles offer them a chance to get going as their defense allows 104.6 rushing yards per game. That’s just 18th in the NFL and they’re also going to be missing a key member of their defense, tackle Bennie Logan who is unlikely to play because of a groin injury. Expect Matt Asiata, who led the team with 55 rushing yards in Minnesota’s last game two weeks ago, to play a larger role alongside Jerick McKinnon. Asiata had three touchdowns the last time these two teams played in 2013, despite averaging just 1.7 yards per carry.
3. Can the Vikings’ D cause more turnovers?
Minnesota’s defense has been impressive thus far this season. Led by head coach Mike Zimmer and coordinator George Edwards, the Vikings are first in the NFL in scoring defense at 12.6 points per game. This Vikings defense has made a healthy living on takeaways. Their total of 12 (in five games because of the bye) is tied for second in the league behind only the Arizona Cardinals.
Philadelphia as a team has done a good job of protecting the football, and that includes the rookie quarterback. He didn’t throw his first interception until his fourth game and the Eagles’ total of two giveaways and is second only to – surprise! – the Vikings in the league. Even in the worst of circumstances, Philadelphia’s young quarterback hasn’t made many mistakes, something that has carried over to the entire team. The Eagles must maintain this level of ball security against a defense that already has scored two touchdowns.
Philadelphia, after a 3-0 start, has had a saddening dose of reality. Minnesota, off to a 5-0 start, is reaching the lofty expectations it had entering the season before Teddy Bridgewater got hurt. While you should expect Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz to have a better game – he’s too big a talent to be down three weeks straight – the Vikings are just too talented, especially on defense, and will be too much for their young opponents.
Prediction: Minnesota 31, Philadelphia 17
— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NASCARBowles.
(Carson Wentz photo courtesy of www.philadelphiaeagles.com)