The Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings meet in Minneapolis on Sunday in a matchup of 3-2 teams that still have hopes of contending in the NFC. After a sluggish start, the Eagles have posted back-to-back victories over the Packers and Jets and hope to extend their streak on the road. The Vikings picked up their first road win of the season last week against the Giants and return home where they are 2-0 with convincing victories over the Falcons and Raiders.
This marks the third straight season these two teams have met. The first of these encounters was in the NFC Championship Game during the 2017 season. Philadelphia won 38-7 at home and then went on to defeat New England in Super Bowl LII. Minnesota got some payback last season, edging the Eagles 23-21 in Minneapolis in Week 5. Carson Wentz and Kirk Cousins each threw for more than 300 yards in that game.
Philadelphia at Minnesota
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 13 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Minnesota -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Which Eagles defense shows up?
Philadelphia's defense has been a tale of two stories thus far. Against the rush, the Eagles are No. 1 in the NFL, holding teams to just 63 yards per game. That could be tested against Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, who is second in the league in rushing yards (542) and is averaging nearly six yards per carry. On the flip side, Philadelphia's pass defense has been suspect (271.2 ypg, 27th) as injuries have once again impacted that side of the ball. The Eagles' makeshift secondary could be in for a long day against Minnesota's talented wide receiver duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, especially considering quarterback Kirk Cousins is coming off of his best game of the season.
The key for Philadelphia is if the front four can generate enough pressure to force Cousins into mistakes or will Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz have to send five or more pass rushers to get pressure on him. The blitz could be effective but it also opens up the potential for big plays through the air with fewer defenders available to cover the Vikings' pass catchers.
2. Will Philadelphia stay grounded?
One of the keys to the Eagles' current two-game winning streak has been running the ball. Philadelphia has totaled 260 yards on the ground in the last two games alone. Jordan Howard has been at the center of this production. After averaging less than four yards per carry in his first three games, Howard went for nearly six per rush two weeks ago vs. Green Bay and has four total touchdowns (three rushing) in his last two games. The Eagles will need to stay balanced on offense, as an effective running game not only opens head coach Doug Pederson's playbook even more, it helps take pressure off of quarterback Carson Wentz, who has been inconsistent through the first five games.
3. Minnesota's defense could steal the show
Running or throwing the ball against this Vikings defense is easier said than done. Minnesota is once again among the best units in the NFL, as the Vikings rank in the top 10 in all four major categories. They are giving up just 14.6 points per game, have collected 15 sacks, and have recorded seven takeaways over the first five games. Pro Bowl defensive end Danielle Hunter is among the league leaders with five sacks while his partner in crime, Everson Griffen, is not too far behind (3.0). They are two reasons why Minnesota boasts one of the top defensive lines and will be a handful for Philadelphia's offensive line. But it doesn't let up in the back seven. Anthony Barr is a top-notch linebacker and safety Harrison Smith patrols center field with the best of them. Wentz' ball security and decision-making will be crucial if the Eagles want to have any success moving the ball against this defense.
Both Philadelphia and Minnesota have defensive lines that can get after the opposing quarterback. Both have talented running backs and wide receivers. The Vikings have the advantage in the secondary but the Eagles have the better quarterback. Simply put, Kirk Cousins feasts on bad teams and struggles when he plays a tougher opponent. Philadelphia not only fits that bill, but the Eagles also may be hitting their stride after a turbulent first three weeks. This game will come down to the final moments, with the visitors prevailing by the smallest of margins against a team they've edged before.
Prediction: Eagles 24, Vikings 23
— Written by Nick Kayal, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network as a college football and NFL writer. Nick is a Morning Show Host in Nashville on 102.5 The Game. Follow him on Twitter @NickKayal.