As a Defender of NFL Rivalries…
Even before the frenzy that was the beginning of free agency, the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles were two of the best teams in the NFC. They aren’t in the same division, but they definitely dislike one another regardless. It’s hard, as a Vikings fan, to write from the point of view of the team that was recently dispatched with little effort by the team that you’re beginning to hate – to be completely honest. But just because something is painful doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk about it, especially now since I feel like this year we’re a lot more likely to be able to overcome the demons from last season (those horrible, drunken and winged demons). So, let’s take a quick look at the new budding rivalry that is the Vikings/Eagles, where it came from and where it’s going. It’s sort of strange because before all the shenanigans broke out, the two teams seemed like kindred spirits… two storied franchises that both had come so close to winning the Super Bowl, but had yet to get over that hump and win the big game.
The Vikings and Eagles both had hot starts to their 2016s, with both entering their bye weeks undefeated (the Eagles at 3-0 and the Vikings at 5-0). After those byes, though, both teams fell apart. But from those decent-to-good starts you couldn’t help but feel like there was something special there (especially with the Eagles, whose rookie quarterback started out that season looking like a veteran). The Vikings’ start felt unsustainable because of the horrid situation at offensive line. Still, both teams improved in the off-season and had amazing starts to their 2017 seasons – as the number one and two seeds for most of the season. The Vikings had early injuries at the quarterback position, allowing for their backup Case Keenum to step in and get accustomed to the offense early in the season. He came out guns blazing and seemed to level off later in the year, which makes you wonder what the Vikings could’ve accomplished if Keenum perhaps had come in late in the year – like the person I’m about to compare him to in Nick Foles (would’ve given defensive coordinators less tape to analyze). The Eagles’ budding superstar quarterback Carson Wentz tore his ACL late in the season and was replaced by Nick Foles over the course of the last three games, games in which Foles and the Eagles seemed to struggle mightily. The Vikings overtook the Eagles for one week late in the season as the number one seed, something that also could’ve come in handy during the playoffs as the Vikings ended up falling back to the two seed a week later, making them destined to travel to Philadelphia for the NFC Championship game to face the Foles-led Eagles in January of this year. The Eagles entered that game as underdogs, with the Vikings and their fans thinking that the Foles-led Eagles had little chance to best the Keenum-led Vikings.
When the Vikings entered the playoffs the thought was that they would have home-field advantage as the number two seed, as the Super Bowl was obviously held in Minneapolis this year and because no one thought that this Eagles team, the team that limped into the playoffs with Foles at the helm, would win a single playoff game let alone multiple playoff games. Obviously things must’ve started to click during the bye week that both the Eagles and Vikings had, as the Eagles won a defensive battle over the Falcons at home, then bested the Vikings at home, partially thanks to about as perfect of a game as you could have as a quarterback in the NFL (especially considering the stage). Foles ended up with nearly 80% completions on 33 attempts, with three touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 141.4 rating (that’s close to perfect (with perfect being 158.3), which makes you wonder what else he could’ve done to get there). The Eagles also had two early turnovers that seemed to change the tide of the game, especially after the Vikings scored a touchdown on their first drive and their defense forced the Eagles to punt on their first drive. The rest of the game is mostly a haze for most Vikings fans who were either drinking themselves into a “Not Again!” type of stupor or using whatever household cleaners they could find to do the same in lieu of actual alcohol. The Vikings were seemingly outclassed on every level, from the players on the field to the coaches on the sidelines, the only part of the organization that wasn’t outclassed was the fan base, which we’ll get into.
The argument that most people can’t disagree with is essentially how the Vikings would’ve been able to beat the Wentz lead Eagles with the exact same players from last year, this year. While on WCCO’s Sports Tonight last Sunday I defined that as the definition of insanity. Sure, in the NFL it’s hard to beat a good team like the Vikings everytime, but the Eagles so thoroughly beat the Vikes that it’d be hard to argue that they were even in the same stratosphere as the Eagles in that game and that the Vikings would stand any chance beating the Eagles this year with the same personnel on the field from last season (Namely, with Case Keenum at quarterback). That’s not just on the field, but also on the sideline, where the coaching staff also seemed to be outcoached by Doug Pederson and company, namely in terms of the offense and how it seemed to move the ball down the field at will (both against the Vikings and against the Patriots in the Super Bowl). That’s probably what lead the Vikings to hire former Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo as their offensive coordinator over Kevin Stefanski (current Vikings quarterbacks coach), with the assumption that DeFilippo will probably end up as a head coach after this season as well (which is why they blocked Stefanski from interviewing with the New York Giants, as he’ll end up the offensive coordinator in 2019 and beyond). I feel a lot more comfortable with NFC East veterans Kirk Cousins and DeFilippo leading the Vikings than I would’ve felt with Case Keenum and Stefanski, to be fair. Add Sheldon Richardson to that mix, making the Vikings front on defense even more stout than they were last season, which means that a defensive unit that seemed like it couldn’t improve much on paper, did just that. With the implied and continued improvement of Trae Waynes and (hopefully) Mackenzie Alexander and the upcoming draft, it’s hard not to get excited about the Vikings as a team and in terms of what they’ll be able to do against the Eagles this season.
The same goes for the Eagles, though (with the “Vikings” in place of the “Eagles” in that scenario). Unlike the Vikings though, they were at risk of losing a lot of the players that got them where they ended up in 2017. The Eagles had a whopping 13 players set to hit free agency this off-season. All but one of those players have signed elsewhere, which could provide the Vikings an opportunity to surpass them next season. That doesn’t mean that the Eagles just sat around while their Super Bowl team fell apart, it’s actually the opposite. They traded for one of the best defensive ends in the league in Michael Bennet (who might be in trouble for something that sounds more like politics than anything else as he was charged with assaulting the elderly for knocking over an older woman while he was trying to make his way onto the field), bolstering a front that gave the Vikings fits in the NFC Championship. That wasn’t the only trade for the Eagles, as they also traded for now-former Panthers corner Daryl Worley as well, they also were able to unload Torrey Smith in that move which was worth mentioning as well. They re-signed their outside linebacker in Nigel Bradham, signed Broncos linebacker Corey Nelson, signed Lions defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (which with Bennett means.. Christ), added Ravens receiver Mike Wallace (someone I defended during his time here) to replace Smith and add a speedster on a no-risk contract. Again, Carson Wentz will be back as well, although they did lose LaGarrette Blount to free agency and the Lions, which isn’t a big deal as he was expendable.
All of those moves mean that the Eagles actually, gulp, improved this off-season. Something that it appears that the Los Angeles Rams did as well. That means that the Vikings couldn’t just rest on their laurels as teams are now aggressively targeting free agency in the hopes that they’ll be able to put the best team(s) possible on the field. Free agency was nuts this year, something that it hadn’t been in years past, with a lot more trades than the NFL was used to. The Vikings didn’t engage in a lot of trades, outside of the move they made for their backup quarterback in Trevor Siemian. The biggest move they made, though, was obviously the Kirk Cousins move, something that improved the Vikings Super Bowl betting odds from 16-1 to 12-1. The Eagles are 6-1, though, which means they have twice the odds the Vikings do. Sigh. That means that they have the high ground in the rivalry that has had become palpable. From the fact that the Eagles fans were especially rough on Vikings fans before the NFC Championship game (with riot police coming in before the game and both full and opened beers being tossed at Vikings fans both outside and inside the stadium) to the drubbing they gave the Vikings in the NFC Championship, it sounds like we have a “This Time it’s Personal” situation coming up.
And that we do. Despite the fact that the Vikings fans were a lot nicer to Eagles fans when they ventured to Minneapolis for the Super Bowl. There were reports of Eagles fans raising hell in downtown Minneapolis, but for the most part they were far too happy after the Eagles won to cause any real problems downtown (and they didn’t have the numbers that they did in Philly, where people still managed to climb poles despite the butter and industrial lubrication that the police literally applied to them to stop them from doing so). That budding rivalry has extended to the marketing/public relations arm of the Vikings and Eagles, as the Vikings stated that wearing green was “Never an option” on Twitter in the lead up to St. Patrick’s Day.
Wearing green is never an option no matter what day it is.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) March 17, 2018
The Eagles replied with:
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) March 17, 2018
Despite the fact that the Vikings Tweet may have actually about the Packers (Which you’d think if that were the case, they would’ve included an (and Yellow) to their Tweet), which means that the Eagles might’ve jumped into a fight that wasn’t about them and ended up taking things way too far. If that isn’t the best definition of the people of Philadelphia ever, I don’t know what would be. Now, that’s also the definition of a rivalry being born and while this isn’t exactly breaking news, it is worth mentioning as the Vikings are playing the Eagles this season and it’s looking like they’ll be playing them in the first game of the season, in Philadelphia. That means that we have a few months to prepare for our trip to Philly, so if anyone has any sort of tips for the best way to become immune to large cans of beer, that’d be super helpful to everyone who is stupid enough to actually attend that game in Vikings colors/gear. Outside of that, if you’re going to be in Philadelphia for that game, bring some bread, as you’ll be able to rub them on the poles surrounding Lincoln Financial Field and make a disgusting butter and industrial lubrication sandwich! From what I can tell, that seems to be the diet of every pregnant woman in Philly post-1940, as nothing else can explain the behavior of the mostly male groups of fans that will literally beat you for wearing the wrong colors while also thinking that every person of color is in a gang.
Long story short, stay classy, Philly and SKOL Vikes.