PHILADELPHIA -- The best defense in the NFL comes to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday night for the NFC Championship Game. Or at least that is what they’re saying about the Minnesota Vikings.
The overall statistics indicate no defense was as good as the Vikings' this season. Minnesota finished the regular season allowing the fewest yards (275.9) and points (15.8) per game.
The Eagles weren’t far behind. They were fourth in yards (306.5) and fourth in points (18.4). They know what they’re chasing this week.
“As a defensive player, when you have the No. 1 defense coming in, statistically, obviously we know going into this game, whoever’s defense plays better is going to win this game,” Eagles Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “We’ve been preparing. We won’t change nothing that we do. Everybody will go out and be themselves.”
When it comes to this week’s game, in this venue, it shouldn’t be so clear cut that the Vikings have the better defense. The Eagles have allowed 13.0 points per game at home this season, second behind only ... the Vikings.
But Minnesota is not playing this week at U.S. Bank Stadium, where they could host the Super Bowl if they win Sunday. The Vikings allowed 19.0 points per game on the road, compared to 12.5 at home.
So who really has the better defense in the NFC Championship Game?
For this game alone, the defensive advantage might belong to the Eagles. There is expected to be a raucous crowd that will have had a full day to tailgate and prepare for the occasion. That should make life difficult for the Vikings, who will be forced to use silent snap counts and deal with intense crowd noise. The Eagles faithful will undoubtedly be in a frenzy.
Minnesota’s edge is its slight personnel advantage. It has a consistent double-digit sack defensive end in Everson Griffen. It has the more complete linebackers with Anthony Barr and the better of the Kendricks brothers, Eric. (Mychal plays for the Eagles.)
The Vikings also have a shutdown cornerback in Xavier Rhodes and an All-Pro safety in Harrison Smith. These are some of the reasons they have enjoyed tremendous success this season and have the personnel advantage on Sunday.
“From top to bottom, Philly is good, but Minnesota is better defensively, especially at the second and third level,” according to a pro personnel scout with an NFC team.
The Eagles rely heavily on a deep defensive line that has proven to be their foundation for defensive success. Cox is the star, but he’s aided by defensive ends Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Barnett -- all solid players. Timmy Jernigan and Beau Allen are also stout on the interior.
“Our whole front, they make our defense go,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said.
They will be tasked with keeping quarterback Case Keenum in the pocket and slowing down Minnesota’s running game. The Eagles talked all week about those being the keys.
But they also know the Vikings' defense has been receiving much of the hype, and the Eagles are out to prove they’re the best defense and defensive front in the NFL.
“We always have that mindset every week, and we got to go out there and prove it every week," Graham said. "And I think this is a good opportunity for us to prove who the best defensive line and front, you know, because we're playing against the best, you know, and now we got to go out there and show up, and if we say we're the best, we got to go out there and prove it. I think that's our mindset this week is to go out there and prove it and have more intensity than their defense, and then we'll see what happens.”
The atmosphere should help. So, too, should the venue. Given that the NFC Championship Game is being played in Philadelphia, the Eagles are the team with better defensive numbers.
In this regard, home-field advantage is important.
“We just want to have a big performance for ourselves since it’s our home, our crowd,” Jenkins said. “The crowd gets up for the defense. In order to make it a home-field advantage, we have to play well. That is what we fully anticipate doing.”
If the Eagles defense holds up its end of the bargain, there’s a good Philadelphia will be celebrating a Super Bowl berth on Sunday night. May the best defense win.