2009 NFC Wild Card Preview
by Aaron Schatz
Do you like your NFL playoff action complete with historical tales of woe? Then you will love this year's NFC wild card round. Would you like the team that collapsed over the second half of the season and is hosting its first home playoff game since Harry Truman was president? Do you prefer the team that hasn't won a title since 1960 and spent most of the season discovering new ways to blow games? How about the team that has only made it to two conference championships in 43 seasons and only a few months ago was dealing with a franchise quarterback in jail and a head coach who quit on them? By all means, don't forget the team with an all-time 0-4 record in Super Bowls that needed a last-minute field goal to win its last game against a team which willingly played David Carr at quarterback.
Who knows, perhaps one of these teams can make it to Super Bowl XLIII. First, two of them have to advance past this round and move on to play the Giants and Panthers.
For those who may be visiting this site for the first time to read this preview, some explanations for our statistics. DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) breaks down each play of the season and compares it to the NFL average based on situation and opponent. You'll find it explained further here. Since DVOA measures ability to score, a negative DVOA indicates a better defense and worse offense, and a positive DVOA indicates a better offense and worse defense.
Each team is listed with DVOA for offense and defense, total along with rush and pass, and rank among the 32 teams in parentheses. (If the DVOA values are difficult to understand, it is easy to just look at the ranks.) Red zone DVOA is also listed. These numbers are all regular season only.
WEI DVOA is WEIGHTED DVOA, which is based on a formula which drops the value of games early in the season to get a better idea of how teams are playing now (explained here).
SPECIAL TEAMS numbers are different; they represent value in points of extra field position gained compared to NFL average. Field goal rating represents points scored compared to average kicker at same distances. All special teams numbers are adjusted by weather and altitude; the total is then translated into DVOA so it can be compared to offense and defense. Those numbers are explained here.
Each team also gets a chart showing their performance this year, game-by-game, according to total DVOA. In addition to a line showing each game, another line shows the team's trend for the season, using a third-power polynomial trendline. That's fancy talk for "the curve shifts direction once or twice." Note that even though the chart appears in the section for when each team has the ball, it represents total performance, not just offense.
This year, we're going back to the old school for our in-game discussions. You can use these preview threads to discuss things before and then during each game. Just remember to switch over from NFC to AFC when the NFC game is over.
Atlanta at Arizona
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The basic story of this one is pretty simple: The Cardinals have fallen apart over the second half of the season. Since their bye week in Week 7, they have not won a single game against a team outside their own division. It is hard to find a stat where the team hasn't declined since that point. (Okay, there is one: Kurt Warner is taking fewer sacks.) Atlanta had the same bye week. Since then, the Falcons have improved in all the pass-related stats, although run-related stats have faded -- particularly run defense. The Cardinals may have the worst running game in the league, so hey, good luck taking advantage of that. Here's a look at stats for each team from Weeks 1-6 and then Weeks 8-17, along with rank. Stats that declined are in red, and stats that improved are in blue.
|ARI 1-6||Rank||ARI 8-17||Rank||xx||ATL 1-6||Rank||ATL 8-17||Rank|
|Pass Off DVOA||30.2%||5||21.8%||11||xx||28.8%||6||38.5%||3|
|Run Off DVOA||0.0%||15||-22.4%||32||xx||7.1%||8||1.6%||16|
|Pass Def DVOA||13.2%||18||23.3%||24||xx||32.6%||27||2.4%||12|
|Run Def DVOA||-8.5%||9||1.7%||17||xx||-1.7%||16||15.5%||29|
|Special Teams DVOA||0.8%||19||-5.8%||30||xx||3.5%||6||3.5%||9|
You may remember a table from last year's playoff previews, which was then repeated in the Pittsburgh chapter of PFP 2008. It showed the top second half declines in DVOA for teams with ten or more wins. If we expanded that table to make it "top second half declines in DVOA for division champions," the 2008 Cardinals would rank second, behind only the 2007 Steelers.
WHEN THE FALCONS HAVE THE BALL
The phrase "establish the run" is usually meaningless nonsense, but the Atlanta offense shows how the passing game and running game can work together. Yes, Atlanta is more efficient in the passing game, but that efficiency is set up by the fact that the Falcons run more than almost any other team in the NFL. With 491 running back carries, they were second only to Baltimore, and the Falcons are number one if we only count carries in the first half. Atlanta doesn't need to establish the run early in the game to prove that they can run, or even to free things up for the passing game. They've established the run over the course of the season, and that does the trick. Also, unlike some run-first teams, Atlanta doesn't use the phrase "establish the run" as a crutch that means "we're going to run a lot even though our running game sucks."
Against the Cardinals, the Falcons may actually want to pass the ball a little more than usual. The Cardinals' ability to stop the run got weaker during the second half of the season, but at least it stayed around the league average, which makes it a lot better than their ability to stop the pass.
Arizona's decline against the pass in the second half may surprise those who thought that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had been a major upgrade over Eric Green at the starting right cornerback spot. He was an upgrade, but not a major one. In ESPN Numbers Crunching this week, I quoted a stat that Arizona opponents averaged 5.6 yards per pass on the right side (where Roderick Hood usually lines up) but 8.6 yards per pass on the left side (primarily Rodgers-Cromartie and Green). This difference has been smaller since Rodgers-Cromartie entered the starting lineup in Week 9, but it is still there. Since Week 9, Arizona opponents gained 5.8 yards per pass on the right side and 7.8 yards per pass on the left. (I should note that the charting numbers for Rodgers-Cromartie, based on the Arizona games done so far, are better than those for Hood -- 53 percent Success Rate and 5.5 yards allowed per pass for Rodgers-Cromartie, 50 percent Success Rate and 7.0 yards allowed per pass for Hood, and 50 percent Success Rate with a terrible 9.7 yards allowed per pass for Green).
The difference between the two sides may be the reason for Arizona's somewhat odd numbers against opposing number-one receivers. The Cardinals rank 29th in DVOA against number ones, but opponents actually threw to their top receivers less often than the NFL average. (For those curious, I'm counting Amani Toomer as the Giants' number one during the week Plaxico Burress was only thrown one pass because of injury.) Arizona allowed a league-high 13 touchdowns to opposing number one receivers.
The real change in Arizona's pass defense has been the pass rush. In the first six games, the Cardinals had 18 sacks. In the last ten games, they've had only 13 sacks. Quarterback hits show the same change in the pass rush: 25 quarterback hits in the first six games, only 26 in the last ten. We don't have Arizona's final four games charted yet, but right now game charting shows 31 hurries in the first six games and 26 hurries in the six games between Week 8 and Week 13. Arizona plays primarily in a 3-4 alignment and sends five pass rushers on 30 percent of pass plays, which ranks fourth in the NFL. In case you are wondering, Ryan didn't have any trouble with the blitz this year -- he gained 6.6 yards per play against five pass rushers, which is lower than the rest of the time but still above the NFL average, and he torched big blitzes (6+ pass rushers) for ten yards per play.
Arizona's problems against the pass also come out in the numbers against shotgun formations. During the regular season, Atlanta used shotgun a below-average 27 percent of the time, but the Cardinals had the NFL's biggest difference between their defense against shotgun (31st in DVOA, giving up 6.6 yards per play) and their defense against quarterbacks under center (11th in DVOA, giving up 4.9 yards per play). Would going shotgun more often screw up Atlanta's dependence on the run? Perhaps. The Falcons gained an above-average 5.8 yards on draw plays, but the Cardinals were actually very good against draws, allowing just 3.5 yards per play (fourth in the NFL). Draw plays aside, the Cardinals had problems with runs up the middle -- it is their weakest area according to Adjusted Line Yards.
It's interesting to note that even though the Falcons are a run-first team, they don't have a good record using play-action fakes. Atlanta was one of just four teams that averaged at least a half a yard more per play without play-action, compared to when using play-action. (It may not be coincidence that Baltimore is also one of these four teams.)
WHEN THE CARDINALS HAVE THE BALL
The Arizona offense is pretty much the exact opposite of the Atlanta offense. Pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, and then pass some more. Do you think the Philadelphia Eagles like to pass? They've got nothing on the Cardinals. The Cardinals passed on 67 percent of plays this year, four percentage points more than any other team. They passed over half the time when they had the lead in the second half. They passed over half the time when they had the lead by more than a touchdown in the second half.
So, of course, the Cardinals will now face a team whose biggest weakness is the collapse of their run defense in the second half of the season.
In general, when a bad offense plays a bad defense, performance is going to be about average. How did the Cardinals do when they played poor run defenses this year? Well, they still weren't very good. The Rams ranked 31st in run defense DVOA, and the Cardinals played them twice. In the first game, the Cardinals actually gained 179 rushing yards on 31 carries, 5.8 yards per carry -- but there's a bit of an asterisk, as four of their top five runs that day came in the final 20 minutes with a three-score lead. In the second game, the Cardinals only gained 65 yards on 20 carries. Arizona played two other games against teams in the bottom 10 for run defense DVOA, Buffalo and Carolina (yes, really, they were 24th). They gained 124 yards against Buffalo, but it took 33 carries. They gained 51 yards against Carolina on 14 carries, and 30 of those yards were by Anquan Boldin on an end around.
If the Cardinals do feel like running, they need to go around the Falcons defensive line and not right through them. Based on Adjusted Line Yards, the worst direction for Arizona to run -- and the best direction for the Atlanta run defense -- is up the middle.
The Cardinals are going to have to win this one through the air, which is how they've been winning games all year. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin both finished among the top eight wide receivers in DYAR value. That's a tough matchup for Atlanta's cornerbacks. Second-year man Chris Houston does a good job of stopping plays in front of him, but can be burned deep. We have Houston listed with a very high 62 percent Success Rate (ninth among cornerbacks with at least 35 targets charted) but an average 7.4 yards allowed per pass. A couple of the big plays, charters noted that Houston bites on play-action fakes, which would be a bit of a problem except that Arizona play-faked less often than any team in the NFL. The other starting cornerback since Week 7 has been Domonique Foxworth, ex- of the Denver Broncos. Foxworth (60 percent Success Rate, 6.0 yards per pass) was a big improvement over the player who started the first few games, Brent Grimes (45 percent Success Rate, 8.3 yards per pass).
(Note: The original post mistakenly listed Grimes as the main starter opposite Houston, but that has been fixed.)
It will be interesting to watch what happens on third downs. Steve Breaston was one of the top third-down receivers in the NFL, catching 22 of 27 passes and converting for a new set of downs on 16 of those. However, third down is actually the worst down for the Cardinals passing game according to DVOA (12th) and the Falcons ranked tenth in DVOA against the pass on third downs, primarily because that's when the pass rush gets ferocious. Atlanta's ASR on third down was 9.5 percent, fourth in the NFL. Meanwhile, Arizona's ASR increases significantly on third down, from 3.8 percent on first and second down to 6.2 percent on third and fourth down (remember, this is already adjusted for the fact that sacks are generally more common on third down).
Other than benching Grimes for Foxworth, that pass rush is the big reason why the Atlanta pass defense improved in the second half of the season. The big change came when guys other than John Abraham started getting to the quarterback. In the first six games, Abraham had seven sacks, and other Falcons had only three. In the next ten games, Abraham had 9.5 sacks, and other Falcons had 12.5 sacks, plus a "team sack" when JaMarcus Russell dropped the ball without being touched. The Falcons don't blitz very much -- they send more than four pass rushers on only 22 percent of pass plays, which is the lowest figure in the NFC.
Atlanta is one of the worst defenses in the league when it comes to defending passes to tight ends and running backs. That's not the best matchup for the Cardinals, who rarely throw to the tight end, but do watch out for third-down back J.J. Arrington, who was one of the league's better backs in the passing game this year. Heck, maybe you should even watch out for Leonard Pope. The Falcons just got killed this year by those seam routes to tight ends deep in the middle of the field, and they weren't name tight ends. I'll take your two 23-yard passes to Billy Miller and raise that with one 36-yard pass to John Gilmore and one 37-yard pass to Tory Humphrey, who is not the guy who sang "The Humpty Dance." I suppose the Cardinals could try to run these plays with Anquan Boldin, but the Falcons aren't going to try to cover him with their safeties, and besides, Boldin specializes in shorter routes in the middle of the field, not deep beat the safeties stuff.
One reason for optimism among the Cardinals fans: You can't give up on this offense if they start slow. The Cardinals rank 26th in offensive DVOA in the first quarter (with just 5.6 yards per play) and then fourth for the rest of the game (with 6.2 yards per play). And Falcons fans beware if this game stays close into the second half: Arizona's offense ranked second in the NFL during late and close situations (only New Orleans was better) while the Atlanta defense was a poor 29th.
The main difference between these two teams is punt and kickoff coverage. Based on gross value (i.e. assuming average returns), kicker Neil Rackers and punter Ben Graham (who joined the Cardinals at midseason) were both above-average. However, the Cardinals gave up more value on kickoff returns than any team except Kansas City, and more value on punt returns than any teams except Minnesota and Washington. Combined, the Arizona coverage teams gave up an estimated 22 points worth of field position compared to the NFL average. Jerious Norwood, come on down...
As for the Atlanta coverage, you may be wondering why the Falcons rank 12th in net punting when they set a record with only 42 punt return yards allowed. Unfortunately, there were very few punt return yards allowed because Michael Koenen wasn't actually punting the ball very far. His average punt traveled just 40.7 yards, which ranked 30th in the NFL. With all those short punts, it is no wonder only 32 percent of the punts were returned. Only Buffalo and New England had a lower percentage of punts returned -- and those punters averaged over three yards more than Koenen per punt.
It's hard to see a more obvious example of two teams headed in totally different directions. It would be a lot different if Atlanta was facing a team that could run the ball and stop the run, like Minnesota, but if these two teams play like they've been playing over the last few weeks, Atlanta will move on. Remember that switch the Giants hit before last year's playoffs? The Cardinals really need to find that switch. Either that, or they need to find the switch from the last time this franchise made the playoffs, the one that allowed the inferior 1998 Cardinals to upset the Cowboys in the first round.
Philadelphia at Minnesota
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On my appearance earlier this week on the Bill Simmons podcast, I mistakenly said that Minnesota did not have a strong pass defense. That was my memory underestimating them a bit. (See, memory plays tricks on all of us.) The Vikings have a very good pass defense this season. Then again, so do the Eagles. The real difference between these teams is that the Eagles have a much better pass offense.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
No, your eyes do not deceive you. If you look at the Eagles' weekly DVOA performance graph, you will see that we have a 9-6-1 team playing 13 above-average games this season. This is just one of the many unconventional ways we can show you that the Eagles are one of the top teams in football and have had horrible luck this season. On the other hand, they just lost to the Redskins in a must-win game and tied the Cincinnati freakin' Bengals, for crying out loud. This team is a mystery wrapped in an riddle wrapped in Donovan McNabb's ego and Andy Reid's winter jacket, then stuffed in a hoagie and covered with Cheez Whiz.
On the other hand, maybe it isn't so mysterious. The loss to Washington was a surprise, but the loss was bigger in importance than in was when you look at the results on the field. The Eagles came within half a yard of tying that game in the final seconds. The real bad games were the ones against Cincinnati and Baltimore in Weeks 11-12, and if you break down the Eagles into four main components, it is pretty obvious which one blew those two games:
|Philadelphia DVOA by Week||Pass Off||Run Off||Pass Def||Run Def|
What happened in those two games? Perhaps Donovan McNabb was just messed up in the head, but it is also possible that there is a matchup issue here. If so, it is one that favors the Vikings.
The Eagles like to use shotgun formations -- it is one of the big differences between Reid and the other coaches with a similar pedigree, like Jon Gruden and Mike Holmgren. Most teams are better in the shotgun, but for the Eagles, this advantage is even larger than usual. On the other hand, there were 11 defenses that had a better DVOA against shotgun than against standard formations this season. Philadelphia played four of them. Cincinnati and Baltimore were two of them. A third was Pittsburgh, and while the Eagles dominated that game, let's remember that they dominated it with defense -- the offense only scored 15 points. The fourth was St. Louis, and that doesn't tell you much because for the Rams, playing better against shotgun just meant "sucking less."
Guess what? The Vikings excel against the shotgun. They are one of those 11 defenses with a better DVOA against shotgun, and also one of four defenses that actually allowed fewer yards per play against shotgun.
|Shotgun||Not Shotgun||Shotgun Advantage||Pct of Plays
The other matchup issue is the zone blitz. No team zone-blitzes as much as the Eagles do; they are the only team in the NFL that game charters recorded using a zone blitz on more than 10 percent of pass plays. However, Philadelphia's offense was as bad against zone blitzes as the defense was successful using them. The Eagles averaged a pathetic 2.3 yards per play against zone blitzes this season. The team ranks second in frequency of zone blitzes? Cincinnati. Baltimore ranks sixth.
Minnesota doesn't zone-blitz a ton, but the Vikings do rank 12th in frequency of zone blitzes. I'm not sure how much they will use this strategy on Sunday because of the injury to defensive end Ray Edwards. In general, the Vikings seemed to do better when they dropped Edwards into coverage on the zone blitz instead of Jared Allen, but Edwards won't be playing this week and I doubt the Vikings want anything that might possibly end up with Brian Robison covering Brian Westbrook.
Game charting showed a huge difference between Minnesota cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin. The charting numbers show Winfield with 5.5 yards allowed per pass and a 67 percent Success Rate, second among cornerbacks with at least 40 charted passes. (Who's first? Look down a few paragraphs.) Griffin has 9.0 yards allowed per pass and a 44 percent Success Rate, both among the worst numbers for starting cornerbacks. If you prefer league PBP to game charting, I can tell you that Winfield had 56 pass tackles and a 45 percent Stop Rate on those tackles, the best Stop Rate of any cornerback if we include only pass tackles and not passes defensed. Griffin had 57 pass tackles but a Stop Rate of only 21 percent on those tackles. The result could be a huge game for Kevin Curtis, who will likely be covered by Griffin on the left while Winfield has DeSean Jackson over on the right.
The Vikings have a fabulous pass rush this year, second in Adjusted Sack Rate, but the Eagles have had very good pass blocking. If the words "Eagles blocking" still brings up the picture of Winston Justice taking on the Giants during the 2007 season, wipe that image from your memory. The Eagles finished sixth in Adjusted Sack Rate on offense. Third-string right guard Nick Cole has been excellent and, shall we say, "unjust" since replacing the injured Max-Jean Gilles, who in turn replaced the injured starter Shawn Andrews.
We've gone this far without talking about the running game, but perhaps that's appropriate given the offense and defense involved. We know the Eagles prefer to pass, and we know the Vikings are great at stopping the run, particularly if nose tackle Pat Williams is able to play on Sunday. If he can't go -- and that seems to be the latest report -- it will be a problem. It was only two games, but without Williams, Minnesota's Adjusted Line Yards allowed went from 3.41 to 4.51 (adjusted for the quality of the Falcons and Giants running games, of course).
The Eagles had significant struggles on third-and-short for most of the season, but they've straightened things out over the past few weeks, thanks in part to the decision to finally bring in a real live fullback, Kyle Eckel. Actually, the struggles on third-and-short and the improvement over the past few weeks is something that the Eagles share with the Vikings. Through Week 12, Minnesota had converted 52 percent of third (and fourth) downs with 1-3 yards to go, while Philadelphia had converted 51 percent. Since Week 13, Minnesota has converted 85 percent and Philadelphia 74 percent.
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
A strange thing has happened over the past four weeks: Tarvaris Jackson has turned into a pretty darn good quarterback. Since he replaced Gus Frerotte at halftime of the Week 14 win over Detroit, Jackson has completed 65 percent of his passes for 7.2 net yards per pass attempt, with eight touchdowns and only one interception. That performance is worth a 28.7% DVOA rating, which would have ranked fifth in the NFL this season. One of three things is possible:
(a) Tarvaris Jackson fixed his fundamentals and improved his accuracy through hard work after being benched early this season, and is going to defy Football Outsiders projections by becoming one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL from this point forward.
(b) Tarvaris Jackson still kind of sucks, and we really shouldn't read into performances against the winless Lions, the disintegrating Cardinals, and a Giants team that was not necessarily trying.
(c) Something between (a) and (b).
I'm going with (c).
This is one of those places I would love to look at game charting to see the reasons for Jackson's incompletes over the past few weeks. Unfortunately, it just so happens that the charting currently goes through Week 14, so there isn't much on Tarvaris II: The Reckoning. We know that the Eagles send more big blitzes than any other defense (rushing six or more more than 17 percent of the time) and use more zone blitzes than any other defense (the only team using this strategy over 10 percent of the time) but the only numbers we have on Jackson against various types of pass rush come from the first two weeks of the season.
Looking at the conventional play-by-play, one clear difference seems to be the deep throws. In the first two weeks, Jackson completed only 3-of-11 deep passes (16+ yards in the air) although he did have two flagged for defensive pass interference. Overall, that's 8.8 yards per attempt. Over the last three weeks, Jackson has completed 7-of-14 deep passes, plus one DPI, for 19.5 yards per attempt. The small sample size, of course, makes it difficult to tell if this really means anything. Increasing our sample to include any pass that went 10 or more yards in the air shows us that Jackson was 8-for-23 in the first two weeks, but 13-for-25 over the past three. (I'm not including the Lions game because, I mean, come on... it was the Lions.)
The Eagles spent a ton of free agent money on cornerback Asante Samuel, but it’s the other starter, Sheldon Brown, who may have been the best cornerback in football this year (non-PFP cover division). Brown leads all cornerbacks with at least 35 charted passes in both of FO's defensive coverage metrics, averaging just 4.6 yards per pass with a Success Rate of 74 percent. We don’t have Brown down as allowing a single touchdown, at least through Week 14, and he wasn't flagged once all year for illegal contact or pass interference. Brown is usually on the right (offensive left), so he will spend much of the game covering Minnesota's best receiver, Bernard Berrian. Berrian was far, far better than the other Minnesota wide receivers this year. Possession receiver Bobby Wade had a better catch rate, 60 percent to Berrian's 51 percent, but he gained far fewer yards per reception and ended up with a much worse DVOA. Berrian ranked 18th in DVOA among 79 receivers with at least 50 passes; Wade was 70th. (One piece of Berrian's value: He led the league in yards off DPI, so perhaps he can break Brown's flag-less streak.) The other receivers, Sidney Rice and Aundrae Allison, were also below average. Those short sideline routes that Wade runs are the kind that Samuel made a habit of picking off for touchdowns back when he was with the Patriots.
There's one place where the Vikings' passing game hasn't improved in December, and that's protecting the quarterback. The Vikings were 28th in Adjusted Sack Rate this year, and Jackson's ASR was better when he couldn't pass the ball early in the year (5.6 percent) than it was over the past four weeks with him otherwise playing better (8.6 percent). The Eagles ranked fourth in ASR on defense, a pass rush almost as good as the Vikings, and as noted before, Jim Johnson's "Hydra" defense (copyright 2007 FO reader Harris) will send anyone at any time.
What about the running game? Yes, Adrian Peterson is a god among men, at least when he can hold onto the ball. The problem is that he's a bit of a boom-and-bust back (46 percent Success Rate, which is league average) with major butterfingers (nine fumbles, three more than any other running back). In fact, the fumbles and Minnesota's easy schedule are actually enough to knock Peterson's DVOA slightly below 0% despite his 4.85 yards per carry. Doug Farrar this week did a good job of pointing out how much the Eagles' run defense has improved over the last few years: third in DVOA this year, sixth in Adjusted Line Yards. Their weakness is still runs up the middle (just 23rd in ALY) but Peterson's longest runs tend to come around the ends. On the other hand, the Eagles have given up big games this year to some running backs who meet defenders straight-on like Peterson does -- Frank Gore managed 101 yards on 19 carries, Brandon Jacobs 126 yards on 22 carries, and Clinton Portis 145 yards on 29 carries.
Minnesota had the worst special teams in the league according to our numbers, but most of the damage was done before their Week 8 bye. Since Week 9, Minnesota special teams have been roughly league average, which is about where the Eagles have been all season. By the way: When you hear all Saturday night about how clutch Adam Vinatieri is in the playoffs, don't forget about David Akers. Only two kickers since 1995 have had more than two opportunities to tie or win playoff games in the final two minutes or overtime. Vinatieri is 4-for-4: perfect. Akers is 3-for-3: equally perfect. Remember: Small sample size is the color commentator's best friend.
Philadelphia is the better team here, and most of the Eagles' weaknesses are matched by the Vikings. Philadelphia offense struggles in the red zone? Minnesota's is worse. Philly had some troubles on third-and-short? So did Minnesota, and both teams have played better in that situation over the last few weeks. Philadelphia's offense ranks 24th in late and close situations? Well, Minnesota's is 26th. Philadelphia's offense is better at home (11th in DVOA compared to 21st on the road) but Minnesota's offense was actually better on the road (16th in DVOA compared to 27th at home).
Can Adrian Peterson take over a game against the Eagles? Is Tarvaris Jackson's improvement over the last few weeks for real, and will it continue this week? Can matchup issues help the Vikings shut down the Eagles' passing game? There is a pretty good chance that the answer to one of these questions is "yes." The chances that the answer to all three of them is "yes"? Not quite so good. I wouldn't be surprised to to see this game end up closer than DVOA might lead us to think, but the Eagles are likely to eventually win thanks to a big day from Kevin Curtis and the field position advantage that comes from sacks, interceptions, and special teams.