The playoff scenarios are crystalizing, and the Eagles have full control of whether they will play into January. With a one-game lead over the Dallas Cowboys with three games to play, the Eagles need at least one win in the next two games to ensure a play-in game when visiting Dallas in Week 17. If the Cowboys lose on Sunday afternoon, an Eagles win in Minnesota will set up an opportunity to clinch the division when Chicago visits Lincoln Financial Field next week.
Don't expect Eagles coach Chip Kelly to worry about those scenarios. What he knows is that the Eagles will help themselves by securing a sixth consecutive win.
And they don't need to worry about eight inches of snow this time.
The Eagles practiced indoors all week, knowing that the game in frigid Minnesota will be played at climate-controlled Mall of America Field. This will be Nick Foles' first pro game in a dome, and Kelly's offense will roll indoors for the first time since he arrived in Philadelphia.
When the Eagles run
LeSean McCoy reclaimed the NFL rushing lead last week, and he'll likely keep it. Minnesota is No. 22 in the NFL in rush defense and has allowed a 100-yard rusher in three of the last five games. The Vikings, however, also have been able to limit Baltimore's Ray Rice and Seattle's Marshawn Lynch, so they're capable of good games. But McCoy is hot, and the offensive line has done a nice job opening holes for him.
The Vikings rely on veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who is strong against the run. Defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison also take their run responsibilities seriously. Linebacker Chad Greenway, a two-time Pro Bowler, has played despite injury this season and will need to chase down McCoy.
It will be interesting to see who gets the second-most carries for the Eagles. Although Bryce Brown is the No. 2 running back, the coaching staff has been impressed with Chris Polk, who scored a touchdown last week. Nick Foles will continue to be a factor in the running game, too. He averaged eight carries during the last four games.
When the Eagles pass
Nick Foles will benefit from ideal conditions. He will also benefit from the Vikings' defensive backfield. Minnesota has the No. 30 pass defense in the NFL, and its secondary can meet in the training room. The Vikings' top three cornerbacks are all on the injury report: Josh Robinson is out, Xavier Rhodes is doubtful, and Chris Cook is questionable. Minnesota will depend on Shaun Prater, who was waived by the Eagles earlier this season. So if you play fantasy football, this would be a good week to use Eagles receivers.
DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper could both have big afternoons. Look for the Eagles to get the slot receiver involved, whether it's Jason Avant or even tight end Zach Ertz. Chicago's Alshon Jeffrey gained 249 receiving yards against Minnesota two weeks ago. The Vikings don't often get beat on big plays - they have allowed only seven passes for more than 40 yards - but they can get worn down. Quarterbacks complete 64.3 percent of their passes against Minnesota's defense. The Vikings are not good at defending the end zone, allowing a league-high 29 passing touchdowns.
Defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison are tied for the team lead with seven sacks. The Vikings also have George Washington High School alumnus Sharrif Floyd, a first-round pick with 21/2 sacks. The secondary could be helped by the return of safety Harrison Smith, who will reportedly be activated from injured reserve after missing two months.
When the Vikings run
This is the hardest matchup to predict because Vikings running backs Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart are both questionable. If Peterson is healthy, the Vikings would have an edge - he's perhaps the finest running back in the game, and led LeSean McCoy in the rushing race before last week's injury. A sprained foot leaves Peterson's status in doubt. Peterson sounded confident he would play, and he has displayed superhuman healing powers before. But if he plays on an injured foot, it's worth wondering whether he's the same player.
Further complicating the situation is that Gerhart, the No. 2 back, is questionable with a hamstring injury. Gerhart is a capable No. 2, averaging 7.9 yards per carry this season. Chip Kelly knows him well, and pointed that out this past week - as a star rusher at Stanford, Gerhart gashed Oregon for 223 yards and three touchdowns in an upset win.
When the Eagles watch the Vikings offense, what sticks out to them is Minnesota's commitment to the run. But if neither running back plays, the Vikings will turn to Matt Asiata, who does not have a carry this season.
Pay attention to the inactives 90 minutes before the game. It will be a factor in whether the Vikings can keep the game competitive.
When the Vikings pass
The Vikings have started three quarterbacks this season, but they have found some momentum with Matt Cassel. The veteran threw for 508 yards and three touchdowns in the last two weeks. He's the only one of Minnesota's three quarterbacks with more touchdowns than interceptions this season.
Helping Cassel is the emergence of rookie Cordarrelle Patterson. The first-round pick had 141 receiving yards last week. He can't be compared yet to Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, receivers the Eagles faced the last two weeks, but he's fast and physical and will be a tough matchup for the Eagles cornerbacks. Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson are also capable veterans, and they're Minnesota' s top two receivers.
The Vikings will miss tight end John Carlson, who had capably filled in for Kyle Rudolph. Carlson is out of Sunday's game with a concussion, so the Vikings are down to their No. 3 tight end, Rhett Ellison.
Minnesota has the No. 22 passing offense in the NFL, while the Eagles have the No. 31 passing defense. The Vikings have allowed 34 sacks, although they did not allow one all of last week. It will help if the Eagles get pressure on Cassel, which has not been a strength of this defense. Trent Cole leads the team with five.
The Eagles allowed touchdowns on a punt return and kick return last week, but that was partly attributable to the snow. They will see dangerous returners this week, and they cannot point to the conditions. Cordarrelle Patterson has returned two kickoffs for scores this season and averages a league-best 33.3 yards per return. Marcus Sherals is one of the league's top punt returners, with a 13.1-yard average and a long of 86 yards for a touchdown. Kicker Blair Walsh is developing into one of the NFL's best kickers. This will be a tough matchup for the Eagles.
The Vikings have home-field advantage, and they have won their last two games at Mall of America Field. The Eagles have been hot on the road, winning five of six. Minnesota has a crowded injury report, while the Eagles are expected to miss only Earl Wolff and Najee Goode. The Eagles are also playing for a postseason bid, while the Vikings are trying to get a win during a season that's already lost.
ZACH BERMAN: EAGLES 35, VIKINGS 19