It really isn't better to be lucky than good, because luck can change in an instant while ability is considered to be somewhat less fragile. Being lucky and good, however, now there's a combination that is difficult to beat, whether in life or the NFL playoffs.
Every team needs some good fortune to survive and advance during the playoff tests – except the Patriots, of course – and that was never more evident than at the close of Minnesota's 29-24 win over New Orleans that set up the Vikings to play the Eagles for the National Football Conference championship.
Minnesota reached the doorstep of the Super Bowl with what any rational person would call perhaps the luckiest play ever witnessed. Maybe it wasn't The-band-is-on-the-field lucky or Immaculate Reception lucky, but it is in the conversation, particularly given the stakes and the game situation and the sheer improbability of Case Keenum's tossing up a duck that turned into a swan. (And not Lynn, either.)
If luck is the magical flowering of a moment, it still needs good soil or doesn't have a chance. In this case, the Vikings, down to their last gasp with 10 seconds to play, planted the seed with Keenum's high heave to Stefon Diggs. The quarterback gave his team a chance and the receiver did the same thing, but that should have been the end of it. You tackle the kid inbounds, the clock expires, and everyone writes about the incredible final drive to victory engineered by Drew Brees of the Saints.
The lucky part, except for New Orleans, arrived when rookie safety Marcus Williams, given the choice of remaining upright and wrapping up Diggs or taking out the receiver's legs as he returned to earth, did neither. He abandoned all fundamentals, put his head down, and whiffed. Missed the guy entirely and, well, you saw the rest.
Yeah, the Vikings are lucky to be alive. But to be that fortunate, they also had to rebound from an 8-8 season; win 13 games in this regular season, including 11 of their last 12; get home-field advantage over the Saints; and build an early 17-0 lead that put them in position to still have a chance after Brees got hot. Lucky and good.
In the same way, the Eagles had a lot bounce their way Saturday against the Falcons. That doesn't mean the Eagles aren't good. It just means that there's nothing wrong with sprinkling in some luck as well, and the home team had a healthy dose of it against Atlanta. At this time of year, if the football gods appear to be smiling on you, don't turn your back.
Nick Foles, who played just well enough to get the win, threw one pass – the first play from scrimmage – that sailed into a wall of wind and fell about 20 yards short, but the Eagles were awarded pass interference when Torrey Smith tried to fight back through the tide of defenders. Foles threw another, with the wind at his back, that sailed about 10 yards beyond the receiver, but ricocheted off an Atlanta defender into the arms of Smith, and the Eagles were able to kick a field goal right before halftime. Neither of those throws should have helped, but they did.
And it helped when Corey Clement dropped the football near the goal line and it was Foles who fell on it rather than one of the Falcons. That bit of fortune made possible the Eagles' only touchdown of the day. And it helped when Bryan Braman ran into the punter, but the replay was able to detect the slightest tip of the ball on the play. And when this call went their way, and that call was overlooked, and a hundred things that added up.
Like the Vikings, though, the Eagles wouldn't have been in position to be smiled upon in the second week of the playoffs if they hadn't made the playoffs by going from 7-9 to 13-3 in one season and gaining the enormous advantage of playing in the Linc and making their own luck.
If you don't think it mattered that the ground shook and the din sounded like a thousand jet engines when Matt Ryan brought the Falcons to the line on fourth down at the end, you don't know football. There was nothing lucky about that (well, except the part about Jalen Mills' not getting called for interference and the ball going through the hands of Julio Jones). They earned every benefit of the doubt with every play during the season that put them in that position.