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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Good friends, unlikely starters to face each other in NFC title game

By Judd Zulgad

If things had gone according to plan for the Eagles and Vikings, the focus of the NFC title game on Sunday would have been on the quarterback match-up between Sam Bradford and Carson Wentz.

That story line would have been a juicy one.

Bradford had been the Eagles’ quarterback as recently as 2015 and it appeared the franchise was committed to moving forward with him when he was signed to a two-year, $36 million contract extension in March 2016.

That changed a month later when the Eagles traded multiple draft picks to Cleveland so they could select Wentz with the second-overall pick. A disgruntled Bradford eventually was traded to the Vikings just before the regular season began after Teddy Bridgewater suffered a gruesome knee injury. Both Bradford and Wentz took over as the starters for their respective teams in 2016.

Bradford again began this season as the Vikings’ starter – he had one of the best performances of his career against New Orleans in the opener — and Wentz spent much of the year playing like an MVP. But injuries ended the season for both.

Bradford felt soreness in his twice surgically repaired left knee after that first game, eventually required surgery and was placed on inured reserve. (Bradford did return as the Vikings’ backup quarterback for the playoffs.) Wentz had 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 13 starts before suffering a torn ACL in a victory over the Rams.

So instead of having a matchup between the No. 1-overall pick in the 2010 draft (Bradford) and the second pick in the 2016 draft, we are now going to see a third-round pick in the 2012 draft (Nick Foles) face a guy who wasn’t even selected that same year (Case Keenum).

“I know this is what all of you guys predicted back in the day, a Foles vs. Keenum NFC Championship,” Keenum said Wednesday. “So good job to all of you guys who predicted that.”

The list of people who predicted this, of course, included no one.

A Bradford-Wentz matchup would have been viewed as an opportunity for Bradford to get payback against the team with which he spent one season. But there is no animosity angle when it comes to Foles and Keenum.

Keenum spent part of his press conference Wednesday talking about what a great guy Foles is. “(He’s) one of my best friends,” Keenum said. “A really, really solid guy. Great faith, great family. My wife and his wife are great friends. His entire family is good people.”

Foles and Keenum established their friendship when both were with the then-St. Louis Rams during the 2015 season. Foles had been traded to the Rams by Philadelphia for Bradford in March of 2015. The assumption was he would be the starter but he ended up losing the job to Keenum that November.

Foles was jettisoned by the Rams in July of 2016 after they took Jared Goff with the No. 1-overall pick that spring. Foles spent last season with Kansas City – Chiefs coach Andy Reid was in Philadelphia when Foles was drafted – before returning to Philadelphia on a two-year contract last March.

It was shortly thereafter that the Vikings signed Keenum to a one-year, $2 million contract to serve as Bradford’s backup, while Bridgewater continued his recovery.

Sixteen games and 15 starts into his season, Keenum will arrive in Philadelphia known as the guy who completed the miracle 61-yard winning touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs as time expired last Sunday in the Vikings’ victory over New Orleans in the NFC Divisional playoffs at U.S. Bank Stadium.

That play is the stuff of which folk heroes are made and the expectation is that some team, perhaps the Vikings, soon will sign Keenum to a multi-year, multi-million deal that acknowledges he’s now deserving of a contract that will pay him like a starting quarterback.

His buddy, Foles, isn’t so fortunate.

Foles, who threw 27 touchdowns and two interceptions while playing in 13 games and starting 10 of them for the Eagles in 2013, will be making only his fifth start on Sunday. He threw four touchdowns in his first game after replacing Wentz, but has only one touchdown and two interceptions since.

Foles completed 23 of 30 passes for 246 yards and had a 100.1 passer rating in the Eagles’ 15-10 victory over visiting Atlanta last Saturday in the NFC Divisional playoffs.

“(He) prepares well, extremely talented, big arm and he’s really, really athletic, too,” Keenum said, sounding more like Foles’ agent than adversary. “I know he’s got a lot of confidence, and I’m looking forward to playing against him.”

Keenum said the two friends have talked on occasion during the season. Did the conversation ever turn to the two facing each other? “No, we didn’t mention that,” he said.

Why would they have? For much of the season, it seemed like an improbability. But in Keenum’s case, at least, it’s looking as if there might be no improbabilities when it comes to this season.

The post Zulgad: Good friends, unlikely starters to face each other in NFC title game appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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