Kurt Warner, Y2K.
That is the last time we had a cinderella quarterback of this magnitude assured to play in the Super Bowl.
With Philadelphia’s Nick Foles and Minnesota’s Case Keenum, the NFC has given us two of the most unlikely quarterbacks in conference title history. Foles will become the fourth player to start a conference championship with three or fewer regular-season starts. Keenum meanwhile, should he win Sunday, would be just the third undrafted quarterback to start a Super Bowl.
Keenum and Foles are making about $6 million combined in salaries and bonuses for this season. To put that number in perspective, consider that Foles is the 24th-highest paid quarterback in the NFL, while multiple backups – Matt Cassel, Landry Jones, Christian Hackenberg, Matt Schaub and Ryan Griffin – all earn more than Keenum. Several teams have even employed third-string quarterbacks making north of $2 million annually.
How did they get here?
It took the 29-year-old Keenum unsuccessful stints with both the Houston Texans and St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams – and then a season-ending injury to starter and former Eagle Sam Bradford – to reach this point. And that doesn’t factor Teddy Bridgewater’s delayed rehab, or the fact that Keenum has played so well that Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has no choice but to keep starting the journeyman.
In Keenum’s past nine regular-season starts (eight wins), he has thrown 17 touchdowns with just five interceptions, while posting a healthy 100-plus passer rating in six of those games. And then, you know, there was the whole walk-off, 61-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs against the New Orleans Saints as time expired.
Foles, who turns 29 on Saturday, was cut by the Rams and washed out with the Kansas City Chiefs before being brought back to the Eagles as an insurance policy for emerging superstar Carson Wentz. After not starting a single NFL game in 13 months, he guided Philly to a 13-point comeback win in Week 15 over the New York Giants, while amassing four touchdowns and no picks. Against the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons last week, Foles went 23-of-30 for 246 yards, while orchestrating two field-goal drives in the second half to ultimately secure the win.
Both Foles and Keenum will have their hands full on championship Sunday against a pair of shutdown defenses. The Vikings are elite across the board, as disciplined as they are talented. They are slotted first in total defense, points against and third-down efficiency, while ranking second against the pass. The Eagles aren’t far off, ranking fourth in both total defense and points allowed, as well as third in third-down efficiency, though they slip toward the middle of the league in passing defense.
Of course, while having a so-called franchise quarterback under center is not a requirement for success in pro football, it’s damn near close to one. In fact, the past 14 Super Bowl-winning teams have been anchored four times by Tom Brady, twice by Ben Roethlisberger, two times each by the Manning brothers, and once by the quartet of Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Joe Flacco.
But hey, at least Keenum, who maintains a close friendship with his counterpart Foles, isn’t taking himself or the magnitude of this situation too seriously.
“I know this is what all you guys predicted back in the day, a Foles vs. Keenum NFC championship, so good job to all you guys who predicted that,” the former Houston Cougar joked with reporters.
The only thing the NFC championship really needs now to make it more of a Disney storyline? A flying carpet, a blue genie and a singing candle.
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Jordan Schultz is an NFL, NBA and NCAAB insider/analyst for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at Jordan.Schultz@Oath.com.
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