This weekend is the conference championship round of the NFL playoffs, where the top two teams from the AFC and NFC square off with a Super Bowl bid on the line. In the AFC Championship game, which pits the Jacksonville Jaguars against the New England Patriots, it's pretty clear which club Maryland fans should support:
Of the four teams left in the playoffs, the Patriots are the only one that doesn’t have a former Maryland player on their roster, in case you needed another reason to root against them
— Terps Watch (@TerpsWatch) January 15, 2018
However, the NFC Championship game isn't as clear-cut, because both the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings have a former Terp on their roster. Torrey Smith and Stefon Diggs were two of the best receivers to ever come through College Park, and they've had great professional careers so far. But only one of them can make it to this year's Super Bowl.
Luckily, we at Terps Watch want to settle the debate for our fellow Maryland fans. So let's analyze all the differences between Smith and Diggs to figure out whether we should root for the Eagles or the Vikings come Sunday.
After two years in San Francisco, Smith signed with the Eagles in the 2017 offseason. But he didn't get much of a chance to contribute in his first campaign in Philly, as fellow wideouts Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor and tight end Zach Ertz got the lion's share of the targets. Smith finished the season with 36 catches for 430 yards and two touchdowns.
By contrast, Diggs has spent each of the past three years in Minneapolis, and this one may have been his best yet. He racked up 64 receptions for 849 yards and a career-best eight touchdowns during the regular season, then followed that up with a game-saving 61-yard catch-and-run in the divisional round. If you want to cheer for someone who's produced on the field, Diggs is your man.
But if you want to cheer for a team that's produced on the field, you might want to look Smith's way. While the Eagles and Vikings both excelled in 2017, with identical 13-3 records, one was clearly better — Philadelphia took home the top seed in the NFC, thanks to a conference-best +162 point differential (Minnesota was at +130). Plus, the Eagles likely would've finished 14-2 if they hadn't rested several starters in a 6-0 week 17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. The NFC championship game is in Philadelphia for a reason.
Both of these receivers spent three seasons in College Park. Their stat lines were eerily similar during that span — Smith had 152 catches for 2,215 yards and 19 touchdowns, Diggs 150 catches for 2,227 yards and 14 touchdowns. But while Smith played in 38 games for the Terps, Diggs took the field just 28 times, meaning he didn't have as many opportunities to rack up the numbers. That he was able to surpass Smith's yardage total in 10 fewer games puts Diggs ahead here.
We also need to consider the circumstances facing each of these players in college. Smith spent his three years under Ralph Friedgen, a brilliant offensive mind who carried Maryland to seven bowl games in 10 seasons. Diggs spent his three years under Randy Edsall, an overpriced washout who just went 3-9 with UConn. Not only did Diggs have the superior stats, he attained them with a far inferior coach.
The Baltimore Ravens drafted Smith in 2011; he played with them for four seasons before leaving in free agency. Spending that much time in Maryland earned Smith a special place in Terps fans' hearts. But Diggs was a native to the state — he went to Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, and his commitment to Maryland in 2011 helped ignite the #DMVtoUMD movement. This one has to go to Diggs.
To our knowledge, though, Diggs is the only former Terp on the Vikings. In Philly, there's another Maryland alum pushing for the Super Bowl — offensive coordinator Frank Reich. Playing quarterback for the Terps in 1984, Reich led the team to an unbelievable come-from-behind victory over Miami; more than 30 years later, he's helped the Eagles have one of the best offenses in the league (and perhaps set himself up for a return to College Park). Two Terps are better than one.
Before the 2017 season began, the NFL announced it would ease the draconian restrictions it had put into place on touchdown celebrations. That led to players across the league going wild throughout the year. Smith pretended to hit a home run after finding the end zone against the Arizona Cardinals in week 5:
And Diggs flew like a plane into the goalpost following a score in Washington, D.C., in week 10:
Both of those routines were great, but one of them cost 15 yards. For keeping his antics within the rules, Smith gets the W here.
Yeah, this is no contest.
When it rains it might as well be a foot of snow outside smh
— Torrey Smith (@TorreySmithWR) January 12, 2018
Trump and Kim Jong-un should fight one on one and leave the rest of us out of it — Torrey Smith (@TorreySmithWR) January 3, 2018
Smith has had plenty of postseason success in his seven NFL seasons. He made the playoffs three times with the Baltimore Ravens, and he took home a ring after helping the team win Super Bowl 47. But prior to this year, Diggs had earned just one postseason berth, which ended early thanks to a botched field goal. (In fairness, Smith can empathize with that.) One of these receivers has won the big game before, so maybe the one who hasn't should get his turn.
The Eagles and Vikings are two of 13 active NFL franchises that have never won a Super Bowl. But Minnesota hasn't made it to the title game since 1977, while Philly has been there twice during that span (in 1981 and 2005). And the Eagles have played more postseason games in recent years — before this season, they had 10 playoff appearances this millennium, compared with seven for the Vikings. Both clubs are sitting on the same goose egg, and the City of Brotherly Love has the lengthier playoff resume, so it's only fair that the Land of 10,000 Lakes gets another shot.
So the final tally is: six for Diggs, four for Smith. If you're a Maryland fan who doesn't have any other stake in the game, you'll probably want to back the Vikings on Sunday. Regardless, though, we're guaranteed to see a former Terp in the Super Bowl, which is a great way to wrap up this NFL season.