The Opponent: The Minnesota Vikings, aka the Vikies, aka the ViQueens (if you’re both uncreative AND homophobic), aka the Favres. Full disclosure: I have been a Vikings fan my entire life. But that won’t stop me from being objective in my coverage here at Blue Star. Not in the least.
Record: 12-4, 1st in NFC North.
The Line: Vikings by 3. Minnesota is the only home team this weekend to not be favored by six points or more. The Cowboys are a very hot pick in this game.
Last Game: A 44-7 stomping against a Giants team that had inexcusably quit on the season. The Giants were so out of it in Week 17 that it was impossible to tell if the Vikings had gotten back on the right track, or if they had just been lucky enough to face a dead team walking. I think I saw one Giant eating a hot dog on the field.
The Coach: Brad Childress. A friend of mine put it best when he said the Vikings start every game a little bit behind, because they know they’ll have to make one or two extra plays to make up for whatever two or three idiotic things Childress will do.
The Offense: Over the past game and a half, the Vikings have scored a grand total of 77 points. Their offense appears to be back in order after a late season slump, but they’ll have their hands full with DeMarcus Ware and company. TV guys will blithely tell you the Vikings have one of the league’s best offensive lines. They don’t. LT Bryant McKinnie is wildly overrated, and guard Steve Hutchinson has suffered from nagging injuries all year. Center John Sullivan replaced old Viking mainstay Matt Birk and has struggled to contain inside blitzes at times. Arizona double-barrel blitzed the Vikes into a horrible game not too long ago.
As for Minnesota’s skill players, Brett Favre has been brilliant virtually all year long. He’s been accurate. He’s avoided turnovers. Best of all, he’s managed the clock well and given the Vikings a sense of calm in moments when they need to score. He’s made Sidney Rice and Visanthe Shiancoe into excellent receiving threats, and rookie Percy Harvin has also flourished. The Vikings also run the ball extremely well with Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. Watch the dumpoffs to Taylor on third down. He converts those will astonishing frequency. Purple Jesus’ propensity for fumbling has cost the Vikings dearly at times, and he’s done a bit more dancing behind the line of scrimmage than usual this year. Containing Peterson is an easy way to frustrate the Vikings quickly, and Dallas has the defensive speed to make that happen.
The Defense: Cornerback Antoine Winfield is adored by many for his run support capabilities, but he can be a liability in coverage, particularly deep. The Vikings live off of being able to rush the passer with their defensive line and hurry you into mistakes. But teams have been doubling Jared Allen late in the year, and the rest of the defense has been unable to take advantage. Dallas will likely try the same strategy of chipping Allen to keep Romo clean.
Key Matchup: Anthony Spencer vs. Phil Loadholt. The Vikings rookie right tackle has shined at times this year, but is prone to lapses in pass protection. He’s also been banged up. If Spencer can get around him and torture Favre all day, then Dallas is likely to keep up their late season winning streak.