Saddle Up: Vikings vs. Cowboys Divisional Playoff
Jerry Jones giveth, and Jerry Jones taketh away.
Looking for reasons to distaste the Dallas Cowboys come the Divisional Playoff vs. the Vikings (12:00 Central) on Sunday? Well, seeing as the two teams have met just once since 2004, any recent fielded rivalry between the Vikings and Cowboys is namely nonexistent. Aside from the likely return of banged-up former Gopher Marion Barber III and the man-love that Burlington, Wis.-raised Tony Romo holds for Brett Favre, the only other piece of recent pub connecting the teams has come via the brash owner of the Cowboys.
Jones, the billionaire oilman with the greasy smile, was on our turf back in September for the final week of the preseason. While the 'Boys owner was seemingly here to stump on behalf of the Wilf family for a new stadium, Jones instead offered the following indictment of the Vikings' "have-not" standing in the NFL's revenue sharing plan:
"Right now we are subsidizing this market. It's unthinkable to think that you've got the market you've got here, with 3.5 million people, and have teams like Kansas City and Green Bay subsidizing this market. That will stop. That's going to stop. That's called revenue sharing. That's on its way out."
Although it was evident that Jones wanted the Vikings to ultimately remain in Minnesota, the comments ended up costing him a few drops of his oil cache (reported as "at least $100,000"). What also became evident come Week 13 of the NFL season was that Jones knew of what he spoke. Last month, the league notified the players' union that revenue sharing -- and the approximately $100 million that comes with it -- was on its way out. That move has since been challenged by the NFLPA , but if it goes through it means teams like the Purple will lose valuable financial resources that could have a significant impact on the team's operations. Just something to keep sight of when FOX cameras continually show Jones and his intense reactions.
Moving back inside-the-lines, the Vikings vs. Cowboys matchup, simply put, may very well be the most enticing game of the NFL postseason. The showdown features a combined 14 Pro Bowlers and has found analysts about the country well-polarized regarding which team will move on to face the winner of Arizona vs. New Orleans in the NFC Championship next Sunday.
The debate is apt. Have you heard that the "Cowboys are hot"? The statement, while offered with ad nauseam proportions in recent weeks, is also very true. Dallas arrives as winners of four straight, a stretch that includes two victories over 11-win Philadelphia and a Week 15 win over then-unbeaten New Orleans, the top seed in the NFC. The Cowboys haven't trailed an opponent for 16 consecutive quarters and sport a top-10 pass & run offense along with the league's 4th ranked rush defense. Although the Cowboys' defense fell well short of last season's NFL-best 59 sacks, their 42 on the year still ranked 7th best in the league. In their last five games (including last weekend's Wild Card win over Philly), the dangerous Dallas pass rush has accrued 17 sacks.
Along with the afore-noted Romo and Barber, the Cowboys' offense presents a myriad of potent options. Barber's backfield is shared with the versatile Tashard Choice and electric gingerbread man, Felix Jones. Although Jones has appeared in just 20 regular season games in his two NFL seasons, when healthy the dude is extremely dangerous. With Barber bothered by a knee injury in last week's Wild Card win, Jones went nuts with career-highs in carries (16) and yards (148). In his two seasons, Jones sports a 6.5 yards per carry average and his 5.9 yards per in '09 led the league this season. Baber's status for Sunday remains in some question, but the Wayzata-native practiced on Thursday and it would be surprising if the violent runner doesn't dress for the homecoming.
When not handing off or tossing effective screens to these backs, Romo will look for weapons Miles Austin and Jason Witten. Austin, the NFC's leading receiver, was profiled herein earlier this week. Tight End Witten is long among the best in the league at his position and could provide constant drama for a Vikings' defense that allowed a haughty 86 catches and nine touchdowns to opposing tight ends on the year. The Vikings led the NFL with 48 sacks this season and will need to find ways to limit Romo's elusiveness and quick release.
For the Purple, this is why we brought Favre to Minnesota. I've said it before on multiple occasions herein and I'll exercise repetition in this space -- given the theater of bringing Favre here, this season will be a massive failure should the Vikings not play next weekend. Sunday represents Favre's 23rd career playoff game and the quarterback brings a 12-10 record along with 39 postseason TD's and over 5,300 passing yards to the table. In his first dozen playoff games, Favre went 9-3 but has gone just 3-7 since. Massaging those numbers, however, finds that nine of those last ten have been played outdoors.
I'm of the belief that the Dome will be good to the Purple come Sunday, although success may well come in the form of Favre handing off to Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor as opposed to the greybeard slinging 40+ pass attempts. A.P. was named an All-Pro this week, despite failing to rush for 100-yards in his any of his last seven games. The Cowboys present a 3-4 defense, an alignment against which Peterson has found ample success this season. For the Purple to succeed, it will be imperative for Favre to avoid the pressure this scheme is designed to present and allow ample opportunity for A.P. to lead the Vikings with bruising ball control. An early-game lead would seem to offer the Purple an ideal scenario to mix Favre play action with 20 carries for Peterson.
While previewing potential opponents for Sunday, I noted last week that in nearly 50 years of Vikings football, the Purple are 5-1 against teams that they've rematched in the playoffs after having beaten said opponent in the regular season. In rematches pitting the Vikings against opponents versus whom they suffered a regular season loss, the Purple are just 3-9. Playoff games against teams they didn't face? That's just 10-15.
But look for the former mark to run to 11 come Sunday afternoon. The Vikings averaged nearly 33 points at the Dome and became just the 13th team since 2000 to complete a perfect season on their home turf. Dallas was just 5-3 on the road this year and the Cowboys, compared to their season averages, present both fewer points scored and more points allowed when playing away from Cowboys Stadium. The Purple have been prepping for this home game for two weeks and the valuable bye afforded needed rest for banged-up vets like Antoine Winfield and Big Pat Williams.
With the Vikings just a win away from their first NFC Championship game since 2000, the football fever in this town has steadily risen to a state of delirium as this week has progressed -- look for the noise to grow louder on Sunday afternoon and into the eve.
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