Winners of three in a row, the Vikings can get themselves in the thick of the playoff picture with a victory on Sunday. If Dak Prescott were quarterbacking the Cowboys, this would be a tough matchup for the Minnesota secondary. But with Andy Dalton likely to start at QB, the Vikings have the edge.
THREE BIG STORY LINES
Playoffs more than a pipe dream
With Arizona’s loss to Seattle on Thursday night following three straight Vikings victories, the Vikings could pull within a game of the Cardinals for the NFC’s seventh and final playoff spot with a win Sunday. The Vikings have won just once at U.S. Bank Stadium this season, but their next three are at home against teams that have a combined 6-22 record. The Cardinals travel to New England next week and face the Rams after that.
Can streak continue with no fans at home?
Gov. Tim Walz’s new COVID-19 restrictions mean the Vikings won’t be able to admit 250 employees and family members, as they’ve been doing the past few games. Coach Mike Zimmer talked this week about how the Vikings have had to adjust their energy level playing without fans in a building where they’ve used noise to their advantage. The team’s playoff hopes hinge on their ability to win the next three in a building where they’ve been outscored 134-121 this season.
Vikings face the ‘Red Rifle’
Dalton was cleared from the NFL’s concussion protocol this week and figures to return as the starting quarterback for a Cowboys team that’s still in the NFC East title race despite its 2-7 record. Dalton, who spent three seasons in Cincinnati when Mike Zimmer was the defensive coordinator there, has completed only 58.9% of his passes for one touchdown and three interceptions in two starts (both losses).
TWO KEY MATCHUPS
Vikings RT Brian O’Neill vs. Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence
Lawrence, who posted double-digit sacks in 2017 and 2018, had just five last year and has only three this year. But he’s been one of the league’s better edge defenders against the run, and he registered a pair of pressures against O’Neill last season. Lawrence is listed as questionable after missing practice this week with an illness.
Vikings’ secondary vs. Cowboys WR Amari Cooper
Cooper had a big game in the matchup between the teams last year, when Prescott made a priority of targeting Mike Hughes and found Cooper 11 times for 147 yards and a touchdown. Dalton figures to try to pick on a Vikings secondary that could have either Kris Boyd or Chris Jones matched up against Cooper, depending on if Cameron Dantzler plays.
ONE STAT THAT MATTERS
19.6 Percentage of the Cowboys’ possessions that have ended in a turnover. That mark, according to Pro Football Reference, is the highest in the league.
THE VIKINGS WILL WIN IF …
They can keep Ezekiel Elliott under control like they did last season, force Dalton into long third downs and spring Dalvin Cook for a big day. The Vikings give up some size with Brett Jones replacing injured Ezra Cleveland at right guard; they’ll need Jones to hold his own against a Cowboys front seven that has plenty of established players.
THE COWBOYS WILL WIN IF …
Elliott can make things easier for Dalton and the quarterback gets a chance to pick on the Vikings’ secondary with Cooper and rookie CeeDee Lamb. The Cowboys also need to win up front to protect corners Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis, who could be in for some tough matchups against Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson.
Goessling’s prediction: Vikings 30, Cowboys 20