Desperation has set in for both of these teams sitting at 1–3 despite Super Bowl hopes and flashy stars on both sides of the ball. The loser will fall to 1–4, presenting an arduous climb back to respectability in the NFL. Just last January, these two teams were brimming with confidence entering a NFC divisional playoff matchup, which the VIkings won 34–3. Since then, the Vikings have misfired on offense, and quarterback Brett Favre is immersed in an NFL investigation after reports that he sent inappropriate pictures to a former Jets employee in 2008. That distraction will follow Favre into every game until the situation is resolved. The Vikings defense might face its toughest test yet because of the Cowboys’ passing game that’s ranked second in the league with 326 yards.
Keys for the Vikings
• Favre must play better. The Vikings offense has 11 turnovers on the year, and 10 belong to Favre, who has thrown seven interceptions and lost three fumbles. He simply must take better care of the ball. Favre is dealing with elbow tendinitis that gives him pain late in games, but the Vikings might be 3–1 if Favre could manage the game more efficiently. With a second week to prepare with new receiver Randy Moss, and Percy Harvin looking more comfortable in the offense, expect Favre to have a respectable passing game Sunday. But will those numbers come with a couple of picks?
• Apply pressure on Tony Romo. The Vikings have no problem stopping the run, recording 51 consecutive games without allowing 150 yards rushing before the Jets eclipsed that mark in Monday’s 29–20 win. But opposing quarterbacks have had time to throw on the Vikings, who don’t have a player with more than 1.5 sacks through four games. Jared Allen has disappeared at times this season with one sack and handful of quarterback pressures. Romo will pick apart most teams if given the time. Make him work, force him into mistakes.
Keys for the Cowboys
• Reduce self-inflicted wounds. The Cowboys offense has outdistanced opponents by almost 500 yards this season, yet the team is 1–3. Point to turnovers and penalties as the culprits. The Cowboys have the league’s sixth-worst turnover ratio at minus-4, and turnovers have led to opponents scoring 23 points on subsequent possessions. Dallas is the sixth-most penalized team in the NFL. If the Cowboys limit mistakes, they can let the offense take over.
• Attack the secondary. The Vikings are thin at cornerback. Starter Cedric Griffin tore his right ACL, and rookie Chris Cook is still out with a torn meniscus. The three healthy corners are veteran Antoine Winfield, journeyman Lito Sheppard and second-year pro Asher Allen. Considering the Vikings defense was on the field almost 34 minutes against the Jets, they might get fatigued covering tall Dallas receivers Miles Austin and Roy Williams. Though Dallas has racked up yards, it must find a way to get touchdowns out of the passing game.
We’re going with Moss, who’s 7–0 in his career against the Cowboys after they famously snubbed him in the 1998 draft. Moss feasts off the Cowboys, so he’ll be motivated to connect with Favre for at least one score. Combined with Moss’ return to the Metrodome, the offense’s encouraging three second-half passing touchdowns against the Jets and the Vikings’ 6–1 record over Dallas in the last seven meetings, you can expect Minnesota to win. Vikings 20-13.