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NFL Power Rankings, Week 8: Fresh Off Bye Week, Vikings Facing Big Test

The Cowboys coming to town presents a huge challenge for the Vikings, and we'll learn a lot from the result.

Vikings fans needed that bye week just as much as the players did. Five of their previous six Sundays had been spent watching intense, stressful football games that came down to the very last play. This week, heart rates were down across the entire state of Minnesota.

Now that the bye week is over, the Vikings head into a tough four-game stretch that may well determine their season, starting with a primetime game against the red-hot Cowboys under the Halloween spotlight. U.S. Bank Stadium is going to be a madhouse.

Let's take a look at this week's power rankings to see if the other results in Week 7 moved the Vikings around at all — and to check out what national analysts think about the tough schedule coming up.

Conor Orr, No. 15 (Down 2 spots)

Their post-bye slate is absolutely brutal and could ultimately define the Cousins-Zimmer era in Minnesota. Sitting at 3–3 right now, the Vikings get Dallas on Halloween, the Ravens and Chargers on the road and the Packers at home. Winning half of those games should earn both an extension.

Dan Hanzus, No. 15 (Down 1 spot)

On a recent edition of the Around The NFL Podcast, we probed Vikings beat reporter Arif Hasan on the relationship between Mike Zimmer and Kirk Cousins. The tension between the head coach and starting quarterback seems palpable at times, but Hasan asserted that any frustrations with Cousins as a QB (or teammate) are largely negated by his play. The veteran might not ever inspire lengthy monologues about his leadership abilities, but he stacks numbers, year after year. The production will sneak up on you: In 58 games as Minnesota's starter, Cousins has completed over 69 percent of his 1,805 attempts for 104 touchdowns and just 31 interceptions. His passer rating of 103.9 over that span represents the production of a star. Why don't we see him that way?

Bleacher Report Staff: No. 22 (No change)

You'd be hard-pressed to find many pundits who would call the 2021 Minnesota Vikings a good football team. But after peeling off consecutive wins before the bye week, the Vikings are 3-3 and at least on the fringes of the NFC playoff hunt.We're about to find out if these Vikings are any kind of a legitimate playoff contender. After the bye, they host the 5-1 Dallas Cowboys. Then comes a trip to Baltimore to face Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, a road game in Los Angeles against the Chargers and a home tilt with the NFC North-leading Green Bay Packers.It's a brutal stretch, but running back Dalvin Cook told reporters after last week's win that folks are looking at that gauntlet the wrong way."They've got to play us too," Cook said. "That's the thing when you look at it. Everybody is going to say, 'What about the other teams?' Well, what about the Vikings? ... We're a good team, too."We'll know soon enough if Cook's assessment is at all accurate. 

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Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: No. 14 (Up 1 spot)

They evened their record at 3-3 two weeks ago, but now face a proving game of sorts at home against the Cowboys. It's time for Kirk Cousins to show out in a big game.

Frank Schwab, Yahoo! Sports: No. 18 (Down 2 spots)

The Vikings, who could be 1-5 or 6-0 if a few plays were different, are in an interesting spot this week at home against the Cowboys. That's the Sunday night game. If the Vikings are closer to that "good team that has had some rough close losses" line, then they will upset the Cowboys and could start to make a wild-card run.

Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: No. 16 (No change)

The Vikings have steered their ship in the right direction on the strength of their own familiar formula — a run-heavy offense setting up a dangerous downfield passing game, backed by a good pressure-and-coverage defense for Mike Zimmer. They will look to be more consistent and win non-close games after the bye. The Cowboys are a good immediate litmus test.

Nate Davis, USA Today: No. 15 (Down 1 spot)

Hope your bye week was restful, gents. A horror show begins Halloween night with a visit from Dallas ... followed by matchups against Baltimore, the Bolts and Green Bay.

Mike Florio, PFT: No. 14 (Up 1 spot)

The post-bye schedule gets a lot more difficult.

Danny Kelly, The Ringer: No. 14 (Up 1 spot)

ESPN Staff: No. 17 (Down 1 spot)

Thanks for reading. Make sure to bookmark this site and check back daily for the latest Vikings news and analysis all season long. Also, follow me on Twitter and feel free to ask me any questions on there.