The Vikings' bye week is over, and a four-game stretch that projects as their toughest of the season has arrived.
It starts this Sunday with what should be a highly entertaining matchup in the national spotlight. The 5-1 Dallas Cowboys, winners of five in a row since a thrilling season-opening loss to the defending champion Buccaneers, come to Minneapolis this weekend for a primetime showdown on Halloween night. The Cowboys are playing as well as any team in the NFL this season, with the league's top offense by most statistical measures and a defense that leads the league in interceptions. Both teams will be well-rested coming off their byes, so it'll come down to which team has the better game plan and executes at a higher level. If we've learned anything from the Vikings' first six games, it's to expect a dramatic one-score ending every time they take the field.
The Vikings can make a statement to the country by finding a way to win this game. At 3-3, they're a bit of an enigma right now. They had the NFL's lone unbeaten team (the Cardinals) dead for rights on the road before Greg Joseph's missed field goal, but needed a furious late rally to avoid losing at home to the NFL's lone winless team (the Lions).
Beating the Cowboys won't be easy. The Vikings are currently two-point home underdogs against Dak Prescott and company. But it would be huge if they were able to get it done because of the games they have coming up after that.
Following the Cowboys game, the Vikings go on the road to take on Lamar Jackson and the 5-2 Baltimore Ravens, who will be coming off a bye. That's going to be an awfully tough one. Then the Vikings head to Los Angeles to face Justin Herbert and the Chargers, who are currently 4-2. After that, they come back home to kick off a run of five divisional games in their final eight with a battle against the red-hot, 6-1 Packers.
Starting on Sunday, this four-game stretch is going to tell us a lot about the 2021 Vikings and what kind of team they are. The hope has to be to find a way to go 2-2 over the next four, setting themselves up for stretch run at 5-5. Doing that would put the Vikings in good position to earn a wild-card spot in the top-heavy NFC. If they go 0-4 or 1-3, it's going to be awfully tough to bounce back, and that probably confirms they're not a team good enough to make a playoff run anyways. Go 3-1 or shock the world at 4-0, and the Vikings will deserve to taken seriously as a legitimate contender with the ability to not only get to the playoffs but make a run.
"Obviously I know the standings and where people are and things like that," Mike Zimmer said on Monday. "We have to go play one week at a time. I think as you see the games in the past six weeks or seven weeks, a lot of teams can come beat a lot of different people. It’s important that we focus all of our attention on Dallas this week, and then we’ll worry about Baltimore next week and the Chargers, and so forth. But yeah, we’re getting ready to play some really good football teams, and for us to prove where we are, this stretch will be important."
One week at a time is the right mindset to have. The Vikings will need to be on their A-game to take down a team that's as loaded on both sides of the ball as the Cowboys are. They've lost three of their last four against Dallas, including games at U.S. Bank Stadium in 2016 and 2020.
If they're able to get it done, that makes things that much more doable going forward. They'd only need to pull out one win against the Chargers, Ravens, and Packers to feel OK about their positioning, but they'd have the momentum to potentially do more than that. If they lose to the Cowboys, they have to find a way to win two of the next three — with two of those coming on the road — to get back to .500.
The stakes are high. The Vikings need this one, and the Cowboys need it to keep their winning streak alive and keep pace with the Cardinals, Packers, Buccaneers, and Rams atop the conference. The teams are both very talented, with superstars all over the place. U.S. Bank Stadium is going to be rocking for not only the first primetime game in Minneapolis in two years, but a holiday night at that.
In other words: is it Sunday yet?
Plenty more to come this week ahead of the big game.
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