'Boys - Vikings preview & prediction

Can the Cowboys run the ball? If so, Romo should continue to be highly efficient working off play-action against a secondary that has been vulnerable to quick-rhythm passing attacks in recent games.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
GAMEDATE: 1/17/10
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: FOX (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver, Chris Myers)

KEYS TO THE GAME: Can the Cowboys run the ball? If so, Romo should continue to be highly efficient working off play-action against a secondary that has been vulnerable to quick-rhythm passing attacks in recent games. Romo will also target rookie MLB Jasper Brinkley, who struggles in coverage but is a hard-hitting run defender who has helped Minnesota limit opponents to 3.6 yards per carry in his four starts. The ground game is also critical because Vikings DE Jared Allen will have a mismatch working against LT Flozell Adams in passing situations. No time like the present for Peterson to get improved run-blocking and help Minnesota get back to a run-first attack. The Vikings saw the film of the Cowboys' pass rush dismantling the Eagles the past two weeks, with OLB Anthony Spencer providing a bookend presence to DeMarcus Ware. QB Brett Favre also has to be careful of checking out of too many run plays because a one-dimensional approach against Dallas will spell trouble. And with CBs Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins playing well, look for Favre to target Orlando Scandrick covering the slot and utilize TE Visanthe Shiancoe underneath to complement the ground game.

FAST FACTS: The Cowboys' 33 postseason victories are the most in NFL history. ... Favre ranks second in NFL playoff history behind Joe Montana in completions (438), attempts (721), passing yards (5,311) and touchdown passes (39).

COWBOYS PERSONNEL NEWS: RB Marion Barber practiced on a limited basis on Thursday but should be ready to play and start against the Vikings after sitting out most of the Eagles game with a swollen bursa sack in his left knee.

--SS Pat Watkins (knee) practiced and will be active for the Vikings game. He missed the last three games with a knee injury but will return action because he is one of the team's best special team's players.

--SS Gerald Sensabaugh took issue with Vikings quarterback Brett Favre talking about having a press conference next week before the NFC Championship Game.

"Honestly, I see us sitting here next week having this press conference again," Favre told reporters in Minneapolis. "If that doesn't happen, to me it will be a shock."

Sensabaugh responded with said:

"Anybody can do a news conference but you might be on the losing end."

"They've got one of the best rushers in the league in Adrian Peterson," Sensabaugh said before adding his own boastful comment. "Favre is throwing the ball well. But we have to beat ourselves to lose. The way we're playing right now ... I don't think we can be beat."

--LB Bobby Carpenter became only the fifth Cowboy to recover two fumbles in a playoff game and also played well against Eagles tight end Brent Celek. He will be challenged again having to guard the Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. Carpenter said he is ready to play hard and perform after being labeled a draft bust all these years.

"It was nice," Carpenter said. "It's nice to get a little gratification for the work you put in. The attitude I try to take around here is it can all turn with one or two plays. You've just got to keep playing well, preparing. We've got another big test this week, and hopefully I'll be able to prove that I still should be out there."

--NT Jay Ratliff and LB DeMarcus Ware were honored as first-team All-Pro selections for 2009. It is Ware's third time being named first-team All-Pro. It's the first for Ratliff.

VIKINGS PERSONNEL NEWS: LG Steve Hutchinson (shoulder) was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday but should be fine to play Sunday.

--DT Jimmy Kennedy was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday because of a thumb injury. He missed the regular-season finale against the New York Giants because of the injury.

--P Chris Kluwe (back) was limited in Wednesday and Thursday's practice.

--TE Visanthe Shiancoe was limited Wednesday and Thursday because of a quadriceps injury.

--CB Pat Williams (elbow) was limited Wednesday and Thursday but played through the injury in the regular-season finale after missing one game.

--FB Naufahu Tahi was added to the injury report and did not practice on Thursday because of a back injury.

INSIDE THE DALLAS CAMPS: The Vikings-Cowboys matchup in the NFC East divisional playoffs presents a dream come true scenario for Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

Romo grew up in Wisconsin idolizing Packers quarterback Brett Favre. He even patterned his game after Favre, who came out of retirement in the offseason to join the Vikings for one last run at glory.

"The fact that you win, you go on, you lose, you go home; that's all that really needs to be said," said Favre, 40, who is bidding to become the oldest quarterback to start and win a playoff game.

"I'm well aware of how hard it is to get here. I'm well aware of the opportunity. It's why I came back. So to be sitting here playing in this game, I'm not surprised by it. I expected it, I know how hard it is. Now, I have no idea what will happen Sunday. I have my thoughts and hopes, but also this very well could be (my last chance)."

Said Romo: "I think anytime you're playing in this type of game, it's going to be special. I like Brett. He's fun to hang out with and talk to and stuff. I think we're both going to be trying to win this game, for sure."

Romo admitted that he picked up a few things from Favre along the way but downplays the similarities between the two, saying there is only one Brett Favre.

"Well, I mean, Brett's in a class by himself," Romo said. "No one is really similar to him. A lot of people try to create some similarities, but when he's done, you're not going to see a guy like him. That's a testament to how great he's been for so long."

Favre, however, doesn't deny the similarities. He has become a friend and confidant to Romo over the years.

"The similarities would be improvising and making plays, extending the play and using your feet," Favre said. "His excitement and passion for the game is obvious. I think it's real genuine I think that what people like. I think people like to see that. They like to see the realness from any player. When you watch Tony you see that."

Favre certainly likes what he sees in Romo. He said Romo needs continue to be a playmaker and quite worrying about critics who tell him to be a game manager.

"I think Tony needs to play exactly the way he's played," Favre said. "He does not need to worry about what other people think of him. I don't think (Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones would take anyone else at any time other than Tony Romo, and that's the way it should be. Tony, I think he knows that. I think his confidence is proof of that. He is what he is. He makes plays that other people wouldn't make, that other people wouldn't attempt to make and that's what makes him a special player. Don't change that. He is playing at a really high level. He has nothing to prove."

What Romo needs to prove now is that he can beat his idol playing his game at his house in a winner-take-all battle of the playoffs. Romo said better quarterback will likely win and neither will leave anything for chance.

"I think you've got to be able to make plays," Romo said. "You have to try and minimize turnovers, but you have to have to try to make plays. You have a good combination there of knowing when to do what, I guess. I think it's important, obviously, that the quarterback plays well in the postseason."

INSIDE THE MINNESOTA CAMP: Antoine Winfield said this week that his right foot feels better but that does not mean the veteran cornerback is going to play on a full-time basis Sunday when the Vikings play host to the Dallas Cowboys in an NFC divisional playoff game at the Metrodome.

Winfield was used exclusively in the slot in the nickel defense in the Vikings' regular-season finale against the New York Giants. That came after he struggled in losses at Carolina and Chicago because his fractured right foot had yet to completely heal.

Winfield played about 20 snaps against the Giants and appeared far more comfortable in that role. Coach Brad Childress said the plan is for Winfield to play some on the outside on Sunday.

"Wherever they need me or feel I'll be most effective, I'll be there," Winfield said.

It's expected that a week off will prove to help Winfield. The Vikings had a first-round bye in the playoffs after winning the NFC North with a 12-4 record.

"I feel good," he said. "I think it helped having the time off, staying off the foot. It felt good (in practice). I went out there and took all the reps. I'm looking forward to getting out there and playing Sunday."

Winfield actually was limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday and won't be able to get back to 100 percent until his has an offseason of rest. He broke the foot in October against Baltimore and missed six games.

If the Vikings stick with the plan they used against the Giants, Benny Sapp will start and play the left corner most of the time and Winfield will fill the slot role on passing downs.

PREDICTION: Cowboys 23-20


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