With the Vikings needing just two wins to advance to the Super Bowl, it can be argued that Sunday's game with the Dallas Cowboys is the biggest game the Vikings have played since the 2000 season, when they lost 41-0 to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game.
The time-honored axiom around the NFL is that the big players need to step up in the big games. The Vikings have no shortage of big players capable of making the big plays that can turn games around. In the wild card games last weekend, we saw other teams use their big players to produce big plays. From Shonn Greene and Darelle Revis of the Jets to Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware and Felix Jones of the Cowboys to Ray Rice of the Ravens to Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals, when their season was on the line, the playmakers for the winning teams found ways to make the big plays when they were needed.
There are several Vikings players that will have to step up to make the big plays Sunday that could send the Vikings back to the NFC Championship Game for the first time in nine years. If enough of them create the big plays that can turn a game around, the Vikings will send the Cowboys home for the offseason. If not, the Vikings' dream season will come to end. Can they do it? There are enough players with the potential to turn the game around that can make it happen.
Brett Favre – This is the reason the Vikings signed Favre in the first place. They were already a playoff team without him, but his addition helped put them in the position they're in – playing at home after being on a first-round bye.
Adrian Peterson – It's hard to think of A.D. as a forgotten man, but with all the attention Favre has received, Peterson has been pushed to the side somewhat when it comes to being the focal point of the offense. When Philadelphia abandoned the run, they essentially abandoned their chance of beating Dallas the last two weeks. If the Vikings are to beat Dallas, they are going to need a big day from Peterson and perhaps at least one breakaway run.
Jared Allen – The NFC leader in sacks, Allen will have the responsibility of pressuring Dallas quarterback Tony Romo. The extent to which he can do that and potentially create the turnovers needed to win a playoff game could go a long way to determining who wins. If Romo is afforded time in the pocket, it could be a long day for the Vikings defense.
Sidney Rice – He emerged this year as bona fide go-to receiver in the Vikings offense, posting the best numbers for a Vikings wide receiver in the post-Randy Moss era. He needs to come up big, whether it's pulling in a long bomb or making a key third-down reception to keep a drive alive.
Percy Harvin – The best news for the Vikings here is that Dallas drafted kicker David Buehler to hammer kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. Playing in a dome, he will likely try to boom kickoffs deep into the end zone. If he falls short, Harvin will have his chances to break a long return – something he has been denied the chance to do over the last month.
Chad Greenway – With the number of draw plays the Cowboys run in the rushing game (about 30 percent of all carries) and the use of their tight ends, Greenway and Ben Leber will have their hands full trying to cover TEs Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett as well as guys like Felix Jones and Tashard Choice out of the backfield. It was an innocent looking screen pass to Brian Westbrook that broke the Vikings' back last year in the playoffs. If Greenway isn't on his game, the same could happen this year.
Bryant McKinnie – He made the Pro Bowl based on a strong start to the 2009 season. He struggled late in the year as he battled an ankle injury. Drawing the assignment of DeMarcus Ware is about as big a challenge as he has faced all year. Neutralizing Ware might be the biggest offensive objective the Vikings have Sunday and, while he may get help with chips from tight ends and running backs, the onus will fall on him to keep the Cowboys' best defensive playmaker at bay.
Kevin Williams – The Cowboys have an annoying penchant of dropping Romo one step after the snap, faking a slant pass and handing the ball off on a draw. If Williams can push the pocket back and blow up draw plays – or open the door for Pat Williams to make a play – the Cowboys may be forced to abandon a strategy that has served them very well during their five-game winning streak.
Antoine Winfield – It's clear he isn't the same player he was prior to his foot injury, but as the leader of a young secondary it will be his job to provide leadership both in the pass game and in run support. If he fails like he did in losses to Carolina and Chicago, the same could happen against Dallas.
Ryan Longwell – Can a kicker make that big a difference? Just ask those who were around in 1998 when Gary Anderson missed a fourth-quarter field goal against Atlanta. They'll give you the answer to that – most likely punctuated with a few curse words mixed in.
Ten players. Ten different jobs to do Sunday. In the postseason, games are won and lost by the players who execute, do their jobs well and put their teams over the top. The Vikings have put themselves into the position to be at home in the divisional round and move one step closer to realizing their Super Bowl dream. It will be up to these guys to make the plays to get it done.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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