While much of the focus has centered around Brett Favre, Tony Romo and the pass rushers, NFL teams always preach stopping the run first. That will be an important factor in determining how effective the quarterbacks can be. Will the play-action passes cause the defenders to pause?
(11-6) at New Orleans Saints
(10-7) at Indianapolis Colts
(12-5) at Minnesota Vikings
New York Jets
(10-7) at San Diego Chargers
Dallas Cowboys (12-5) at Minnesota Vikings (12-4)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
TV: FOX (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver, Chris Myers)
KEYS TO THE GAME
Can the Cowboys run the ball? If so, Tony 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 FACTSThe 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).
The Vikings played one of their most memorable postseason games against the Cowboys in the divisional round of the 1975 playoffs. Dallas trailed with 1:51 left in the fourth quarter with the ball at its own 15-yard line, but the drive ended with Roger Staubach hitting Drew Pearson on a "Hail Mary" pass for a touchdown to give the Cowboys a 17-14 victory at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn. To this day many Vikings fans contend that Pearson pushed off on cornerback Nate Wright. No call was made.
Running back Robert Smith rushed for a franchise-playoff record 140 yards and Jeff George threw for 212 yards and three touchdowns in the Vikings' 27-10 victory over Dallas on Jan. 9, 2000, in a first-round playoff game at the Metrodome. The Vikings lost, 49-37, the following week at St. Louis in the divisional round.
The Vikings are 0-2 in divisional round playoff games against the Cowboys, including that loss in the 1975 season. Both the defeats were at the Met and the other one came in 1971.
QB Brett Favre has never beaten Dallas in the playoffs, but his losses came long ago when the Packers' seasons ended with losses to the Cowboys from 1993-95. The first two losses happened in the divisional round and the last one in the NFC title game. Favre is 12-10 in his career in the playoffs but has lost seven of his past 10 games.
Seventeen Vikings will be making their first playoff appearance, while 36 have either played or been active in at least one playoff game. Twenty-five players on the roster have started at least one postseason game.
The Vikings have not lost a game at the Metrodome since suffering a 26-14 setback against Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs last season. The Vikings were 8-0 at the Metrodome during the regular season.
The Vikings will be looking for their 19th postseason victory in 44 playoff games. They are 18-25 in the playoffs all-time.
DE Jared Allen had two sacks to go along with five tackles against the Cowboys when he was playing for the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 11, 2005.
QB Tony Romo grew up idolizing Brett Favre. But his room in Burlington, Wis. never included a Brett Favre jersey. Still the two have become friends and confidants over the years.
Romo said he never doubted Favre could play at 40.
"Brett's been playing the game at such a high level for so long that he's in a class by himself," Romo said. "There's always comparisons being made to him all the time, but there's only one Brett Favre, and I was happy to see he had such a great season. But it's definitely not out of the norm. I definitely expected that out of him."
Brad Childress was the Eagles' offensive coordinator before taking the head coaching job with the Vikings. So it will not be a surprise if Childress gives Philadelphia coach Andy Reid a call before facing the Dallas Cowboys in a playoff game on Sunday.
"I imagine I'll touch base with him before the week is out," Childress said. "He's got enough on his plate, and quite frankly I've got enough on mine just watching the Cowboys."
The Cowboys know they will have to stop running back Adrian Peterson. Actually the key for them is to keep him sputtering. Peterson did not rush for 100 yards in any of the past seven games, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry during that span. The Cowboys didn't allow a 100-yard rusher all season.
Still the Cowboys know facing Peterson is going to be tough duty.
"You need to commit to the running game with that guy," Wade Phillips said. "He's such a tremendous talent.
"You have to gang tackle and have to have great pursuit. Speed on defense is really a key because if you're a little bit slow and he gets through there, he's gone."
RB Marion Barber will do his best to get on the field for Sunday's game against the Vikings. Barber is from Minneapolis and played at Minnesota. He was held out of the last two preseason games at Minnesota.
"I just sense with Marion he wants to play," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "He's been mad at me the last two years because I didn't let him play in the preseason games up there. I know he wants to play there just from that."
LB Bobby Carpenter has finally found a role with the Cowboys as a nickel linebacker and appears to be thriving in it after being considered a draft bust. The former first round pick from 2006 is not a starter, but he had two fumble recoveries against the Eagles last Sunday.
"It was nice," Carpenter said, smiling. "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."
FS Ken Hamlin was fined $12,500 by the NFL for two fouls against the Eagles. One came for hitting Eagles tight end Brent Celek in the helmet in the first half. Hamlin was also penalized for a late hit on Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin.
WR Roy Williams had five catches for 59 yards against the Eagles to rebound from what had been a late season slump. He had two catches for 18 yards in the final three games of the season.
"It was good for him," wide receivers coach Ray Sherman said. "I just think he was trying too hard and he was trying to make a play. He was trying to do too many things.
"Just let the game come to him. Just do your job; do what you're supposed to do and it will happen. He made some