Today is November 30, 2016, and the Cowboys enter Week 13 with a chance to clinch the first playoff spot of the 2016 season. When was it not even December yet and this was still the case for the Cowboys? Very good question!
Now, more needs to happen outside of the Cowboys earning a victory and extending their win streak to 11. In addition to a win, either the Redskins need to lose to the Cardinals or the Buccaneers need to lose to or tie the Chargers. Already being the best team in the league, the Cowboys seem to be well on their way towards making the playoffs with a first-round bye and home-field advantage, but Cowboys fans can certainly rejoice knowing that the Cowboys are already in the playoff mix.
This week, the Cowboys travel to Minnesota to face the reeling 6-5 Vikings, a team that has one win in their previous six contests. The Vikings again find themselves without Adrian Peterson, their star running back who is practicing on a limited basis. Ezekiel Elliott & Co enter Minnesota at a time when Elliott leads the league in rushing yards and when the rookie is being dubbed the best running back drafted since his injured equivalent, Peterson.
The Dallas offense going up against the Minnesota defense is obviously the matchup to watch. Dallas boasts the fifth best total offense, while Minnesota counters with the third best total defense. In other words, this game features a high-powered offense going up against a stingy defense. Plus, this matchup intensifies with the return of longtime Dallas cornerback Terence Newman—now with the Vikings. Previously out with a neck injury, Newman should be a go for tomorrow’s game.
Viking defensive backs Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhoades, and Harrison Smith have played a major role in holding opposing quarterbacks to only 206.8 yards per game. Up front, the Vikings have struggled against the run, allowing 100.2 yards per game and ranking 14th best in the league. Nonetheless, the Vikings’ defense has still applied constant pressure to the quarterback with a seventh best 28 sacks this year.
The Cowboys defense faces a Vikings offense that has been plagued with injures and inconsistency all year. On the offensive line, the Vikings have already lost starting tackles Andre Smith, Matt Kalil, and Jake Long to the IR this season. Center Joe Berger left last week’s game against the Detroit Lions with a concussion and has been ruled out this week. This bodes well for a Cowboys run defense that ranks third in the league, allowing only 81.8 yards per game.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer will gladly rely on quarterback Sam Bradford more than usual with the Dallas passing defense ranking second worst in the league with 280 yards allowed per game. Safety Barry Church returned to practice after missing four weeks—his return to action would be a much-needed reprieve for an aching Cowboys defense looking for answers a week after cornerbacks Orlando Scandrick and Anthony Brown performed like high school cornerbacks against the Washington Redskins. Cornerback Morris Claiborne and safety J.J. Wilcox have already been ruled out, and Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs is currently listed as questionable.
Photo: Matthew Emmons