First off I need to brag a little bit. In my first post this year covering the Vikings victory over the Cleveland Browns I predicted the success Percy Harvin would have. Now my prediction has proven me a seer (Harry Potter lingo). Here are my words from Week 1.
I am going to say right now, Percy Harvin is a beast and is going to have a monster rookie season. Can you say offensive rookie of the year??
This week worked in the favor of the rookie out of Florida. Not only was he named Offensive Rookie of the Year but he also was added to the Pro Bowl roster as the NFC Kick Returner. Besides that great news Vikings fans have had the week to celebrate a 12-4 season, a number two seed in the NFC playoffs, and an absolute whooping of the New York football Giants. The Vikings could not have played their season finale any better. With Minnesota losing three of their last four games fans were looking for some sign of life heading into the playoffs. The purple took charge of the game as early as the opening kickoff and never looked back. The Vikings never allowed the Giants to even breathe without their approval, and this Week 17 match up ended in complete Minnesota domination.
Heading into the postseason with some momentum and a first round bye is definitely going to help out the Vikings success. The extra week will allow some injured players some rest (Big Pat Williams) and hopefully get the Vikings mentally prepared for the tough task at hand. Only twelve teams are left in this one and done tournament, will the Vikings be ready to play?
Brett Favre obviously came to play last Sunday. Last week I said Favre needed to rally his troops to dismantle the Giants, and Favre took that to heart. He started off the game on fire and he never hesitated after that. Favre finished with 316 passing yards and 4 touchdowns. With his effort on Sunday Favre passed (literally) the 4,000 yard mark on the season. Favre finished with 33 touchdown passes and only 7 interceptions for his 2009 campaign.
Statistically this season was better than any season in his storied career. His touchdown total was the fourth most of his career and his yards the third most. His completion percentage, Quarterback rating, season interceptions, and yards per pass were all the best numbers of his nineteen year career. I will take my hat off to Brad Childress for taking a gamble and scoring big on the 40 year old Quarterback. Congratulations Favre. I spent my entire football life despising everything about you. Now you will forever be the greatest Quarterback in NFL history in my book. Bringing home the Lombardi Trophy will anoint you the Alpha and Omega.
Favre once again got the lot of Vikings receivers plenty of work against the Giants. Sidney Rice dominated the New York secondary with 6 catches for 112 yards and 2 scores. The second touchdown catch was especially exciting to watch. Watching Sidney rise up over the one on one match up to pluck the floating football out from in front of the innocent bystander Terrell Thomas was one of the best plays of the entire Vikings season.
Another force against the Giants was former Giant Visante Shiancoe and his 7 catches for 94 yards and one touchdown. Mr. Percy Harvin also got himself into the mix with 7 catches of his own and a rush for 22 yards.
With the Dallas Cowboys mopping the floor with the Philadelphia Eagles for the second straight week fans cannot help but wonder, "Do the Vikings even stand a chance in their own dome?" The answer, MOST DEFINITELY YES!
While the media heads are anointing "America's Team," the Cowboys as the NFC's Super Bowl representative I cannot believe these drones after all these years of watching Favre have still not learned to not sell this grizzled vet short. Despite Favre being the leader of the purple, the game will be won or lost in the trenches. These two teams stack up very well against each other, and it should prove to be a great game (unless one team decides not to show up...but unlikely).
Let's check the scouting report.
The Vikings have a dominant passing game with Favre having a career year and Wide Receivers that do not look likely to be stopped. The Cowboys have a top tier secondary boasting two potential shut down Cornerbacks in Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins. Both have thrived in man coverage which allows the rest of the defense to do their jobs without having to worry about an offense's number one and two Wide Receivers. The Cowboys two Safeties Sensabaugh and Hamlin aren't too shabby themselves either. Watching these two dynamite Corners match up against the Vikings (very) dynamite receiving core will be a huge battle for both sides.
The Vikings have two Pro Bowl offensive lineman in Bryant McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson. The Cowboys have two Pro Bowl defensive players in DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff. While discussing the Cowboys defensive line one cannot possibly leave out the menacing influence of Anthony Spencer. The Vikings offensive line has struggled mightily with protecting Favre from the fierce pass rush (see Week 15 against the Panthers). Even the Panthers pass rush seems tame when compared to the Cowboys. Dallas finished seventh overall in the sack standings, just six sacks behind Minnesota.
If Favre has pressure in his face all day the Minnesota faithful have seen what can happen. One easy way to break up edge rushers from teeing off on a Quarterback is to effectively run the football, or implement a good screen game. Both of these elements are typically game plan inclusions that Minnesota executes well. To add even more dimension, Dallas defends the screen game very well. While I believe McKinnie and rookie Tackle Phil Loadholt will struggle with the edge rushing, that weakness can be countered with a quality game plan from the Vikings brain trust.
How about the Cowboys very good Left Tackle Flozell Adams squaring off agaisnt another one of the league's elite pass rushers in Jared Allen? It is well known Adams struggles with false starts. Couple that with ear drum busting crowd noise and I think the Vikings have another definite advantage. The Cowboys will most likely end up using their Running Backs to chip Allen which should allow the pass rush to come from more angles.
The Cowboys also feature a dangerous three headed rushing attack in Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice. The Vikings gritty defensive line has been an elite run stopping force for many years. Even though this year's numbers were not as good as years past, this unit is still dominant and finished second in the league in rushing yards allowed. A huge question mark for Minnesota, will big run stopper Pat Williams play? He is listed as questionable, but my guess is he will be in uniform. Will the Cowboys continue their running game success or will the Vikings defensive line make the Dallas offense one dimensional?
Dallas has the league's second most potent passing attack. With Tony Romo playing hotter than a Scarlett Johansson photo shoot and a loaded array of targets this week should prove quite challenging for the Minnesota pass defense. Miles Austin could be a huge problem for Minnesota. The Vikings usually have trouble stopping lightning fast Wide Receivers like Austin. Roy Williams I am less worried about. He will most likely be matching up against a very good Corner in fellow former Texas Longhorn Cedric Griffin.
The second most dangerous target for the Cowboys will be Jason Witten. He is threatening all over the field and catches the football like a seasoned Wide Receiver. Against the Eagles the past two weeks Witten had ten receptions and a touchdown. The Vikings match up pretty well against the Dallas Pro Bowl Tight End. The Eagles had to use their aging poor pass coverage Linebackers to stop the threat of Jason Witten. That favors the much younger and faster Witten. This week Witten will line up across Ben Leber and Chad Greenway, two Linebackers who excel in pass coverage. Rookie Middle Linebacker Jasper Brinkley is a vulnerability, but I highly doubt he will cover Witten much giving the fact he is sketchy in coverage. This will be another interesting match up to watch, but don't expect Witten to dominate like he did against the Eagles weak Linebacking core.
Where I believe the Vikings have their greatest advantage is attacking the middle of the field on offense. Enter slot Wide Receiver Percy Harvin and Tight End Visante Shiancoe. Dallas is going to have to figure out a way to slow down Harvin, and they better not hope to do so with their Linebackers. That is a huge mismatch against Harvin's speed. Whatever the Cowboys scheme against Harvin it will not be easy. They could drop their Outside Linebackers into coverage, but that takes away pressure on Favre. They could employ Safety help, but that hurts their run defense and puts even more pressure on their Cornerbacks to be perfect all the time. Harvin will be the game's X Factor. If he has a big game, the Vikings will be tough to beat.
One thing Favre has done consistently all season long is getting the ball to Shiancoe over the middle. On crucial third downs and in the red zone is when Shiancoe is dialed up most often. No matter what quality of Linebacker is guarding Shiancoe, Favre always seems to find him.
The Cowboys defense has played outstanding the past three weeks. But with one match up being against the Redskins and two coming against the Eagles, not a whole lot can be accredited until they stop a team like Minnesota (no disrespect to Philly, but they played horrendous). One huge offensive piece missing from both of those Cowboys opponents is a punishing Running Back. Enter Adrian Peterson. Heck, I'd even take Chester Taylor over the Redskins and Eagles current backs. Will the Cowboys be able to stop the run? Their run stopping unit finished fourth overall in the regular season, but they haven't seen a bruising or even formidable back in weeks and have yet to face AP this year.
The Cowboys have a bend but don't break type of defense. During the regular season the Cowboys were ninth in the NFL in fewest yards allowed, but second in points given up with 250. The most difficult task is not moving the football down the field. Near the red zone their defensive unit makes it a chore to notch points on the board. The Vikings were second overall in points scored during the year's first 17 weeks. They also were one of the league's best red zone teams. Bend but don't break could prove fatal for Dallas if Favre continues his red zone magic.
As you can tell from most of the game breakdown, this Divisional match up will be one or lost for either team at the line of scrimmage. The line play for both teams is crucial to moving onto the NFC Championship. The team that executes better will be the victor. Of course the turnover battle could change the scope of the game, because turning the ball over kills all great football teams.
If the Vikings execute their game plan and take care of the football I believe the Vikings will be playing in the NFC Championship next week. Watch these key elements of the game, because they will make or break either team. Either way the game turns out the winner of this match up will be the representative for the NFC in the Super Bowl. So this essentially, is the NFC Championship.