If you told me at the beginning of the season that the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings, two playoff contending teams from last season, and two heavy favorites to go to the Super Bowl, would both be sitting ugly at 1-3, I would've laughed in your face and ridiculed you and I wouldn't feel bad about it, either.
Though both teams had shaky preseasons, it seemed inevitable that both teams would finally click and make a run towards the playoffs. With Brett Favre flirting with retirement in the offseason but coming back to get his team in the Super Bowl, and the Super Bowl being played in Dallas' house, it seemed that one of these two teams would simply find what they needed to find and be on their way to championship glory.
That has not been the case. Dallas got off to a shaky start in a heartbreaking loss to division rivals and long time enemies the Washington Redskins. The Vikings suffered an equally hard loss in a rematch from last year's NFC Championship game against the world champion New Orleans Saints. Bad play calling from the sidelines and penalties on the field hampered both teams.
It got no better for the Vikings or Cowboys as they both faced teams with playoff potential in week 2, and lost their matchups to the the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears respectfully. At 0-2, both teams headed into Week 3 facing a bye week and a must win situation. And both teams did. The Vikings got the win over the ever scrappy Detroit Lions, and the Cowboys beat their in state rivals the Houston Texans in convincing fashion.
Both teams rolled out of the bye week with a certain amount of momentum. Wade Phillips' Cowboys had never come out of a bye week and lost. The Vikings made the big time move of trading for Hall of Fame bound wide receiver Randy Moss, a man who Brett Favre always coveted and wanted to play with.
Neither team was going to walk into an easy matchup. The Vikings faced the New York Jets, who have been absolutely on fire and making all of Rex Ryan's preseason bluster seem like an actual reality. The Cowboys would face a Tennessee Titans team that had dominated the New York Giants and Oakland Raiders and played close games with the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers.
On both teams, there were bright spots. Roy Williams continued to step up on the Cowboys, having another brilliant game and justifying his place on the team. We saw glimpses of a Brett Favre to Randy Moss connection that could be very dangerous.
But once again, the teams seemed to shoot itself in the foot. The Vikings got off to an odd (to say the very least) start as the Vikings took the field and ran an end around, only for Randy Moss to throw down the field to Brett Favre. To Favre's credit, he somehow ended up catching the ball, but the team was flagged for an ineligible receiver downfield. The Minnesota offense mustered a pathetic 50-yards in the first half, before Favre rallied the troops in the fourth quarter by throwing his 500th touchdown pass to Randy Moss, while 501 and 502 both went to Percy Harvin. But an odd decision to go for a two-point conversion instead of kicking a field goal that would've made it a one possession game made it hard for even Brett Favre to win a game that was going to be decided by one big play.
The Cowboys would do no better on the penalty front—12 times they were flagged, including a truly boneheaded penalty after tight end Jason Witten scored a touchdown that could've kept the Cowboys in a close game. Witten came out of the end zone and handed the ball to Marc Columbo so he could spike it. They then bumped chests, causing Columbo to tumble to the ground. They were flagged for excessive celebration, and Tennessee's kick returner Marc Mariani took advantage on a huge kickoff return that all but sealed the Cowboys fate.
Turnovers, penalties and all sorts of bad play-calling have been the name of the game for the Vikings and the Cowboys. Both Brett Favre and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo threw game ending picks. Both teams have some of the best running backs in the league (Dallas arguably has three), but seem unwilling to run the ball, even when the run game appears to be working. (Though the Vikings are ranked ninth in rushing, it appears at times the running game is non- existent sometimes).
Now both these teams find themselves in a no lose situation. It's possible that it's still early enough in the season for these teams to turn it around and make a playoff run, but Lord knows it won't be any easier for them. The Vikings have to face the Packers, the Patriots, the Bears and then Green Bay again.
While either team could win the game, neither team can realistically afford to lose it. While it's possible that a 1-4 record could create a sense of urgency jump starts an improbable run at the playoffs, both teams face tough parts of the schedule against teams who would be glad to dethrone them.
The NFC East resembles the Wild Wild West right not, but the one thing all NFC East teams have in common is a seething hatred of the Cowboys, and they'll be looking to prove that all the preseason talk of the Dallas Cowboys being the NFC East Champion regardless was a dumb and foolish prediction. Even at 1-3, people still say the Cowboys have the best chance of being NFC East division champs. Teams will be out for blood to prove everyone wrong.
The NFC North is no different. Though plagued with injuries, the Green Bay Packers are stocked with depth at almost all positions, and those fans would like nothing more than to finally put Brett Favre in his place. The Bears have the best record in the division, and though the Vikings already beat the Lions, it seems this year you can never really count them down and out.
The game is a must win for both sides. In the end, one will rise, and one will fall. A convincing win from either team may be just the confidence boost they need to ride out the rest of the year. A loss sends both teams further into a deep panic mode and digs a hole that may be hard for either team to crawl out of.
It'll be an interesting afternoon at Mall of America Field. Whoever wins could save their season. Whoever loses could lose their season, the teams composure, and maybe even a head coach.
Maybe the best either one of these teams can hope for is a draw.