Just one week ago, I wrote about how we had to take the Minnesota Vikings seriously as a Super Bowl contender after they downed the Bills in Buffalo.
That may well still be true. But assuming it is, then we also have to take the Dallas Cowboys seriously as a threat to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LVII.
On Sunday, the Cowboys waltzed into Minneapolis and dropped a piano on the Vikings, handing them their second-worst home loss in team history. Oh, and they notched the biggest road win in their storied history, to boot.
Sunday's 40-3 demolition of the one-loss Vikings was a statement win in the truest sense, especially when you consider that the Philadelphia Eagles struggled to get past a mediocre Colts team in Week 11 and the Giants were embarrassed at home by the Detroit Lions.
It showed that when the Cowboys are firing on all cylinders, there isn't a more complete team in the league. But it also came in stark contrast to a listless loss to the Green Bay Packers the week before in which Dallas blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead.
The Cowboys may be the best team in the NFC—provided they get out of their own way and don't self-destruct.
After falling in overtime last week in Green Bay, Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy told reporters that while he was unhappy with how the game ended, he felt that close "gut check" games were important tests for the team.
"I'm very frustrated with the end of the game, obviously," McCarthy said. "I think just the biggest thing for us is we need to just go out here and just learn from these games. I love these kind of games. That's what I told these (guys), 'You need these tight games to get to where you want to go.'"
Dallas failed that Week 10 test at least in part because quarterback Dak Prescott threw a pair of costly interceptions. The 29-year-old admitted to reporters that he needed to improve his play ahead of this week's trip to Minnesota.
"I'm my biggest critic, honestly, so if there's a ball on the ground, I feel like I need to get better. Simple as that," Prescott said. "As far as doing more, I've got to stay within the game plan, but at the same sense, there's certain times when looking back at it, maybe I should have extended the play, not necessarily ran, but got out of the pocket and try to make something happen more than what was there. That's going to definitely come, and just practicing it makes it pay off on Sundays."
There was certainly a payoff against the Vikings. Prescott's 276 passing yards isn't a jaw-dropping number, but the 29-year-old missed on just three of 25 attempts, threw two touchdown passes without an interception, posted a passer rating of 139.3 and would have even bigger numbers had he not been pulled early from a game that was all kinds of out of hand.
It was a near-perfect performance, one made all the more impressive by the fact that No. 1 wideout CeeDee Lamb had a relatively quiet game. Of course, the Cowboys didn't need a ton from Lamb in a game where running back Tony Pollard went ballistic...again.
In Week 7, Pollard touched the ball 14 touches and tallied 109 yards. The following week, it was 15 touches, 147 total yards and three touchdowns. The next game, it was 25 touches, 128 total yards and a score. Sunday against the Vikings, Pollard touched the ball 21 times, piled up 189 total yards and scored twice, including one from 68 yards out.
Pollard's tear of late was born partly from the absence of Ezekiel Elliott, who had been sidelined by a knee injury. Elliott was back on the field Sunday against the Vikings, and while he averaged less than three yards a carry, he found the end zone twice as well.
It was an all-around dismemberment of the Vikings defense, and afterward Prescott told reporters that if the Cowboys can duplicate the effort, they will be very hard to beat.
"We knew we needed to respond after last week," he said. "If we can continue to do this, this team can be special."
Frankly, there's no reason to think Dallas can't back this effort up. Elliott and Pollard offer a great "Thunder and Lightning" duo in the backfield. Lamb is one of the best wide receivers in the league. Dalton Schultz is a quality tight end. The offensive line might not be the dominant force it once was, but it isn't a liability.
Dallas has no shortage of offensive talent, and it may well be the weaker of Dallas' two units.
The Cowboys scuffled a bit defensively last week against the Packers, allowing over 200 yards on the ground. While speaking to reporters earlier this week, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said those struggles were absolutely a matter of execution and not personnel.
"One thing I do know," Quinn said, "we have the right crew to do it. And the answers are within that circle to do that. I'm more than certain that this group of guys will get that done."
Apparently, Quinn's players were listening, because Kirk Cousins is going to wake up screaming for weeks after he spent Sunday's entire game fleeing in abject terror.
Spearheaded by Defensive Player of the Year front-runner Micah Parsons, the Cowboys dropped Cousins seven times on Sunday. Cousins barely completed half his passes and threw for just 105 yards. The Vikings were held under 75 yards on the ground and under 185 yards total. That's less yardage as a team than star wideout Justin Jefferson had by himself against the Bills last week.
The Dallas defense leads the league in sacks, ranks inside the top-five in both pass defense and scoring defense, ranks inside the top-10 in total defense and just completely shut down a Vikings team that had little trouble moving the ball the week before in Buffalo.
Offensive weaponry. Defensive firepower. Stars on both sides of the ball. No glaring weaknesses on either side of the ball. The Cowboys have everything it takes to succeed in the postseason. There's just one problem with the Cowboys.
Dallas has reputation for being its own worst enemy—and it's not unfounded. The Week 10 loss to a meh Packers team represented all the Cowboys issues in a nutshell. Dallas turned the ball over, committed nine penalties for over 80 yards and Mike McCarthy curiously eschewed a long field goal in overtime (despite a fantastic long-distance kicker in Brett Maher) for going for it on 4th-and-3.
It worked out about as well as most of McCarthy's head-scratchers. The Cowboys failed to convert and never possessed the ball again.
That's the thing with these Cowboys. Dallas should be able to beat the Giants again on Thanksgiving to claim sole possession of second place in the NFC East. They should be favored in every game between now and their Week 16 rematch with the Eagles, and they are absolutely capable of beating Philly at home to make things interesting in the division.
But that's only if we see the Week 11 Cowboys moving forward and not the Week 10 iteration. Dallas has the talent and the balance to cast its reputation for folding in big moments. To wash off the stink of last year's postseason disappointment. Even to give Jerry Jones that thing he wants more than anything in the world.
All they have to do is play to their potential...and force opponents to beat them instead of beating themselves.