The Minnesota Vikings started the season 1-5 but have won the last three games since their bye week. They enter this Week 11 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys with momentum but also a short week coming off Monday Night Football. Given this and other factors, this Sunday's game may not be as big of a mismatch as some people think.
Minnesota's last three wins have all been against their division rivals, two of them on the road. And while neither the Bears or Lions are great competition this year, the Week 8 road win over the 7-2 Packers was very impressive.
There are lots of reasons on paper to think that the Vikings will trounce the Cowboys. We shouldn't be surprised that Dallas is a 7-point underdog on Sunday given the disparity in overall record, recent performance, and the game being in Minnesota.
But we've seen this scenario many times through the years; a team on a hot streak gets a seemingly easy opponent and doesn't rise to the occasion. The “letdown game” potential in this one is huge.
Of course, the Cowboys will have to do their part not to give the game away. The issues that cost them games earlier in the year such as Ezekiel Elliott's fumbles and a zero-resistance defense can't return if they ever want another win.
But Dallas showed significant improvement defensively in their last outing against the Pittsburgh Steelers, nearly giving them their first loss of the year. And even with Garrett Gilbert at quarterback, the offense had a better flow and made Kellen Moore look very good.
Even in defeat, Dallas looked like a better and more motivated team against the Steelers. If they built on those things during the bye week, the Cowboys we see this Sunday could be surprising.
Now handing things back over to Andy Dalton after his return from injury and COVID-19, Dallas is hoping he also will show some improvement.
It's pretty easy to say that the game will come down to the play of the quarterbacks. In the modern NFL that's just one step up from, “whoever scores the most points will win.” But Dalton and Kirk Cousins are both huge x-factors who are capable of big swings in either direction.
We saw Good Dalton when he stepped in for an injured Dak Prescott and helped Dallas stay solvent and get a division win over the Giants. But when Zack Martin got hurt quickly in the following game, the offense crumbled and Andy was as much as fault for that as anyone.
Cousins has also been a mixed bag this year. His 11 interceptions so far in 2020 is second-most in the league behind Carson Wentz, but only one of those was thrown since the bye week. And surprise-surprise, the Vikings haven't lost any games since he stopped giving the ball away.
Dallas and Minnesota aren't that different in their overall team rankings. Still riding the stats that Prescott put up earlier this year, the Cowboys' offense is ranked 8th overall and the Vikings are right behind them in 9th place. Defensively, Dallas is 23rd and Minnesota 24th in yards allowed per game.
The Cowboys will have an extra week of rest and prep from the bye while the Vikings just played last Monday night. Even if Minnesota is the better team, is it close enough for those factors to swing things Dallas' way?
Without question, the Dallas Cowboys have been one of the worst teams in the NFL since Dak Prescott went out. Even with him they were only 1-3; clearly this team has issues from its coaching changes and major injuries.
But at 4-5 the Vikings are hardly a model of consistency. They're riding high right now but that could be exactly what the Cowboys need to get the road upset and start making up some ground in the NFC East.