The Dallas Cowboys are back to work in Week 8 after enjoying their bye. Their next opponent also took last week off, and have had a different kind of season thus far. Just who are these Minnesota Vikings that we'll be visit on Sunday Night Football?
Minnesota is 3-3 and that record could be deceptive. Their three losses have been against some of the NFL's top teams so far in Arizona, Cincinnati, and Cleveland.
Not only that, but the Vikings have kept it very close against the Cardinals and Bengals. The road team in both games, Minnesota took Cincy to OT in Week One and only lost on a last-second field goal to Arizona in Week Two.
The margin between Dallas' 5-1 record and the Vikings' 3-3 suddenly looks a lot slimmer in that context. That's especially true if you factor in how narrowly the Cowboys came out on top against the Chargers and Patriots.
But now let's talk about Minnesota's three wins. The irony here is that the Vikings have arguably been more impressive in two of their losses than in two of their victories.
In their last two games prior to the bye, Minnesota needed overtime to beat the collapsing Carolina Panthers. A week before, they need a game-winning FG to beat the 0-7 Detroit Lions.
Of course, a win is a win in the NFL and ultimately the Vikings handled their business. But if we're going to giver them style points for those two losses to the Bengals and Cardinals, we have to deduct for their last two outings.
Minnesota's statistical rankings don't help much either for finding their identity. Their best mark is being fifth in total offense but mitigated by only being 14th in scoring. Their defense is middling; 16th in yards allowed per game and 13th in points.
Even last year's game between Dallas and Minnesota doesn't tell us much. In a year that most things went wrong for the Cowboys, they got a stunning road upset over the Vikings thanks mostly to a huge day of forcing fumbles from Safety Donovan Wilson.
Andy Dalton was QB1 that week and Dallas was just 2-7 going into the game. They are a much different team in their 2021 return to Minnesota, riding a five-game win streak and getting legitimate Super Bowl buzz.
Assuming Dak Prescott actually suits up on Sunday night, the Cowboys should be favored given what we've seen from both teams so far this year. They will not only have their MVP-candidate QB in action but other assets they didn't have in 2020 such as a solvent offensive line, a revitalized Ezekiel Elliott, and an upgraded defense.
The bye week may help Dallas in more ways than one. Not only did it give Dak time to hopefully recover from his calf strain, but it gave them an extra week to prepare for the Vikings and not get too caught up in the current positive momentum.
But after Prescott's availability, the next-biggest question for Sunday is which Minnesota team shows up to play. Will it be the guys who pushed the Bengals and Cardinals to the brink and manhandled the Seahawks in their first three weeks, or the ones who couldn't function against the Browns and barely got wins over the Lions and Panthers?
The 2021 Cowboys have proven they're good enough to win regardless of which version of the Vikings they face. With Denver and Atlanta next on the schedule, this is a great chance to stay on the winning track and keep it going to the midpoint of the season.