It's the playoffs--time to step our games up. My Gratuitous Picture of the Week is no different. Therefore, I present to you Ms. Shay Maria. What does this picture have to do with Sunday's game? Um, her body is posed in a "V", which obviously stands for "Vikings". Duh!
Finally, Sunday! Game day! It was a long week, but we're finally here! Kickoff is mere hours away!
Wait, what? It's only Friday? We still have over 40 hours before game time?! GAHHHHH!!
Seriously, has this not been the longest week in the history of mankind? I'm fairly certain that there were three Tuesdays and at least a half dozen Thursdays this week. All that was missing was Bill Murray waking up to "I Got You Babe" every morning. But we're almost there, which is better than where we were Monday, which I believe was some time last month.
Like any rabid Vikings fan, I've spent most of the week perusing the internet and absorbing every tidbit of "expert" analysis about Sunday's game. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear that were we just lucky to make the playoffs and the Cowboys had won their last four games by a combined score of 184 to -3. Dallas is no doubt playing well, but let's be realistic here. They beat the Saints in a game that meant about 40 times more to Dallas than it did to New Orleans in the playoff picture. They beat the Redskins, who had a toe tag on their season since Week 5. Then they beat the Eagles twice--a one-dimensional team that relied heavily on the big play and missed every big play opportunity they had. So unlike nearly every analyst has done all week, let's heed Winston Wolf's advice on America's team until they prove it.
Now I'm not saying the Cowboys are a bad team. They didn't win the NFC East by accident, just like our perfect home record wasn't a fluke. In fact, I'm out-and-out nervous about four Dallas players:
- Miles Austin. No, not because I'm afraid of his 14 square feet of gums when he smiles, but I'm worried about who will cover him. If Antoine Winfield was 100% I'd feel better, but he isn't.
- Marion Barber. I'm not nervous about his running--I'm afraid that he won't be healthy and we'll see more of Felix Jones and Tashard Choice, who are infinitely more dangerous to break a big play.
- DeMarcus Ware. This one's pretty obvious. Dude's a beast. Bryant McKinnie will have to play like he actually earned that Pro Bowl spot of his for the Vikings to succeed on offense.
- Anthony Spencer. Let's say that unlike the Carolina game, Childress pulls his head out and decides to give McKinnie some help against a top-tier pass rusher. That will leave Spencer one-on-one with Phil Loadholt on the other side of the formation. You might not know a ton about Mr. Spencer, so I'll give you an in-depth scouting report: he's real good. It's going to take a smart game plan by the Minnesota coaches to keep Ye Olde Gunslinger upright.
Speaking of coaches, I keep hearing about how Wade Phillips has the 'Boys playing so well and how Dallas finally has the monkey off their backs. To borrow a phrase from Mugatu: I FEEL LIKE I'M TAKING CRAZY PILLS! While I know Childress won't be confused with Bill Walsh, this is Wade Phillips we're talking about. The same guy who has been on the hot seat for two years straight. The same guy who didn't have a playoff victory in eight full seasons as a head coach until last week. The same guy where it didn't seem that much out of character for him to call "60 Stretch Far-laaahhhh" in that Pepsi commercial. So this guy magically turned into a great head coach because of one game? Puh-lease. The coaching matchup definitely isn't a MENSA convention, but I don't think there's an advantage either way.
One last thing concerns me about Sunday's game. If the Cowpokes get off to a quick lead, I'm deathly afraid of the "Here We Go Again" Syndrome (HWGAS for short). We're Vikings fans--we're so used to terrible disappointment that we almost expect it this time of year. I was at last year's playoff game against the Eagles. As soon as Westbrook scored on that screen pass, the crowd checked out. HWGAS completely took over the Metrodome. If it's 10-0 Dallas in the first quarter, I fear that HWGAS will consume most fans in the Dome as well as our game thread.
That's no good, but I have to agree with what Deadspin's Drew Magary said yesterday:
As a Vikes fan, I can tell you that whenever the team has a particularly good regular season, they tend to save their playoff chokes for later on, when they're even more painful and humiliating. I also think Dallas is just happy to have won a playoff game again, and will fold with everyone picking them this week. NFC title game bed-sh*tting, here we come!
See? We don't have to worry about getting our hearts ripped out until next week! Besides, I really don't see the Cowboys staking a big lead. It's tough to get up for a game when Keith Brooking is your pregame fire-up guy.
Really Dallas?! That floppy-haired nerd shouting Southern-twanged gibberish is the best you can do? Weak.
If HWGAS doesn't strike and this game comes down to the wire, I really like Minnesota's chances because of our kicking game.
So yes, the world wants you to believe that Dallas is just going to waltz through the Metrodome on their way to the NFC Championship Game. Try telling that to Jared Allen, who's going to make cheap-shot artist Flozell Adams' life a living hell for 3+ hours. Try telling that to Adrian Peterson, who's primed to prove once and for all he's the best running back in the league. Try telling that to Brett Favre, the Future Hall of Famer who wants nothing more than going out on top.
Prediction: Vikings 30, Cowboys 24
Here's how I see the other NFL Divisional Playoff games shaking out (home teams in CAPS):
Cardinals 37, SAINTS 34: Did you see Kurt Warner last week? He had five touchdowns and four incompletions. That's just stupid. Like I said in a Fan Post earlier this week, he made Green Bay's number two defense look like plain old number two. I'm not really concerned about New Orleans' 0-3 finish, but there's no way in hell I can pick against Warner when he's playing like this. Plus if Favre and Warner meet up in the NFC Championship, the NFL can bill the game like a WWE-style "loser retires" grudge match! How awesome would that be?
COLTS 23, Ravens 17: I wanted to pick the Ravens here because I chose Baltimore and Minnesota as my preseason Super Bowl pick. I also wanted to pick the Ravens here because it would convince teams that clinched their playoff spots to play their starters throughout the entire year, making fantasy football more fair for everyone. But Peyton Manning earned the hell out of his fourth MVP award this season. He'll find a way for the Colts to win here.
CHARGERS 30, Jets 16: Darrelle Revis is amazing, but he can only chop down one tree in the forest that is the San Diego receiving corps. Look for LaDanian to show off his ridiculous new dance a couple times Sunday afternoon.
Last week: 1-3
Regular season: 175-81