The loser of Sunday's Panic Bowl between the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys will be 1-4. Since 1990, five 1-4 teams have gone on to the playoffs -- most recently Brett Favre's 2004 Green Bay Packers. But I don't think anyone in Minnesota wants to see if the Vikings can make it six. Their offense provided a glimpse of how explosive it can be Monday night against the New York Jets, and there is some hope that another week of practice together will smooth out the rough edges. Receiver Randy Moss has never lost to the Cowboys in seven starts, and to use his word, the Metrodome figures to be "bananas" in his first home game there in six years. As it has all season, the Vikings' chances will rest on whether they can protect Favre long enough to get the ball downfield. Favre's ailing right elbow usually feels a lot better when he's not getting driven into the turf.
Coach Brad Childress was accused of running up the score on the Cowboys in last season's divisional playoff game.
Sunday's game at the Metrodome will carry any number of subplots. Among them: lingering animosity from the Vikings' 34-3 playoff victory over the Cowboys last January. Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking claimed after the game that the Vikings ran up the score, and Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said this week that continuing to push for points in the fourth quarter was "not something I would have done." Coach Brad Childress countered: "It'd probably be a good idea to cover somebody. Generally on defense, you've got to cover the deep plays." And you can always count on nose tackle Pat Williams to get involved in any exchange of hurt feelings. Hang on. This one should be fun.
A wild week of games and injuries left us vastly underplaying the Detroit Lions' status as the highest-scoring team in the NFC. That's right. Their 126 points and 25.2 points-per-game average stand atop this conference. We all thought the Lions would have some high-scoring games this season, and they've run up their point total even after starting quarterback Matthew Stafford suffered a Week 1 shoulder injury. That said, the Lions will have their work cut out for them this week at the New York Giants. NFC North fans should be fully educated about the kind of pass rush the Giants can produce after seeing them put 10 sacks on the Chicago Bears two weeks ago. And even if he does play, receiver Calvin Johnson figures to be limited by a right shoulder injury. If the Lions can win Sunday, snapping a 23-game road losing streak, it will be quite an accomplishment.
There have been general statements of the Bears' fortunate scheduling over the next few weeks. But I wonder if many NFC North fans know how rare it would be if the Seattle Seahawks pull an upset Sunday at Soldier Field. According to NFC West colleague Mike Sando, the Seahawks are 9-16 over the past six seasons when they play a road game in the early Sunday time slot -- a disadvantageous 10 a.m. Seattle time. Five of those victories have come against the St. Louis Rams, meaning they have lost 15 of 19 games over that span to the rest of the league. And to this early point in the Pete Carroll regime, the Seahawks have been a much different team away from Qwest Field no matter what time kickoff is scheduled for. In two road games this season, both losses, the Seahawks have averaged 8.5 points while allowing an average of 25.5 points per game. Suffice it to say, the Bears have a fortuitous matchup this week.
If the Packers are going to emerge from their injury morass, they're going to need much more production from receiver Greg Jennings. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has targeted him 31 times this season, but so far only 14 have gone for completions. With tight end Jermichael Finley (knee) likely out for the season, Jennings is the Packers' top scoring threat. Jennings' frustrations boiled over on the sideline during last Sunday's 16-13 loss to the Washington Redskins, but he's going to have to collect himself and re-emerge as Rodgers' go-to threat if the Packers expect their offense to resemble its previous incarnations. That could be a tough task against the Miami Dolphins' defense, which has two excellent and physical cornerbacks in Jason Allen and Vontae Davis.