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Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Updated: January 13, 4:29 PM ET
Vikings, Saints similar to '07 Cowboys

By Tim MacMahon
ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- They entered December as the NFC favorites before backing into the playoffs.

That formula failed for the 2007 Dallas Cowboys, who enjoyed a bye week -- perhaps too much -- after losing two of their last three games and wound up with much more time off during the playoffs than they had planned.

"Everybody knows you can't flip the switch," cornerback Terence Newman said after the Cowboys' playoff loss to the New York Giants that season.

Brett Favre & Brad Childress
The flap between Brett Favre and coach Brad Childress caused quite a distraction for the Vikings to end the regular season.

We'll see whether that's the case for the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints this season. Those two teams, who were considered the clear-cut co-favorites in the NFC until their late-season fades, have a lot in common with the Cowboys of a couple of years ago.

Like the '07 Cowboys, the Vikings and Saints dominated the first three months, thrilling fans and filling highlight shows with their high-scoring offenses. But the bandwagons blew a flat down the stretch of the regular season.

The Vikings (12-4) lost three of their last five games, including a pair of losses to teams that already knew they'd be playoff spectators. Their rough approach to the playoffs included controversy swirling around the celebrity quarterback, as was the case with the Cowboys a couple of years ago.

The spotlight then was on Tony Romo's relationship with Jessica Simpson, even when they tried to get away for a quiet bye-weekend siesta in Cabo San Lucas. The tabloids don't care about Brett Favre's relationship with coach/chauffeur Brad Childress, but their reported bickering about control over play calling created quite a stir in the NFL world.

Folks in Minnesota might argue that the Vikings' 44-7 rout of the Giants in the regular-season finale stopped their skid. That might be true, but the Giants had given their two-weeks notice 13 days earlier and had minimal interest in the game that afternoon at the Metrodome.

Davis You don't want to go in just kind of strolling along. It definitely makes a difference to come into the playoffs rolling like we have been.

-- Cowboys guard Leonard Davis

The Saints had shown signs of mortality the two weeks prior to Dallas' date at the Superdome on Dec. 13, but New Orleans had a perfect record when the Cowboys arrived. The Cowboys seized the lead on the opening possession and never gave it up, sending a strong message that this Dallas team was different than the editions of the last decade.

That started a three-game, season-ending tailspin for the Saints. It became obvious that the Saints had serious issues when they followed up the Dallas loss by allowing a Tampa Bay team that had been out of contention since October to win the next week at the Superdome.

With the top seed wrapped up, Saints coach Sean Payton rested his stars for the regular-season finale, mailing in a loss to the Carolina Panthers. A similar decision didn't work out so well for Wade Phillips a couple of years ago.

These Cowboys, on the other hand, have to be considered the NFC's hottest team after four consecutive convincing wins. The defense has allowed a total of 31 points during the winning streak despite three games against top-five scoring offenses. Romo has been remarkable for the last six weeks, consistently making plays and committing precious few turnovers while spreading the ball around.

Tony Romo
Tony Romo and the Cowboys were lighting up the scoreboard during the 2007 season, but everything came crashing to a halt when they lost at home to the NY Giants in an NFC divisional playoff game.

"You don't want to go in just kind of strolling along," Cowboys Pro Bowl guard Leonard Davis said. "It definitely makes a difference to come into the playoffs rolling like we have been."

Momentum entering the playoffs certainly doesn't guarantee a Super Bowl berth. And some teams have managed to flip the switch, such as last season's Arizona Cardinals, who represented the NFC in Tampa despite losing four of six games to end the regular season.

"It's still how you play in the playoffs," Phillips said.

Yet Phillips acknowledged the Cowboys' path to the playoffs this season puts them in better position to succeed than two seasons ago. They'll take their chances on the road against a team or two that hope to revert to midseason form for the playoffs, something Dallas knows all too well is difficult to do.

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.