Dallas Cowboys @ Minnesota Vikings
Last Updated: 02/12/16 6:37am
After a 5-0 start, five losses in their last six outings has dragged the Minnesota Vikings back into a NFC North battle.
Despite losing Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson at the start of the season, Minnesota jumped out in front with a five-game winning streak. Quarterback Sam Bradford managed the game effectively as the defence took the plaudits for big plays week after week.
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However, the tide turned after the Vikings' bye week as they lost the next four. A win against the Arizona Cardinals in week 11 maintained their positive record, but after losing to division rivals Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving, there is concern for Minnesota's play-off hopes which once looked a certainty.
Peterson has begun running again as he continues his rehabilitation, but the seven-time Pro Bowler is still a long way from active duty. Head coach Mike Zimmer also looks set to miss the game after having eye surgery.
Bradford continues to struggle throwing downfield (the Vikings are yet to score a touchdown in less than four plays), and the team ranks last in average yards gained. Minnesota will be without starting center Joe Berger, who suffered a concussion against the Lions, and although wide receiver Stefon Diggs returned to practice, he is listed as doubtful following a knee injury.
In comparison the Dallas Cowboys have continued to rise, winning ten straight and setting a franchise record in the process. Sky Sports expert Neil Reynolds is campaigning to drop the 'rookie' tag from duo Dak Prescott and Ezekeil Elliott, who continue to impress like seasoned veterans.
Running back Elliott is chasing Eric Dickerson's record for 1,808 rushing yards as a first-year player, and the Cowboys, who can cement their place in the play-offs this week, are chasing home field advantage for their post-season campaign.
Cornerback Morris Claiborne, who has been one of the Cowboys' more under-rated stars of the season, will be out until mid-December with a groin injury, and Sean Lee missed practice with illness, but head coach Jason Garrett expects to have him back for their visit to Minnesota.
The Vikings defence has been susceptible against the run, and will have to come up with a master plan to contain Elliott. Dallas' biggest weapon, though, is their versatility. If Minnesota can deal with the rush, an exceptional offensive line gives Prescott enough time to find Dez Bryant or Cole Beasley downfield.
In front of a prime-time audience, this is an opportunity for the Vikings to show that they're still a play-off contender. However, they will have to be at the very top of their game to subdue the best ranked team in the NFL.
Watch the Cowboys @ Vikings live on Sky Sports 1, from 12:30am on Friday December 2.