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Cowboys at Vikings: Writer predictions for SNF matchup, with or without Dak Prescott

How are we feeling about a game where we’re still unclear about who will start under center?

Dallas Cowboys v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

Remember when the biggest storyline for this game was La’el Collins being benched for Terence Steele? Ah, simpler times.

In case you’ve missed it, the last few days gone from “There’s no reason to worry about Dak Prescott’s calf strain” to “Well, we’re not entirely sure he’ll start this week” before devolving into “Vegas knows something we don’t! Prepare for panic!” At the time of this piece being written, no official announcement has been made on whether or not Prescott will appear Sunday night in Minnesota, but it does sound like Cooper Rush may be asked to start.

It’s a sticky situation to be in given that the Vikings have won two in a row and are a couple unlucky bounces away from being 5-1 instead of their 3-3 record. Whether it’s Prescott or Rush under center, they’ll have to deal with the reality of Steele matching up against Danielle Hunter, a truly elite edge rusher, as well as playing in front of a notoriously loud crowd in a stadium that’s been known to get very loud. It’s no wonder the betting lines have since moved in Minnesota’s favor, but how are our writers feeling about this one?

When Minnesota has the ball

Attack the middle of the offensive line and pressure Kirk Cousins

Kirk Cousins is quietly having a good year throwing the ball, which is good for the Vikings since Dalvin Cook and the running game are still getting things going. But Cousins tends to fall apart when the pass rush gets to him, something the Cowboys need to make a priority.

Minnesota has two really good tackles, but their interior trio of Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, and Oli Udoh leaves a lot to be desired. Dan Quinn needs to attack those three players, creating isolation matchups for Osa Odighizuwa to win one-on-one’s and stunting Randy Gregory inside. Micah Parsons offers a lot of value as an A-gap blitzer in this one, too. If the defense can make Cousins uncomfortable early, it’ll be a long night for this offense and not the other way around.

When Dallas has the ball

Pound the rock

By most accounts, head coach Mike Zimmer has his defense playing at their usual level again after a dismal 2020 showing. But the run defense is still suspect. The Vikings are 24th in run defense DVOA, 31st in run stop win rate, and are allowing the third most yards per carry so far. What’s worse is Minnesota will likely be without their big run-stuffing defensive tackle Michael Pierce for the third straight week.

This plays into Dallas’ favor in a huge way. Even if Prescott does play, it sounds like he won’t be at 100% health. Luckily, the matchup dictates a game plan that wouldn’t need him to do too much anyway. The Cowboys have one of the best run blocking units in the NFL right now, and both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are in the top five of all running backs in rushing efficiency, according to Next Gen Stats. On top of that, a run-heavy approach would minimize the amount of pass sets Steele has to play against Hunter. As long as the Cowboys are still able to throw when they need to, this has the makings of a game where they’re set up for success regardless of who’s under center.

Now onto the predictions from your BTB writers...

Tom Ryle:

There is the lingering question of Dak’s calf, but I am almost certain he plays, and will be in “silence the doubters” mode. It looks like Terence Steele gets the start over La’el Collins, but they’ve done pretty well with Steele playing.

So I’m sticking with my DVOA based prediction that the Cowboys win 34-24.

Terence Watson:

First let me start with a prediction, Dak Prescott will play this week despite all of the questions surrounding his status. With that out of the way the Cowboys will be facing a tough team this week, we’ve seen them have issues stopping g the run and this Minnesota Vikings team does it well.

Lucky for the Cowboys their pass blocking hasn’t been at the level of their run blocking so the Cowboys pass rush should have a chance to make plays in the backfield this week. You can also look for the Cowboys offense to give them a heavy helping of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard this week to get pressure off Prescott. I have the Cowboys winning thanks to their pass rush this week.

Cowboys 27, Vikings 17.

Matt Holleran:

This is all a moot point if Dak Prescott does not play, but I’m going under the assumption that he does suit up Sunday night. Offensively, even with a potentially limited Dak, the Cowboys will be able to run the ball on this Vikings defense. Just like they did last year in Minnesota, Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard will both have big days.

On defense, I see the Cowboys having a hard time slowing down all the Vikings’ offensive weapons. I think this Halloween night matchup comes down to the last second, and Greg Zuerlein plays hero once again.

Give me the Cowboys in a nail-biter 26-24.

Darreck Kirby:

This game remains a bit of a question mark given Dak Prescott’s status. Even if he were available and not struggling with a strained calf, this game still wouldn’t be a guarantee on the road against a team desperate to break out of their .500 funk the first six weeks as Minnesota has. If Dak does give it ago, I feel better about Dallas’s chances, though I do worry the team might be getting ahead of itself by going all out for this one win that could count toward the 1-seed at the risk of compromising their most essential player. As such, I issue two predictions because I can: If Dak does play, Dallas remains the better team but likely has less urgency, leading to another slugfest like we saw in New England. In this circumstance, I’ll take Dallas 27-23.

If Dak doesn’t play, however, I’m far less optimistic. Cooper Rush has zero touchdown passes in his career and just three pass attempts to his regular season stat sheet. On the road in a tough environment and needing to keep things steady, I think you’ll see a lot more touches for Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, but I think the Vikings look to apply some extra pressure with their pass rush to keep Cowboy receivers from developing their routes and giving Rush clean targets.

In this scenario, give me Minnesota 31-17.

Aidan Davis:

We will start with the easier side of the ball to predict. The Cowboys defense is likely going to struggle against the Vikings offense. It is not because of Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, or any of their elite pass catchers, it’s because Minnesota doesn’t turn the ball over. They are content marching down the field, albeit inefficiently, but they protect the ball nonetheless. Unless the Cowboys pass rush is really able to cause a disruption in the backfield, they will likely have a problem with the Vikings’ offense.

Now we get to Dallas’ offense. Regardless of the quarterback, the Cowboys will be able to take advantage of the Vikings weak rushing defense. Especially on early downs, Pollard and Zeke will be able to rip off yards at will. This will set up short and manageable conversion situations on second and third down. If Dak were to play, these conversions are a given and the offense will have no problem. But if Dak doesn’t play then expect a decent amount of stalled drives and it will be difficult to watch after the powerhouse offense we’ve seen over the last six weeks.

Cowboys 30, Vikings 27 (if Dak doesn’t play, making a prediction is a futile effort).

Tony Catalina:

There is one main unanswered question when it comes to Sunday’s game. We all know how we feel about this game is contingent on Dak’s availability. I’m of the belief that 4 will find a way to play. I think he will and will do so at a high level.

Cowboys are facing an offense that can be explosive and dangerous, much like their own, and the defense will need to continue to be opportunistic and find ways to take the ball way. Look for big games from the Cowboys running attack and look for this offense to play efficiently as they look to protect Dak as best they can.

Cowboys find a way to win this one 28-24.

Brian Martin:

Dak Prescott’s health for this Week 8 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings makes predicting the outcome of this game nearly impossible. There’s no way of really knowing how much his calf injury will hinder him or if he will even play Sunday night.

Under the assumption No. 4 plays and isn’t limited, I think this is a game the Dallas Cowboys win, despite Minnesota having the home-field advantage. Look for Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard to have a huge game and in so doing help extend the Cowboys win streak to six in a row.

Score prediction: 24-17, Cowboys.

Danny Phantom:

Assuming Prescott is a go, this game should provide plenty of highlight moments. I expect the Cowboys to be slow out of the gate on this one while the Vikings offense starts off hot. Look for Adam Thielen to be a tough cover for the Cowboys secondary. Dak and company will start to get things going, but they won’t fully capitalize on their opportunities and play catch up for most of the game.

In the end, the defense comes through with a big play, setting the stage for the Cowboys to pull off the comeback. Greg Zuerilein makes up for an earlier shank and plays hero with the game winner.

Cowboys 25, Vikings 24.

David Howman:

I have no idea who the Cowboys quarterback will be for this game, but my thoughts on the conundrum are very simple: 1) This team is significantly better when Dak Prescott is on the field, at full health or not, and 2) This team is talented enough and creative enough to beat this Vikings team without him.

That said, this is a road game in a difficult place to play, so the Cowboys will need to score early to take the crowd out of it. If Cooper Rush has to handle a close game in a hostile environment, I don’t like Dallas’ chances. But I think this offense is well-equipped to gash this problematic Vikings run defense and control the game either way.

Cowboys win 24-20.