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Cowboys a good test for ambitious Vikings Sunday

The Minnesota Vikings will have the challenge they need Sunday on their Mall of America Field playground.

Maybe Arizona would have been an easier semifinal draw but playing Dallas will be good for the Vikings.

The Cowboys gave up the fewest number of points of any team in the NFC this season with their rugged 3-4 defense. They have also won four in a row and have played one of the toughest schedules in football.

All of these facts make for good hype but what it really comes down to is how well the Cowboys play in Minneapolis. Wade Phillips and his coaches already know the Vikings will play well.

Beating the Cowboys could send a sign that this is finally the season when the Purple and Gold goes back to the Super Bowl. Having missed the last 32 Super Bowls it would be exciting to see the Vikings playing in Miami in February. The last time the Vikes played in the big one was 1977 and Minnesota ace quarterback Brett Favre was playing with Tonka trucks.

The focus is on Favre and for good reason, as the most celebrated member of the team, he represents the best chance Minny has had of going all the way since the days of Fran Tarkenton.

Very, very few teams have reached the Super Bowl without a great quarterback running the show. The Vikings have tried to convince the fans that they had the right quarterback many times over the last 30 years. Tommy Kramer, Brad Johnson, Rich Gannon, Wade Wilson, Jim McMahon, Warren Moon, Daunte Culpepper all played well enough to get the Vikes into the playoffs, but the truth is that most quarterbacks who lead their teams to the Super Bowl are not just good, they are great.

Losing to the Cowboys on Sunday will mark the end of another season for the Vikes. People will grumble, winter will really set in and maybe Zig get fed up and announce he is moving the to Los Angeles. On the other hand, beating this tough, physical football team (that is playing its best football of the season right now) could be the springboard the Vikes need to shoot them to Miami.

What is destructive about having a guy like Favre on your team is that there too much focus on him. What is great about having him is that he has been to the Super Bowl and he has won it.

The greatest concern for the Vikes on Sunday is how well the Minnesota defense, which could not stop Chicago three weeks ago, will play against Tony Romo and the Dallas offense. The Minnesota defense will not have middle linebacker E.J. Henderson on the field in a playoff game for the second year in a row. Cornerback Antoine Winfield will play, but a guy like Dallas receiver Miles Austin could make it tough for the injured veteran.

Predicting a winner Sunday is going to be like flipping a coin. About all that is certain is that it will be Dallas or Minnesota. Look for the game to be decided by three points or less.