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Vikings better be ready for when Cowboys storm into town

ARLINGTON, Texas -- For his sake, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre better have maxed out his down time this week because he's going to need fresh legs next Sunday when the Dallas Cowboys come to town for an NFC Divisional playoff game.

The Cowboys defense has spent the past few weeks getting after Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb like he was chum in a pool of starving sharks. The astonishing manner in which Dallas has smothered McNabb in two consecutive victories -- the latest in a 34-14 wild-card win Saturday night after a regular-season-ending 24-0 thrashing -- makes thinking that a less mobile quarterback, such as Favre, might not stand much of a chance.

Of course, Favre and the Vikings have a stout offensive line and a strong running game, things the Eagles don't possess. That could help offset the heat the Cowboys bring. Minnesota's defense also has fewer holes to exploit. Yet, Dallas is on the type of roll where only injury or self implosion could set them back.

"We are playing as good as anybody right now," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "Our defense is playing outstanding and our offense is playing really well and our special teams are playing really well. We know Minnesota is undefeated at home. They have a lot of weapons and they are a very good football team. They are the No. 2 seed for a reason."

But, like defensive end Marcus Spears said, "We've got good players too."

He went on to say, next week's game will be physical, intense and pretty much, "Vintage Football 101."

That the Cowboys beat the Eagles again for a second consecutive win wasn't much of a surprise. Like boxers, Dallas was a bad matchup for Philadelphia. Philly's defense couldn't generate pass pressure without exposing itself with blitzes; its receivers weren't able to shake free for big plays; its defensive coaches were outfoxed again by Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett; and the offensive line simply didn't have the muscle to wrangle with Dallas' front.

That the Cowboys beat them so convincingly two straight times is a different story. The Eagles figured to bounce back like a team that's been here before, which they have, and play like they wanted revenge. They just weren't good enough.

"They were better all the way around," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "They came out and kicked our tails two weeks in a row in every way -- coaching, playing."

If it were any other team but Dallas, the scales would be more balanced for the Eagles, as they proved in winning 11 regular-season games. However, Philadelphia isn't built to play from behind and, as has been the case for years, isn't suited to play power football on offense and, this season, on defense. Cornerback Sheldon Brown broke things down by saying it's tough to lose when mental mistakes beat you. It's tougher when you get whipped physically.

Philadelphia will now be subjected to the questions about its structure, McNabb's future and why repeated trips to the playoffs always end up with them not winning the final game of the postseason. Dallas, at least for now, has earned the right to side step those issues. Since 1996, the Cowboys have been the team badgered for their inability to win a playoff game.

"We don't have to hear that we have not won a playoff game in a long time," Phillips said.

For how Dallas has finished the regular season -- and is currently playing -- their stepping out of their dubious recent history now seems almost small. The Cowboys' prospects seem much bigger because they seem so complete on offense, defense and special teams. Plus, they've got momentum.

In their last two games, both against an Eagles team that, heading into the final week of the regular season was regarded as one of the NFL's elite, Dallas has scored 58 points and allowed 14. They have recorded eight sacks and been nothing short of dominant.

Dallas can run the ball regardless of who is in the backfield. The Cowboys carved up the Eagles with backups Felix Jones and Tashard Choice, while starter Marion Barber watched for most of the game because his bruised knee acted up. The Jones-Choice combo might actually be Dallas' best rushing option moving forward, with Barber assuming his role of a few years back as a late-game closer.

Minnesota is going to be a much tougher opponent in that regard, as Pat and Kevin Williams and the swarming linebackers don't yield much up front.

Quarterback Tony Romo can also carve up a team. Philadelphia came after him this time after sitting back a week ago, and the Eagles got torched just as mercilessly. When safeties moved to the line of scrimmage, he pillaged the vacated deep middle time and time again on slant routes. Eight different receivers touched the ball, and Roy Williams even made an appearance.

The Vikings have been torched by big plays, but the week off will allow some players (Antoine Winfield) a chance to heal and give defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier a better chance to dissect film and come up with a creative game plan. The Vikings have the pass rushers to pressure Romo, but they also have to contend with Dallas's offensive line, which is pretty much dictating the way things go.

Defensively, there isn't much that can be said, but Reid might have explained best how the Cowboys treated his team.

"I come into every game thinking we were going to win the game so, when you get your tail kicked, it's not a great feeling," he said.

Vikings coach Brad Childress, a Reid protégé, better hope the same isn't in store.

Dallas' players said Favre's experience and ability to zip the ball into tight spots is going to present a set of problems that could keep them pretty occupied. Tailback Adrian Peterson will too. Minnesota also likes to mash as much as the Cowboys do.

Whether the Cowboys' staying in a rhythm will give them an edge against the Vikings remains to be seen. For Dallas, the one edge they did gain was getting that playoff win. It did wonders for their mindset.

"We're just playing lights out," tight end Jason Witten said. "We've been on a mission, and we've had high expectations and standards for ourselves. Just to see us playing the way we are, I'm so happy to see it."

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