At 3-3, the Minnesota Vikings have the perfect record to describe the first six games of the season. For everything that has gone right, there's been something wrong to balance it out and because of that we don't know whether the Vikings are a legitimate contender.
Sunday's game against the Cowboys could go a long way in determining what type of team Mike Zimmer has but a lot of that depends on the availability of Dak Prescott. With the Vikings needing a win no matter who is under center, this should be an unpredictable matchup but here are five things you can count on.
1. The Cowboys pounding the ball on the ground
The status of Prescott will steal the headlines but whether it's Prescott or Cooper Rush, the Cowboys are going to try to win this game by utilizing their rushing attack.
Led by Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, the Cowboys are third in the NFL with 5.3 yards per carry. That's a big problem for the Vikings who are third in the NFL with 4.8 yards allowed per carry and will be without Michael Pierce for the second straight game.
This makes running the ball the most effective strategy to not only protect their quarterback but exploit the Viking defense. Even with a depleted secondary, look for the Cowboys to try to beat Zimmer with his own playbook.
2. Justin Jefferson getting a big play on Trevon Diggs
Diggs has been one of the best cornerbacks in the league this season with seven interceptions in his first six games. While no other cornerback has more than four, Diggs' interception totals are a bit deceiving.
According to Pro Football Focus, Diggs ranks fourth in the NFL with 419 yards allowed and second behind Xavien Howard with four receiving touchdowns allowed. A big reason for this is his vulnerability to the double move, which was on a long touchdown by New England's Kendrick Bourne in Week 6.
This should play into the hands of Jefferson and possibly Adam Thielen who are two of the best route runners in the NFL. If the Vikings get an opportunity, they should not be afraid to test Diggs.
3. Kene Nwangwu making an immediate impact
Alexander Mattison has done a great job stepping in for Dalvin Cook this season but his athleticism and decision-making sometimes leaves yards on the field. While Mattison should remain the backup coming out of the bye, there should be more of an opportunity for Kene Nwangwu getting involved coming out of the bye.
Nwangwu brings an outstanding athletic profile to the Vikings backfield and could be more of a compliment to Cook. With a 4.32 second time in the 40-yard dash, the fourth-round pick not only has a chance to make an impact on kick returns but also on offense.
While Dalvin Cook is healthy coming out of the bye, it wouldn't be a bad idea to mix in a second running back to keep him healthy. With Nwangwu's profile, he could have a great chance to see the field on Sunday.
4. An opportunity for Cameron Dantzler
One of the more shocking developments this season has been the fall of Cameron Dantzler. After coming on strong in the final weeks of the 2020 season, Dantzler has been buried behind Bashaud Breeland and has spent most of this year in the doghouse.
But there may be something to Zimmer's reluctance to play him. Part of Dantzler's hot streak was made on small sample sizes as he was rotated in and out of the lineup. While he dominated in his lone game over 30 coverage snaps, it came against journeyman Mike Glennon and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Dantzler's preseason performance didn't do him any favors but after Patrick Peterson's hamstring injury, the Vikings may not have a choice other than to let him see the field. As Mike Hughes is still looking for Amari Cooper from their 2019 matchup, Dantzler will have a tough test. If he passes, it could mean a bigger role moving forward.
5. The Cowboys playing it safe with Dak Prescott
From a marketing standpoint, there are a lot of people that would love to see Prescott play in this game. While the Vikings defense is not part of that group, it would be interesting to see him hit the field if only to see where the Vikings stack up against a legitimate contender.
The reality is that Minnesota needs a win more than the Cowboys do. At 5-1, Dallas is running away with the NFC East and may be willing to throw away this game in order to have a healthy quarterback later in the year.
Prescott remains a game-time decision but he and head coach Mike McCarthy have both mentioned the bigger picture this week and that could lead to Rush getting the start.
While it may not indicate who the Vikings are, that should lead to a win and put the Vikings above .500 for the first time this season.
Prediction: Vikings 27, Cowboys 21