EAGAN, Minn. — The stage of NBC's Sunday Night Football seems just right for the stars to shine. Representing the North Star State, Minnesota (3-3) will host Dallas (5-1) from the Lone Star State as the teams meet in football's grandest regular-season setting for the second time in three seasons.
The Vikings and Cowboys feature quarterbacks playing at a high level with Kirk Cousins and Dak Prescott, as well as dynamic dual-threat running backs Dalvin Cook and Ezekiel Elliott. The squads also have impressive top receiver tandems formed by an established vet (Adam Thielen for Minnesota and Amari Cooper for Dallas) and second-year pros who have built on incredible debut seasons (Justin Jefferson and CeeDee Lamb).
It's a cast that would make one think Sunday night's contest will be a fantasy football free-for-all. That is until one considers that Minnesota, particularly at home, and Dallas have been able to make quarterbacks quite uncomfortable.
Don't forget to keep an eye on the goings-on up front to see how the offensive lines are faring. If the unit and players go unnoticed, it's probably a really good thing, as was the case during the career of Steve Hutchinson, who will be presented his Pro Football Hall of Fame Ring of Excellence during halftime.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Cowboys.
Vikings uniform combination: Purple jerseys and white pants
Matchup to watch: Vikings defensive front versus the Cowboys offensive line
With all of the skill players playing so well for Dallas, it will be important for Minnesota's defensive front to make a difference against a talented offensive line.
The Cowboys are getting right tackle La'el Collins back from a suspension. He'll see his former LSU teammate Danielle Hunter quite a bit. Cowboys LT Tyron Smith is likely to reunite with his former college teammate at Southern Cal — Everson Griffen — as well.
Minnesota will want to create pressure on Prescott while doing better against the run than it has to start the 2021 season. Both are big tasks. Prescott has only been sacked nine times, and he's assisted by a rushing attack that has averaged 164.3 yards per game. Remember, that's after gaining just 60 yards on 18 attempts against Tampa Bay in a season-opening loss.
Dallas leads the NFL in yards per game (460.8) and per play (6.58), as well as points per game (34.2).
Minnesota has allowed 16.0 points per game at home this season, but Dallas has averaged 28.0 in road games.
Here are five Vikings-Cowboys storylines to follow in Week 8.
1. Products of pressure
The nine sacks allowed of Prescott, who injured his calf in Week 6 on his game-winning touchdown pass to Lamb, has been an impressive showing and likely has helped Prescott play at an elite level after missing all but five games of 2020 with a major ankle injury.
The Vikings always say there's more than one way to affect a quarterback.
Minnesota, which is tied for the NFL lead with 21 sacks, will try to continue its success at home against opposing passers. Russell Wilson, Baker Mayfield and Jared Goff combined to complete 59 of 100 passes for 656 yards with one score, an interception and a passer rating of 77.8.
2. Protect the football
The Vikings have attempted 240 passes this season and been intercepted just twice. That's good for a rate of 0.83 percent that leads the NFL.
That will again be paramount against a Cowboys defense that has picked off foes at the second-highest clip this season. Dallas has nabbed a whopping 11 interceptions on 229 passes attempted by opponents (4.80 percent).
Cowboys CB Trevon Diggs, the younger brother of former Vikings WR Stefon Diggs, has seven of those interceptions, including two that he's returned for touchdowns.
Minnesota was fortunate to only lose one of its four fumbles at Carolina but shouldn't bank on that kind of luck going forward. The fumble lost to the Panthers led to a quick touchdown and so did a blocked punt.
"Free points" like that can really harm a team against an explosive offense.
3. First test — and a big one — without Peterson
Speaking of corners, the Vikings will be playing their first of at least three games this season without offseason addition Patrick Peterson, who suffered a hamstring injury at Carolina and was placed on Injured Reserve.
Cameron Dantzler spoke Monday about his mindset after playing through some ups and downs. He figures to play a good bit more on the outside opposite Bashaud Breeland and with nickel cornerback Mackensie Alexander.
Lamb (33 catches for 497 yards and four scores) and Cooper (30 for 373 and four) are joined by TE Dalton Schultz (31 for 359 and three) as the top three targets so far.
Peterson last week described that he was approaching the game as if he was playing so he can relay information to teammates.
4. Rest over rust
We'll find out on Wednesday how many players are on the injury reports for both teams, but it's likely the week of rest helped and will be more important than any bit of rust.
Minnesota's injury report before its Week 6 game at Carolina was crowded. The Vikings are likely to be helped with the bye's placement near the middle their preseason and the final 17th game of the regular season.
But they don't have the advantage that some teams have of playing an opponent that had just suited up the previous week.
The Vikings righted their ship a bit in 2020 after a 1-5 start on the way to their bye. This season, they've entered their break even keel and with a better opportunity over the remaining 11 games of the regular season. Players, however, will take it one-by-one.
5. Be excited but not overhyped
Sometimes coaches can worry about a team not being quite as focused after a bye week as it was on the way into the quick break, or if the downtime allowed players to look too far ahead on the schedule.
This one couldn't be looked past with the Hubble space telescope, given the magnitude of the Sunday Night Football stage, the status of the Cowboys as the leader of the NFC East and the recent entertaining competitions in the past two seasons.
Minnesota prevailed 28-24 in 2019 at Dallas in front of 91,188 fans. The Cowboys rallied last season for a 31-28 win in a vacant U.S. Bank Stadium.
The crowd this time is expected to reach U.S. Bank Stadium's capacity of more than 66,000 and likely to be aglow, just like the stars.