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Lunchbreak: Highs, Lows & Opportunity for Vikings Down the Stretch

It's rare than an NFL team goes through an entire season without facing some adversity.

Even those who win the Super Bowl usually have to overcome challenging obstacles along the way, whether it's injuries or inconsistent play.

With every team now having played at least eight games — half of the regular season — ESPN's group of NFL beat writers assessed where each team is at entering Week 10.

Vikings reporter Courtney Cronin summed up Minnesota's 6-3 season so far as one that features both highs and lows.

Cronin wrote:

It has been the best of times (a stretch of wins that lasted the entire month of October), and the worst of times (heartbreaking losses to Green Bay, Chicago and Kansas City) for the Vikings. Kirk Cousins put together a stretch where he statistically was the best QB in the NFL, leading the league in completion percentage and yards per attempt from Weeks 5-8.

But he's still struggling in big moments, including Sunday's 26-23 loss at Kansas City when he had chance to lead Minnesota to a win in the final 2:30. Instead, he is now 0-10-1 in his Vikings career when trailing in the fourth quarter.

The defense, meanwhile, isn't the same unit it was in 2017 despite having most of the same pieces that got this team to the NFC Championship Game. For all the moments where this defense stole the show (against Philadelphia, for example), there have been others where Mike Zimmer's unit came up painfully short (i.e., getting gutted by big plays in Kansas City).

Cousins has completed 174 of 253 passes (68.8 percent) for 2,217 yards with 16 touchdowns and three interceptions through nine games. His passer rating of 112.0 ranks third in the NFL.

Minnesota now ranks fourth with 17.6 points allowed per game, and is seventh at 320.9 yards allowed per game.

Cronin also selected a first-half MVP and went with running back Dalvin Cook.

The running back leads the NFL in rushing (894 yards), has a team-high nine touchdowns and his 1,232 yards from scrimmage through nine games are the second-most in Vikings history. Cook's first two seasons were disrupted by knee and hamstring injuries, but this season he's shown the ability to be an explosive playmaker in the passing game, helping the Vikings become one of the best teams at executing running back screens with his 10.2 yards per catch.

The Vikings have seven games remaining in 2019, including five against fellow NFC opponents. Three of those games are at home, and each of them are against NFC North foes.

Minnesota is also scheduled to play four of its final seven games in prime time, starting with this weekend's game in Dallas on Sunday Night Football.

Cronin wrote that the second half will be a success for the Vikings if they earn statement wins on the road.

If Minnesota wants to advance further than the Wild Card round of the playoffs, it has to earn wins at Dallas and Seattle. Cousins needs a victory against a team of that stature to quiet the notion he can't win "the big one" and instill the confidence he can get his team past the NFL's best should the Vikings still be playing in January.

If the season ended today, Minnesota would be a Wild Card team and the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoff picture.

Vikings will have hands full with Prescott

The Vikings will face a handful of high-caliber quarterbacks over the final seven games, beginning Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott on Sunday night.

Arif Hasan of The Athletic recently answered questions in his weekly mailbag, where the topic of Prescott's strong play — and ability to scramble — came up.

Hasan noted that the Vikings defense will face a tough test in Prescott, who has completed 190 of 273 passes (69.6 percent) for 2,380 yards with 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2019.

Hasan wrote:

It's not going to be easy. Rather quietly — a strange thing to write about a Cowboys quarterback — Dak Prescott has put up a remarkable season that should have him in discussions for MVP. He enters Week 10 ranked No. 2 in ESPN's QBR and No. 3 in yards per attempt. Plus, as you mention, he can scramble, which the Vikings haven't always been great at defending.

Of course, the Cowboys also boast one of the league's best running backs to carry the ball behind the league's highest-paid offensive line.

It's led to the NFL's top offense in yards per game (436.8) and yards per play (6.7). The Cowboys also rank No. 5 in points per game (28.4), No. 2 in passing yards per play (8.7), and No. 4 in rushing yards per play (5.0).

Prescott is 1-0 in his career against Minnesota, with the lone win coming at U.S. Bank Stadium in 2016. He completed 12 of 18 passes for 139 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions in that game.