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Cowboys, Vikings already in playoff mode

Michael Silver
Yahoo Sports

When the 2010 NFL schedule came out in April, Sunday's matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings looked like a scintillating showdown in the making.

The Week 6 rematch of last January's divisional-round playoff clash, featuring two franchises long on star power and short on patience, figured to be a battle between high-riding title contenders.

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The Vikings sacked Romo six times in January's playoff meeting.
(Paul Sancya/AP)
It turns out neither team lived up to its share of the bargain. And that's what makes Sunday's game at the Metrodome even more compelling.

The Cowboys and Vikings are 1-3 teams which appear perilously close to outright crisis mode, and the loser of this game will be staring squarely into the abyss. While it's true that five 1-4 teams since 1990 have rebounded to win their respective divisions, it's also entirely plausible that Dallas (vs. the New York Giants) or Minnesota (at the Green Bay Packers) could lose the following week to drop to 1-5.

In other words, the loser is in deep cow manure, and that's what makes 'Boys vs. Vikes a gift to NFL fans – a virtual playoff game in October. Throw in the multitude of spicy storylines accompanying this win-or-go-into-the-tank duel in the dome, and you've got yourself some gripping television.

The owners, Jerry Jones and Zygi Wilf, while similarly aggressive in a relentless pursuit of a spot in February's Super Bowl (which will take place in Jones' resplendent new stadium), do not like each other at all. I explored this enmity in my fifth annual NFL owner rankings last month; see Wilf's writeup under No. 13.

The quarterbacks, Tony Romo(notes) and Brett Favre(notes), are polarizing figures with Wisconsin ties (Romo grew up watching Favre, a Packers legend) and similarly risk-prone styles.

Newly reacquired Vikings wideout Randy Moss(notes) still hasn't gotten over the Cowboys' draft snub 12 years ago and seems to take it out on the 'Boys every time he faces them.

Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking(notes) bristled after January's playoff defeat, accusing the Vikings of running up the score (he called it "classless"), prompting Minnesota defensive tackle Pat Williams(notes) to say that Brooking had cried "like a little baby."

I could go on and on, but I really don't need to hype this game any more than I already have. While October games between strong, functional teams are fun to watch, this matchup is far more interesting. When the whiff of desperation is already in the air, it brings an even greater sense of urgency to the proceedings.

Because of the teams and principals involved – and yes, I'm talking about a certain 41-year-old quarterback who has been in the news a bit lately – there are a whole lot of you out there who will take great pleasure in watching one or both of these teams collapse.

For the loser of Sunday's game, it'll be that much closer to becoming reality.

TAKE IT TO THE ATM

With Tom Brady(notes) spreading the ball around to every active skill player, the Patriots will pull out a stirring victory over the Ravens. … Last year Eagles coach Andy Reid shoved two late Michael Vick(notes) touchdowns down the Falcons' throats in Atlanta; on Sunday the Falcons will take out their frustrations on Kevin Kolb(notes) in a victory at The Linc. … On the strength of a breakout game by Ryan Torain(notes), the Redskins will take another big step toward a playoff berth by edging the Colts on Sunday night.

PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO â¦

San Francisco, where I can see a truly intriguing Battle of the Bay between the 2-3 Raiders (whoo hooo!) and the 0-5 Niners (oooohh noooo!). I'm sure their respective fans will get into it before, during and after the game at Candlestick Park. But what I'd really like to watch is the two teams' coaches slugging it out. Wait, bad analogy. Maybe watch them try to beat the pants off one another? Oh, never mind.

LIES, LIES, LIES

1. After watching teen heartthrob Justin Bieber make fun of his hairstyle in a video, Tom Brady invited the singer to a Patriots practice, escorted him to midfield and beat the living hell out of him.

2. Asked for his reaction to wideout Devin Thomas'(notes) claim that he was released because of his participation in a steamy Fantasia music video, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said, "Why yes, that's exactly why I released Devin. Well, that and the fact that he was a really lousy football player."

3. Deanna Favre showed up at Vikings practice Wednesday, and hilarity ensued.

WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL

Peyton Manning(notes) and the Colts made me sweat out a 19-9 victory over the Chiefs last Sunday, vaulting me into Week 6 and putting Indy onto the Do Not Play list (along with the Titans, Falcons, Patriots and Saints). This week I'm putting all my faith in the Steelers, who'll likely commemorate Ben Roethlisberger's(notes) return by pummeling Browns rookie quarterback Colt McCoy(notes) (in his first NFL start) into a Heinz ketchup-like substance. OK, that was a bit over the top, and a serious reach of an analogy. It's been a long week. But the Steelers – yes, the same team who blew this for me in Week 13 last season – are going to kill Cleveland.

FANTASY ANNOYANCE OF THE WEEK

My buddy Malibu's fantasy team, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, was cruising to victory over You Are A Jerk last week before Brett Favre and the Vikings' offense came alive late in the third quarter of their Monday-night loss to the Jets. Then, suddenly, Jerk's Percy Harvin(notes) was going nuts, and Sabbath, despite monster weeks from Matt Forte(notes) and Malcom Floyd(notes), had fallen to 3-2. This week Sabbath faces 'Tang (name abbreviated for purity purposes; and yeah, I know, it's what the astronauts drank … ), and Malibu fretted over which receiver to team with Floyd and Donald Driver(notes) in his starting lineup: the Saints' Lance Moore(notes), Cowboys rookie Dez Bryant(notes) or newly repatriated Deion Branch(notes). I told him to go with my man Dez for the following reasons: Moore is part of an utterly discombobulated offense that has had trouble scoring touchdowns; Branch just arrived in New England and likely won't be a major part of the Pats' game plan against the Ravens; and Bryant, meanwhile, will go against a secondary that just lost cornerback Cedric Griffin(notes) to an ACL tear and compete against a team that features one of his boyhood inspirations, Randy Moss.

Back in April, Bryant told me that he remembers, as a 9-year-old in Lufkin, Texas, watching Moss carve up the Cowboys on Thanksgiving – the beginning of a career's worth of haunting the franchise that broke his heart on draft day. "Whoever passed on Randy Moss, I know they feel so sick to this day," Bryant said. "They can never let that go. Twenty years later, they'll still be regretting it. I honestly feel that wherever I go, once I get out on the field and start making plays the way I know I can, all that negative stuff will be out the door. And people will see that I'm not a bad guy." I think Moss and Bryant will go off on Sunday, and since Moss is in 'Tang's lineup, Malibu needs to counter with Bryant.

(For more pretend-team banter, including some Favre talk, check out Y! Sports guru Brad Evans and me on this week's episode of "Fantasy and Reality" – and send in questions for a future episode to fantasyreality@yahoo.com.)

LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …

The Chilean miners, and all the people who made their heartwarming rescue possible. And to Yonni Barrios, a.k.a. Miner 21 – well, a double shot is absolutely in order.

THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

Last week I told you about Alex Morgan's first goal with Team USA and wondered if she saved any for the Golden Bears. On Sunday, I got my answer: Morgan scored three against Southern California to give Cal a 4-3 lead late in regulation (the Trojans fought back to win, 5-4, in overtime), then flew home to Berkeley to socialize with her fellow senior teammates, prepare for her public-speaking class presentation and cure lupus. OK, maybe I'm exaggerating, but Morgan – who'll soon rejoin the national team for the 2010 CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament in Cancun – does that to people. She'll be back in action this weekend against Washington and Washington State at Edwards Stadium, while Cal's 10th-ranked men's team hosts San Diego State and UCLA.

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of watching Cal crush UCLA 35-7, and living it up afterward in Berkeley with a crew that included my old friend (and former Bruins standout) Drew Bennett(notes) and yet another person with Cal ties to be featured in ESPN the Magazine's Body Issue, assistant field hockey coach Carrie Lingo – who also happens to be the 2009 USA Field Hockey Player of the Year and a 2008 U.S. Olympian. The following day, the Bears took care of Harvard, 3-2, in a match featuring the top two schools in the most recent Academic Ranking of World Universities. One reason for this: Cal has the largest number of highly ranked graduate programs in the United States.

Finally, two things: I remain hopeful you'll help Save Cal Rugby, and if you're like me and get happy when Lane Kiffin becomes miserable, root for the Bears to upset the University of Shameless Cheaters at the L.A. Coliseum this Saturday.

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

George Dohrmann confessions agent Luchs

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

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Merriman played sparingly before his release.
(Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The last time I did a Shawne Merriman(notes)-related tune, the three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher was in Tila Tequila celebrity-crossover hell. Now, after being dumped by the San Diego Chargers, he's at a career crossroads – and I'm personally predicting that Lights Out will shine again, perhaps as soon as a few weeks from now, and come back to haunt his former employers. Or maybe I'm just looking for an excuse to crank up some UFO, something my buddy John Galbraith and I are prone to doing on his turntable when we're in the mood for some real '70s rock and roll. And if you don't know, now you know. Here's Merriman at the mic once more, to the tune of "Lights Out", complete with ripping Michael Schenker guitar solos.

Ears pinned back and five-six is charging
Time to make a play
Out on my butt it's no fun
Maybe now my time has come

From Wade Phillips there's a phone call
Chillin' with Jerry
From the backside, to Ware they'll slide
Gotta single me

Lights Out, Lights Out in Dallas
Dynamite off the edge
Better not lock in on Spencer
Look there's DaMarcus
Lights Out, Lights Out in Dallas
Break out my dance again
God knows when I'm comin' on my rush

Heaven help those who release me
That's the way it goes
I'll show that stiff named A.J. Smith
I'll be All-Pro

Lights Out, Lights Out in Foxboro
Dynamite off the edge
Better not mess with Belichick
He'll make you sorry
Lights Out, Lights Out in Foxboro
Break out my dance again
God knows when I'm comin' on my rush

Lights Out, Lights Out in Jersey
Dynamite off the edge
Me with LT and Cromartie?
Let's put Rex on it
Lights Out, Lights Out in Jersey
Break out my dance again
God knows when I'm comin' on my rush

I'll keep comin', there's no runnin'
I'll make Rivers cry
Under center or shotgunnin'
He'll be petrified

Lights Out, Lights Out in Diego
Dynamite off the edge
Someday I'll come back and make them
Throw up fish tacos
Lights Out, Lights Out at Qualcomm
Break out my dance again
God knows when I'm comin' on my rush

Lights Out, Lights Out at Qualcomm …
Lights Out, Lights Out at Qualcomm …