The NFC playoff race this year is a game of musical chairs that doesn't have enough seats. There are nine teams right now with winning records, and only six of them can keep playing into January. That makes every game between these teams exceedingly important to determine not just seeding order, but whether these teams get into the postseason at all.
Dallas and Minnesota would both get into the playoffs if the season ended today, but there's a lot of probability riding on Sunday night's contest between the two teams. Based on the Football Outsiders playoff simulations, the Cowboys make it 86% of the time with a win and 64% with a loss. The Vikings make it 84% of the time with a win, 58% with a loss.
What does Minnesota need to do to win this game and keep the heat on Green Bay in the race for first place in the NFC North?
Upset Watch: Minnesota Vikings at Dallas Cowboys (-3)
There's very little distance separating the No. 4 Cowboys from the No. 6 Vikings in the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings. But how the teams get there is very different. Dallas is the most efficient offense in the league this season, but last year's top-10 defense has declined a bit and ranks only 16th. On the other hand, Minnesota might be the most balanced team in the league:
• The Vikings are seventh on both offense and defense.
• The offense ranks eighth both passing and running.
• The defense ranks ninth both against the pass and against the run.