The Dallas Cowboys have not lost since the season opener but cannot afford to take their foot off the pedal as they prepare to visit the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night. Riding a 10-game winning streak and leading the New York Giants by two games in the NFC East, Dallas has a chance to clinch a playoff spot with a win over Minnesota and some help.
The Cowboys are trying to navigate through their most rugged stretch of the season, with Thursday's matchup marking their third game in 12 days. "They throw these schedules at you and it's part of the game," Dallas cornerback Brandon Carr told reporters. "You get through this one, get through the storm ... you can look back and tell stories about it. It's something that makes us bond and become closer." Minnesota also will be playing for the third time in 12 days and will be without head coach Mike Zimmer, who underwent surgery on Wednesday night for a torn retina. The Vikings have dropped five of their last six, including a 16-13 loss at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day to fall one game behind the Lions in the NFC Central.
TV: 8:25 p.m. ET, NBC, NFL Network. LINE: Cowboys -3.5. O/U: 43.5
ABOUT THE COWBOYS (10-1): Dallas owner Jerry Jones is adopting the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy and sees no reason to deviate from the formula of riding the legs of rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, the league's leading rusher with 1,199 yards. "The more we give Ezekiel the ball, then I think the better," Jones said of Elliott, who also has rushed for 11 touchdowns. "We're winning with that. We're wearing them down on defense." Elliott has thrust himself into the MVP conversation, and one of his competitors may be fellow rookie Dak Prescott, who has 18 TD passes against only two interceptions and has posted a passer rating of at least 100 in nine of the last 10 games. Dallas ranks 31st in pass defense (280.4 yards) and has made only four interceptions.
ABOUT THE VIKINGS (6-5): Minnesota cornerback Xavier Rhodes has as many interceptions as the Cowboys and is part of a defense that ranks second in the league with 17.5 points allowed and paces the NFC with a plus-12 turnover differential. With a stagnant running game and an offense that has been limited to 16 points of fewer four times in the last six games, quarterback Sam Bradford is pushing for the coaches to open the playbook and take shots downfield. Bradford (ankle) has been limited in practice this week but hopes to have the services of leading wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who had 40 receptions over a four-game stretch prior to sitting out last week's loss against the Lions with a knee injury. "I think we've got to find a way to create more explosive plays," Bradford acknowledged.
1. Elliott has rushed for six touchdowns and 400 yards over the last four games.
2. Bradford split a pair of decisions against the Cowboys last season with Philadelphia, throwing for 295 yards and a TD in the last meeting.
3. Dallas will clinch a playoff spot with a victory and either a loss by Washington or a loss or tie by Tampa Bay.
News Breaking News
Key Players to Watch
- NeckQues Sun | questionable
Hughes sat out the previous game due to a neck injury, and it is unknown if he will suit up against the Texans on Sunday.
- RibsQues Sun | questionable
Dantzler has missed the past two games with injured ribs, and it is unclear if he will return Sunday versus the Texans.
- FootOut indefinitely | I-R
Dye has been assigned to the injured reserve list with a mid-foot sprain, and it is unknown how long he will be debilitated.
- AnkleQues Sun | questionable
Reiff is dealing with an ankle injury, and it is undetermined if he will be in Sunday's lineup versus the Titans.
- HamstringQues Sun | questionable
Boyd is hobbled by a hamstring injury, and it remains to be seen if he will participate in Sunday's tilt versus the Titans.
- ConcussionQues Sun | questionable
Boone left the last game to be evaluated for a concussion and did not return. It is unknown if he will be cleared in time for Sunday's matchup against the Titans.
- PectoralI-R | I-R
Barr has been added to the injured reserve list due to a torn pectoral muscle.
- NeckOut indefinitely | I-R
Hunter has landed on the injured reserve list due to a neck injury, and he will miss an extended period.
- AnkleQues Sun | questionable
Looney left the previous game due to an ankle injury, and it is unknown if he will be active Sunday versus the Browns.
- StingerQues Sun | questionable
Smith has missed the past two games with a neck stinger, and it is unclear if he will return against the Browns on Sunday.
- HamstringOut indefinitely | I-R
Awuzie has wound up on the injured reserve list with a hamstring injury, and it is unclear how long he will be idle.
- KneeProb Sun | probable
Lawrence has a knee injury, but he is likely to play Sunday versus the Seahawks.
- ShoulderProb Sun | probable
Diggs is bothered by a shoulder injury, but he is expected to be in Sunday's lineup versus the Seahawks.
- RibsOut indefinitely | I-R
Brown has been moved to the injured reserve list, and it has yet to be established when he will return to the fold.
- TeethQues Sun | questionable
Smith is ailing from a tooth issue, and it is unclear if he will be in Sunday's lineup versus the Falcons.
- AnkleProb Sun | probable
Lewis missed the last game with a left ankle injury, but he is likely to play Sunday against the Falcons.