I'm not a prophet, and I want to make it clear that this is an uninformed and partisan opinion. I'm basically an enthusiastic but not terribly knowledgeable fan of the Dallas Cowboys, and none of the NFL pundits I've read are going to say anything this strong.
But, I have to sound off about this Sunday's playoff game between the Cowboys and the Vikings: I think it's going to be Brett Favre's last game in the NFL. The last time he played a Wade Phillips defense, he was 38 years old. A corner blitz knocked the living legend out of the game in the second quarter, when a fourth-string cornerback named Nate Jones put his helmet on Favre's elbow. Aaron Rodgers came in to run the offense and sometime during that game probably convinced the coaching staff that he would be able to replace Favre in an outstanding effort that nearly brought Green Bay back in a game in which they were seriously undermanned on offense.
And, after that '07 season was over, as everyone knows, Favre hung it up. Sorta. Kinda. Well, all that was two jerseys, two comebacks and 26 months ago.
Favre is now, at 40 years and change, the oldest quarterback to start a playoff game. Ever.
A less accomplished fellow with a stronger grasp of their own mortality would probably tweak their game to reflect their oddysey as the last of their generation of football players. Not Brett Favre. He is still the same gunslinger who likes to make plays, throwing on the run to his right side, even into double or triple coverage.
In other words, he's a stubborn, but talented son of a gun. You couldn't play the way he's playing if you weren't both of those things. A guy with dramatically-reduced skills would've already lost his job. A guy who modified his game wouldn't have accumulated the kind of numbers (and attention) that Favre seems to crave. Favre has the job, and he has the numbers, and quite deservedly our attention. Bully for him, for not conceding anything to Father Time even though he's not getting any younger.
But, here's the thing. Wade Phillips hasn't gotten any younger, either, but he has always served up some of his best work at Favre's expense. (Exhibit A: 1998 Atlanta Falcons) He has a lot more to work with on the defensive side of the ball now than back in November of 'o7, particularly in the Cowboys' rebuilt secondary.
And, frankly, Phillips doesn't have to move and run an offense against his own defense. Brett Favre does.
I hope, really, that nothing bad happens to Brett Favre. I want to win, but I don't want anyone to get hurt. But the way I see it, this guy is going to get whacked. If the Cowboys can get to Favre, they will win. Pretty much everyone really understands that, except the strong-willed Favre. He's going to end up holding a football a bit too long trying to make a play, and the Cowboys pass rush is going to make him pay for it. That, more than anything else, is why I think the Vikings will come up short in the divisional playoff, and (expecting the costs to be dear) that is why I think Favre's career has one game left.
You can call me arrogant, but the way this Cowboys defense is playing, it's not that much of a stretch to see that they are going to get multiple shots at Favre's 40-year-old body. It doesn't take a degree in psychology to understand that a great competitor like Favre is going to hang on longer than he should in a game of this dimension, and that the likelihood of serious injury is magnified as a result.
The Vikings do have an equalizer, though: Adrian Peterson has the ability to take over the game not just as a runner, but as a receiving option. The Norsemen have got to hope that they are able to establish this aspect of their game early and often in the first half, and get a couple of scores on in the first quarter. This will help them dampen the Dallas pass rush, and reduce the chance of a corner blitz skewering their old field general.
But I wouldn't bet on it. The Dallas front four has shown they have the ability to pressure a QB without needing a lot of help from blitz packages, and they've been especially ferocious the last six weeks. And, the last seven weeks, 'AP' has not had the sort of signature performance required to balance the Vikings' aerial attack. Instead, time and again, Peterson's either been stuffed running inside (rather than to the perimeter), or when productive, his carries have been limited by the well-documented tendencies of his QB to audible pass plays. I
f you had asked me at mid-season which team was better, I would've said the Vikes hands-down, but a perfect storm is coming to the Metrodome or whatever they are calling their facility these days. No matter the outcome, this game is going to be hard to forget. If Favre can win, he will set another of those records he seems to excel at collecting: oldest QB to start and win a playoff game, for example.
But, I think it more likely that the Cowboys are going to be the villains in this playoff. Don't say I didn't tell you if it pans out that way.