Vikings-Cowboys preview, predictions: Can Minnesota continue its sizzling stretch?

For a second, think about the big picture.

The Vikings are 8-1. They lead the NFC North by a wide margin. And their most recent game captivated the collective NFL viewing audience. How about that for a start for the new regime, led by first-year general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O’Connell?

That said, a half-season of regular-season games remains. The matchups do not get easier, as evidenced by who is traveling to U.S. Bank Stadium this Sunday: the Dallas Cowboys and our NFL picks.

They are formidable. They pose numerous challenges. In advance of Sunday’s game,

What I’m watching

Justin Jefferson. Call me Captain Obvious, if you please. But after Sunday’s absurdity, how could I pick anything else? He’s on pace for 130 catches and 2,002 receiving yards. He has the most contested catches (14) in the NFL, per PFF. He snagged an important third-down grab a few weeks ago against Arizona. He followed that up with multiple impressive catches against the Commanders. And his performance in Buffalo? Nothing more needs to be said. What’s next? How can he top it? It’s hard to imagine that possibility. But this is a 23-year-old who has pushed the boundaries of possibility. He’s a must-watch every week.

Patrick Peterson turning back the clock. The guy is 32 years old, the time when cornerbacks typically move to safety or retirement. But Peterson just keeps coming up with big plays when this bend-but-don’t-break defense needs them the most. He is playing with supreme confidence, and that is trickling down to the rest of the unit. It may not be the Purple People Eaters or the Millard-Doleman-Studwell crew that dominated in the late ’80s, but the defense is improving every week and starting to find itself. Peterson is a big part of that, and the Vikings will need him again on Sunday against CeeDee Lamb and the Cowboys.

Biggest concerns

The Cowboys pass rush. In recent weeks, the Vikings have faced a couple of high-end fronts. Washington and Buffalo rank among the top 10 teams in pressure rate. The Cowboys, though, rank No. 1. Micah Parsons is a menace. Demarcus Lawrence is destructive. The front, in its entirety, is fierce. Add in Dallas defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s increased willingness to throw the kitchen sink at offensive protections and alter coverage on the back end, and the Vikings offense should have a true challenge Sunday.