Friday, January 15, 2010

There's Much to Win and Even More to Lose

BY Josh Alper

Good men and women can disagree with how Sunday's game is going to play out, but everyone will likely agree that the winner will only be half the story when all is said and done. The other half is going to be figuring out who deserves to wear the goat horns. Tempting candidates abound thanks to the glut of high-profile players on both squads and the plethora of long-term storylines that will add a chapter on Sunday. Here's a look at the leading contenders:

Wade Phillips: Everyone is convinced that he's back in 2010 and everything looks good on that front unless the Cowboys get blown out of the Metrodome. Wade will survive a close loss and he'll survive a well-played game that winds up with the Vikes winning by 10 or 12 points, but there's no chance he survives a game that sees the Cowboys fail to show up. We're pegging the odds on this outcome pretty low, but it would be silly not to mention it.

Brad Childress: For unfamiliar Cowboys fans, just picture a bald, bearded Phillips with a funky headset. Great offensive coordinator but the jury is still out (and leaning negative) about whether he's a good head coach. A loss where the Vikes snatch defeat from the jaws of victory will render the final verdict.

Brett Favre: Do we even need to mention the particulars? If the gunslinger goes out and throws a bunch of interceptions in yet another playoff loss, he'll throw a little more dirt on the good old days and then probably reveal that he's been suffering from a crippling case of psoriasis all season. It will be hard to find many people clamoring for another ride on the Favre-Go-Round if that happens. That's not a bad thing, unless you're Favre.

Tony Romo: Similar to Wade, except that Romo has done a lot more to rehab his image this season. He'll be the starting quarterback in 2010 no matter what happens on Sunday, but a bad game will give everyone a talking point for the offseason. He's got less at risk than anyone else on this list, although another dropped snap on an extra point won't do him any favors.

Marion Barber: It all comes down to whether he's healthy and how much he's physically able to play. Another injury and another strong Felix Jones performance, win or lose, will mean that the two players have swapped roles. Jones is the feature back, Barber is the change of pace guy and that's not good for the guy being paid like the feature back.

Shaun Suisham: Ryan Longwell deserves a mention, because any kicker can label himself a choking failure on a playoff kick, but, starting with his job, Suisham's got more to lose. Suisham's the weakest link on a deep, talented team. That's a tough spot for a kicker and if he blows the thing on Sunday, he need not get on the flight back to Dallas.

Antoine Winfield: Winfield's got a reputation for being a top-flight cornerback. Even though they have a terrific pass rush, the Vikings don't have a very good defense against the pass. That doesn't add up, although Winfield gets some slack because of a broken foot this season. If Miles Austin or, even worse, Roy Williams has a fantastic game, some in Minnesota might be wondering if Winfield's hype is deserved.

The Field: The beauty of playoff football is that there's always a chance that someone can make a career-defining bonehead play. Maybe Jared Allen runs the wrong way with a fumble, maybe Jason Witten drops two wide-open touchdowns or perhaps Mat McBriar punts the ball backward. We can't say it won't happen, but one of these other fellas will likely wind up in the headlines.

Adrian Peterson: This is the guy with the most on the line Sunday. The Vikings will have trouble protecting Favre, which means they are going to need Peterson to have a big game on the ground. That's well within his skill set, but they'll also need him to hold onto the ball and therein lies the rub. If Peterson has a key fumble, his entire persona as an NFL player changes overnight. He's a fumbler and an unreliable running back, no matter how many yards he gains or spectacular runs he breaks. That's big at a position which has the shelf life of sushi.