Nothing deflates an NFL team more than losing their starting quarterback. This preseason, two Super Bowl hopefuls were hit hard by the injury bug and both injuries will affect the teams in the long term. For the Dallas Cowboys, 36-year-old quarterback Tony Romo was viewed as an injury risk, especially after missing 12 games last season, but when Romo broke a bone in his back after getting crunched in a preseason game against Seattle, the team’s playoff aspirations took a big hit as well. Romo is expected to be out until midseason, according to reports. The Minnesota Vikings, an aspiring Super Bowl contender, lost third-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for the season after he tore his ACL during practice, a stunning loss. The losses shake up the playoff picture and will greatly impact how the season turns out.
Prior to losing Romo, the Cowboys had the potential to have one of the greatest offenses in football- an elite quarterback in Romo, a can’t miss running back in rookie Ezekiel Elliott, a couple talented receivers, and the best offensive line in the game. Without Romo, the Cowboys’ offense would be sunk, if not for rookie Dak Prescott.
Prescott, a fourth round pick out of Mississippi State in this year’s draft, emerged as the de facto backup when previous backup Kellen Moore was injured. In three games of preseason action, Prescott has lit up the competition, showing off his golden arm and speedy legs. His big frame and mobility has earned him comparisons to Titans great Steve McNair and his mid-round selection and subsequent starting role brings to mind Seahawks passer Russell Wilson. The Dak Prescott train is rolling and that has given Cowboys fans hope for a playoff berth this year.
If Prescott, the only rookie quarterback in line to start Week 1, can play up to the promise he showed in the preseason, the Cowboys will have a definite shot to win the division. If the preseason turns out to be a total fluke or Prescott catches the injury bug, the Cowboys are in deep trouble. Remember 2015, when Dallas went 1-11 without Romo starting, and the possibility of another 4-12 season looms.
Minnesota has a better roster, more talent across the board, and greater potential, but the loss of Bridgewater dealt a huge blow. Unlike the Cowboys, the Vikings’ new starter hasn’t been the subject of much fanfare- he’s Shaun Hill, a lifetime backup in his 15th season who has been unspectacular in stints with the 49ers, Lions, and Rams. Other than that, Minnesota has Joel Stave, an undrafted rookie, so the trade market might be an option for the Vikings.
How much does Bridgewater’s absence hurt Minnesota? Not enough to rule the Vikings out of the playoff picture. Minnesota is built around an elite defense and the best running back in football in Adrian Peterson, so they have never been a pass-first team. Bridgewater excelled in the game managing role, not taking too many risks but keeping the chains moving. If Hill, or an acquired player such as Denver’s Mark Sanchez or Cleveland’s Josh McCown, can be at least decent in the role and stay on the field and healthy, Minnesota will challenge in the Wild Card race. For an example of a team without a proven quarterback getting to the playoffs, look at last year’s Denver Broncos (Manning v. Osweiler) or the 2012 Vikings, who reached the playoffs with Christian Ponder under center. The Vikings will also need Peterson to carry the offense and have somewhat close to an MVP-caliber season like his 2012 campaign, and the defense will need to shut down opponents and keep the team in games.
My original season predictions penned in the Cowboys and Vikings as division champs and Minnesota as the Super Bowl champion. After the losses of Tony Romo and Teddy Bridgewater, those projections may be in need of some revision. But to assume that Dallas and Minnesota are totally out of the mix would be a misstep, because both teams have the potential to overcome the losses and put up a fight.