The Minnesota Vikings’ acquisition of wide receiver Randy Moss heats up what had been a cold start to the NFC playoff race.
While the impact on the Vikings’ passing offense is huge, the loser in the trade could be the NFC East. With Brett Favre once again armed with a legitimate deep threat and the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers potent offensively, the NFC East could lose the chance to get a wild card. Putting Moss on the Vikings also could affect the NFC East winner’s chances of getting home-field advantage.
The NFC East has three 2-2 teams and a 1-2 Dallas Cowboys squad that many thought would be the favorites to win the conference. If Moss is the explosive player who can add a yard to Favre’s yards-per-attempt average, the Vikings go back to being a possible 10- or 11-win team competing with the Packers and Bears.
No wild card will come out of the NFC West because odds are against the winner of that division winning more than eight games. If the NFC East settles into an average division with a bunch of teams between eight and 10 wins, then the hopes for an NFC East wild card would be pinned on the failures in the NFC North, figuring that the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons have shown enough to indicate two playoff teams will come from that division.
The Moss trade hits the NFC East hard because the NFC East plays the NFC North and all four teams have to figure out a way to stop Moss. The Vikings have yet to play a game against the NFC East. If Moss is the difference in those games, that would help the Vikings go 3-1 or better in NFC East matchups. That type of impact would ruin wild-card chances and seeding in the playoffs for the NFC East winner.
Favre and the Vikings desperately needed Moss. They tried every way possible to acquire Vincent Jackson but couldn’t come up with the draft-choice compensation of a No. 2 and No. 4 to satisfy the San Diego Chargers. Favre’s yards-per-attempt average was down to 6.2 without Sidney Rice. Last season, Favre, particularly against blitzes, would send Rice straight downfield to beat a cornerback, something Moss has been doing his entire career.
The Vikings counted on Rice making one or two 20-yard catches a game. Not only does Moss fill that void, but the Vikings could be that much better in the second half of the season if Rice comes back.
Perhaps the most interesting showdown will come Oct. 17, when the Vikings play host to the Cowboys. Moss already has tried to make the Cowboys pay for bypassing him in the draft. Now, Moss, Favre and the Vikings could have an impact on the Cowboys’ playoff run.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.