X factor: Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings TE

Want to impress your friends this weekend? When someone asks who led Minnesota in touchdown receptions this season, you can look at the headline of this post and answer correctly.

That’s right. It wasn’t Pro Bowl receivers Sidney Rice or Percy Harvin. It wasn’t Bernard Berrian or Chester Taylor. Yes, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe was the Vikings’ most dangerous red zone receiver in 2009, catching all of his 11 touchdowns from inside the 20-yard line.

Although Shiancoe was the Vikings’ third-leading receiver overall with 56 catches, you’ll probably hear much more about Rice, Harvin, Berrian, Taylor and Adrian Peterson during pregame hype for Sunday’s divisional playoff game against Dallas. But make no mistake: Shiancoe’s reliability in the red zone is critical in a close playoff game, where the difference between a touchdown and a field goal could determine which team advances to the NFC Championship Game.

Quarterback Brett Favre is a product of one of the original West Coast offenses under Mike Holmgren in Green Bay. That scheme always favored the tight end as it approached the end zone, and Favre has long made it a habit to look that way.

Shiancoe has taken full advantage, catching three 1-yard touchdowns this season. Seven of his 11 scores came inside the 10-yard line. With defenses focused on the corner fade pattern to Rice, Shiancoe has worked the middle of the end zone to his advantage.

Shiancoe, in fact, has caught 18 touchdowns over the past two seasons. No other NFL tight end can match that production. In fact, the only two NFL players who have caught more touchdowns than Shiancoe over the past two seasons are Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald (25) and New England receiver Randy Moss (24).

His name is hard to remember and harder to pronounce. (FYI: It's Vi-SAHN-te SHANK-oh.) But if things go well Sunday for Minnesota, it will be mentioned often.