On Jan. 14, 2018, Kirk Cousins and I were probably in the same place: sitting on a couch. I would also be willing to bet that we were doing the same thing: watching the Minnesota Vikings play the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. Was one of us watching the game casually, as simply a fan of football? Sure. Was the other a walking ball of nerves who was pacing every square inch of their kitchen? No comment. But when Stefon Diggs caught the ball and scored, I wasn’t thinking about Kirk Cousins. I was probably thinking something like “OHMYGODWHATJUSTHAPPENEDAHHHHH”. But when Cousins, a free agent at the time, saw that play, I like to think he imagined himself leading the SKOL chant to the thousands of purple-clad fans.
I don’t need to retell the story of what happened in the next game, because I think we all remember. As the Vikings stumbled into the off season, the eternal question remained unanswered: Who is going to play quarterback? It is an extremely rare situation for a team with Super Bowl aspirations to hit the free agent market for the league’s most important position. But in this case, it was more than necessary.
I hate to say it, but the time is now for the Vikings. The NFL is a ruthless league when it comes to injuries, and good ol’ father time is always prevalent. The Vikings are the most talented defense in the league, if not the most talented overall. But talent comes with a price. And that price is a literal price tag. Cousins’ $24 million guaranteed per year contract is the largest on the team, and contract extensions for Diggs and Danielle Hunter weren’t cheap either. But that’s what it takes to put a contender on the field.
At the end of the day, the season rests in Kirk’s hands. I saw a tweet recently that said something like “What if Kirk Cousins just sucks?” Out of context, Cousins’s resume doesn’t scream “Super Bowl contender”. One Pro Bowl appearance and zero playoff wins? If he flops, that would be a cataclysmic catastrophe. $84 million for a bad player is a death sentence, and could mean the end of the Mike Zimmer era in Minnesota.
But the best possible result is so tantalizing because it is literally the best possible result. A Super Bowl win. Something this Vikings team has never sniffed in its entire existence. A championship. Something the state of Minnesota hasn’t had in over 25 years. Making us forget about what happened on January 14, 2018. Something that I haven’t stopped thinking about since the day it happened.
Here are my playoff predictions for the 2018 season (yes, I know these are after week one, but I will try not to overreact.)
- Kansas City Chiefs (West) – Not going to lie, I have a fever. And the only cure is more Pat Mahomes. The Chiefs transition from Alex Smith to Mahomes will be smooth as silk, turning an already dynamic offense into the most explosive scoring machine in the league this season
- New England Patriots (East) – If it seems like a cheat code that the Patriots make the playoffs every year, it’s because they do. They get to play the Bills, Dolphins and (much improved!) Jets. It’s a pretty good starting point when you can chalk up 5 or 6 wins every single year. The Pats will walk to yet another AFC East title.
- Baltimore Ravens (North) – Regular Joe Flacco is a mediocre, if not downright bad, quarterback. But this is not a year of Regular Joe Flacco. Welcome to Contract Year Flacco. Drafting Lamar Jackson in the first round was not only great for Baltimore’s future, but Jackson breathing down Flacco’s neck will push him to bust out his best season in years. Count me in on the Ravens this year.
- Jacksonville Jaguars (South) – This is the worst division in football. I could really see any of the four teams taking home this division title. The Jaguars are likely in for a letdown after going to the AFC Championship last year, but even 8 wins might be enough to win this division (also: BORTLES).
- Los Angeles Chargers (Wild Card) – The Chargers might be the third best team in the AFC, which makes it a shame that they won’t be able to get past the Chiefs. But I wouldn’t be surprised by a deep playoff run. This is just a solid team all around.
- New York Jets (Wild Card) – Remember when I said I wouldn’t overreact to the week 1 games? I lied. Besides Carson Wentz, Sam Darnold is the best young quarterback to come into the league since Andrew Luck.
- Minnesota Vikings (North) – Need I say more? SKOL.
- Los Angeles Rams (West) – For a team that already has so many weapons on both sides of the ball, adding Brandin Cooks, Ndamukong Suh, Aquib Talib, and Marcus Peters is a downright embarrassment of riches. The Rams are in the Super Bowl hunt right there with the Vikings.
- Philadelphia Eagles (East) – I’m putting the Eagles here with a couple of caveats. The reigning Super Bowl champs are still incredible talented. It just seems like this team will suffer a bit of a championship hangover. Alshon Jeffery is starting off the season hurt, and the return of Carson Wentz could be in two weeks or two months. Buoyed by a relatively weak division, Nick Foles should be able to keep this team average at the very least until the return of Wentz.
- Carolina Panthers (South) – Picking the NFC South champ is like flipping a coin with three sides. The Panthers, Falcons and Saints are all good teams with a proven track record. Cam Newton finally has a full cache of weapons, and running back Christian McCaffery should fully realize the player he was drafted to be, a multi-faceted weapon all over the field.
- San Francisco 49ers (Wild Card) – The man, the myth, the legend, the GQ model. It’s Garoppolo time. With a full off-season with the team under his belt, Jimmy Garoppolo is ready. If there is a guy who could carry a team to the playoffs basically alone, it’s Jimmy.
- Green Bay Packers (Wild Card) – *sigh* Aaron Rodgers is back…