NFL Kickoff is tonight, so TGH is bringing you analysis of one of the most fascinating and competitive divisions in football.
This short series will be evaluating the worst-case scenario for each NFC North team that could keep them out of the playoffs (barring major injuries to key players).
Today, we take a look at the Minnesota Vikings.
Worst Case Scenario: Kirk Cousins’ primetime woes continue
Cousins’ history & signing
Kirk Cousins was drafted in 2012 by the Washington Redskins. The same year the team drafted Heisman-winning Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III with the second overall pick.
He got his first start in December 2012 after a slew of injuries to Griffin. Cousins also came into the fourth quarter of their Wild Card loss, again relieving Griffin after another injury. He would continue to sporadically replace RG3 until 2015 when he was named the season starter.
Multiple trade talks and franchise tags later, Cousins signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Vikings. In the richest guaranteed-money contract in NFL history, the Vikings paid him $84 million (all guaranteed) over three years.
During his first year in Minnesota, Cousins led the team to an 8-7-1 record, with a 3-2-1 record in the NFC North. This placed them second in the division, but without a playoff berth. A marked downgrade from their 13-3 campaign in 2017.
With offensive-minded Mike Zimmer as the head coach, and $84 million worth of belief in Kirk Cousins, the 2018 season was a disappointment, to say the least.
Under the lights
Cousins has a problem in primetime.
The 31-year-old is 5-13 in 18 games under the lights in his career. While Mike Zimmer (as head coach) is only slightly better at 8-9 in 17 games, this cannot be put solely on his shoulders.
Cousins also has a problem against good teams.
His record against teams with a winning record in his career is 4-25. He was 0-6 in his first season with the Vikings. He has never won a Monday Night Football game, with a record of 0-7.
These numbers do not seem worthy of one of the biggest NFL contracts ever to be signed. In a vacuum, they do not indicate that Cousins should even be starting. But Minnesota spent the money, so they have no choice but to ride this particular horse.
Currently, the Vikings are slated to play five primetime games, two of which will be on Monday night. Of their 16 games, seven will be against teams that had a winning record in 2018, which is favorable, but not by much at all.
Three of the five primetime games the Vikings will play come against a team with a winning record in 2018. They have the 10th hardest strength of schedule in the NFL.
This schedule combined with the data above spells disaster for the Vikings. If Cousins loses all five of his primetime games in 2019, their best possible record is 11-5. In his career, he has won 16 percent of his games against winning teams. If all trends continue, that translates to one win in his seven games against teams with winning records.
Assuming the Vikings lose all of their primetime games, and win only one of their games against winning teams, their best possible outcome is 7-9 (0-5 in primetime, 1-4 in day games against the remaining winning teams).
Finishing 7-9 is not going to cut it in this division this year. It certainly does not cut it for a quarterback whose contract may become an albatross in 2020.
The Packers look tougher than they did in 2018. The Bears retained a lot of defensive talent and Nagy has had another year to fine-tune the offense. The Lions are hungry and have something to prove under second-year head coach Matt Patricia.
Kirk Cousins has to shake this particular monkey off of his back. The catch-22 here is, that if the Vikings perform well, they will not be flexed out of these primetime games, meaning he will have even more to prove to himself and to the Minnesota faithful.
Although, if he performs badly, at least he can be comfortable playing in the afternoon.
Featured Image courtesy of Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports
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