Forgive the Captain Obvious connotation, but Sunday’s Wildcard playoff game between the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants is absolutely humongous for one single player.
And it teeters on Captain Obvious because that human is Kirk Cousins.
Sunday’s Game Is Absolutely Humongous for 1 Viking
The Vikings are at home against the Giants, a team they survived just three weeks ago at the same building, U.S. Bank Stadium. Minnesota is favored by three but is a sexy upset victim, forecasted by oodles of media personalities and former players.
Here’s why the game is so damn vital for Cousins.
Cousins Cannot Lose at Home
The Vikings are a stinky road team in the postseason, per history.
If this Wildcard game were somehow on the road, fans would almost expect the Vikings to lose because, well, that’s what the franchise does in road postseason affairs. But the game is not on the road. It’s at home — and the Vikings have the NFL’s fourth-best homefield advantage since U.S. Bank Stadium opened in 2016. Only the Chiefs, Cheese Team, and Patriots are better at their houses.
Should the Giants prevail, Cousins will be the lightning rod for criticism — more on that later — as the aura of “Cousins doesn’t get it done in big games” will reemerge. And the venom will be supersized because home playoff teams usually take care of business.
The Vikings won the NFC North for the first time since 2017 for a reason — specifically to play postseason football at home, at least for a week. Cousins will have the crowd, the point spread (Minnesota -3), and a non-daunting opponent in the Giants. New York is scrappy and upstart, but its roster isn’t deadly.
Quarterbacks earning $35 million per season — who are already chided for “making too much money against the cap” — must win home playoff games.
The Rebuild vs. Re-Tool Debate + Cousins
When new general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah took over for Rick Spielman one year ago, several fans envisioned a burn-it-to-the-ground rebuild.
Adofo-Mensah laughed and did the opposite.
The chief figurine in Adofo-Mensah’s “let’s run it back” mantra is the quarterback. A rebuild would’ve started last March by trading Cousins to the Carolina Panthers or Denver Broncos. Yet, the young executive doesn’t believe in full rebuilds, instead educating Minnesotans about his “competitive rebuild” philosophy. That strategy basically means that a team should never, ever tear it down to the studs.
For now — with 13 wins in the books — Adofo-Mensah looks like a member of Mensa International. His idea was wise. Had he rebuilt like the Texans or Bears, a 13-win season would’ve been squandered.
Still, if the Vikings lose at home, his method may look stupid. What is the benefit of winning 13 games only to get bounced in Round 1 at home? That question will be asked if New York wins, and per the masses, the quarterback is usually accountable for NFL wins and losses, for better or worse.
Familiar Cousins Narratives Return if Vikings Lose
If the box score Sunday night does not have more points next to the Vikings name, Cousins will be blamed no matter what. If the game swings in the Giants favor, 51-48, folks will insist, “Kirk couldn’t get it done.” Cousins will receive more heat than the defense; it’s the world we live in.
Inside and outside Minneapolis, folks search for reasons to savage Cousins. A playoff loss — after a 13-win season — would indisputably provide ammunition for Cousins’ detractors for the next eight months. Period.
Because Cousins tied the NFL record for most game-winning drives in a single season, many anti-Cousins folks have shed their resentments. Those resentments will flood back in Sunday night with a Vikings loss.
In no time, we’d be back to “garbage-time Kirk,” “Checkdown Charlie Kirk,” and “fails on the big stage Kirk” about five minutes after the game concludes. And that’s even if the kicker misses a field goal from like 30 yards away, and the Giants win as a result.
The Vikings must advance to the Divisional Round to keep Cousins’ rejuvenated reputation intact.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).