Don’t look now, but the Minnesota Vikings have reached the tail end of their murderer’s row of six-straight opponents with serious playoff aspirations, and they’re firmly entrenched in the NFC wildcard picture. The Vikings have won three out of their past five and have an opportunity to put an exclamation point on this most difficult stretch of the season with a Week 12 road trip to Santa Clara. At 5-5, the Vikings are currently slotted as the sixth seed. The San Francisco 49ers are also 5-5 and occupy the eighth seed. Suffice it to say, this game will have serious playoff implications for both ballclubs.
The biggest culprit for Minnesota’s current standing in the NFC is none other than Minnesota’s favorite, Kirk Cousins. And after slaying the dragon of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in Week 11, Cousins rightfully deserves to be in the MVP discussion.
Coming into Sunday’s game, Rodgers and Cousins were first and second in passer rating across the league since Week 3 of last season, with ratings of 114.0 and 107.3 respectively. Week 3 of last season was significant for Cousins because that was Justin Jefferson’s first game in the starting lineup. And after Sunday’s victory over Rodgers and the Packers, Cousins’ passer rating since Week 3 of 2020 spiked to 108.2.
Cousins’ masterful performance against the reigning MVP included completions on 24 of 35 passes for 341 yards, three touchdowns, and a passer rating of 128.4. Most importantly, Cousins led his sixth game-tying and/or game-winning drive of the season. And he did it going toe-to-toe with the world’s most popular unvaccinated quarterback after he completed a 75-yard touchdown strike to Marquez Valdes-Scantling to tie the game at 31 with 2:08 remaining. Cousins dodged disaster when his first pass of the final drive — a 50/50 deep ball to Jefferson — was temporarily intercepted by Packers safety Darnell Savage. After the review nullified the turnover, Cousins completed three consecutive passes for 51 yards, capped off by a 26-yard completion to Adam Thielen to put the Vikings in field goal range at the Green Bay 19-yard line.
What’s most astonishing about Cousins’ Week 11 performance is that Green Bay’s defense completely obliterated Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes, and Russell Wilson over their previous three games, surrendering an average of 184.33 passing yards in that span. While blitzes like these were able to shut down other star quarterbacks, Cousins withstood Green Bay’s best punch and torched a unit that came into the contest as the third-best scoring defense in the league.
Circling back to Minnesota winning three of their past five, Cousins has been singlehandedly carrying this franchise. Over the past five games, he has been forced to deliver while his defense has given up an average of 26.6 points and 389 yards per game. The Vikings rank 23rd in points allowed and 28th in yards allowed on the season. And while the defense hasn’t necessarily held up their end of the bargain over this daunting stretch, Cousins has over-delivered. Cousins has compiled a passer rating of 109.1 over the past five. That includes his borderline clunker against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 8.
For context, Tom Brady entered Monday night’s contest with a passer rating of 102.5 over his past four games. And with Brady recording a passer rating of 89.7 on Monday against the New York Giants in Tampa, that rating will drop below 100 over his past five.
Speaking of Brady, he entered Monday night’s game as the odds-on favorite to land the 2021 NFL MVP at +350, per Draft Kings. And for those of you that are curious, Cousins currently has the 12th-highest odds to win the award at +4,000.
Let me be clear: I’m by no means saying that Cousins should or could win the award.
Consider that Cousins continues to perform as the one of the league’s best quarterbacks with a first-year offensive coordinator. He’s playing on a team with one of the league’s worst defenses statistically. And he’s operating behind an offensive line that Pro Football Focus currently has graded as the worst pass-blocking unit in the entire league. He deserves to be much higher on the current MVP odds.
Other than Brady, the quarterbacks that currently have better MVP odds than Cousins are as follows:
- Josh Allen +600 (Currently 6-4 with a passer rating of 97.1)
- Matthew Stafford +1,000 (Cousins faces at US Bank Stadium in Week 16)
- Aaron Rodgers +1,000 (Cousins defeated in Week 11)
- Dak Prescott +1,000 (103.9 passer rating)
- Patrick Mahomes +1,200 (Career-worst 94.7 passer rating)
- Kyler Murray +1,200 (Cousins outperformed and was a Greg Joseph 37-yard field goal away from defeating in Week 2)
- Justin Herbert +1,200 (Cousins outperformed and defeated in Week 10)
- Lamar Jackson +1,400 (Outperformed Cousins and beat the Vikings in Week 9)
And after Week 11, Cousins has the third-highest passer rating throughout the league for a team that currently holds the sixth seed in the NFC.
And for those of you that scoff at passer rating, it’s important to note that seven of the past eight NFL MVPs finished in the top three in passer ratings during their MVP campaigns. The only exception was Cam Newton in 2015, when he finished seventh with a passer rating of 99.4.
Luckily for Cousins, they don’t crown the league’s MVP after 11 weeks. And with the trajectory he’s been on over the past 24 games with Jefferson in the starting lineup — including his dominant play this season — he will have every opportunity to address the national media (and local Skoldiers) with his favorite Destiny’s Child lyric whenever the MVP subject is broached.