Minnesota’s search for a new general manager and head coach continues, and while the Vikings must get those hires right, it’s also crucial for them to figure out what to do with Kirk Cousins. The new coach and GM will likely have a say in how things go down. After the divisional round weekend, they could see it in two ways.
In the AFC, Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes had a duel for the ages. There was a weekend’s worth of unpredictable twists and turns in the final two minutes alone as both quarterbacks continued to make massive plays. Allen finished with 327 yards passing, four touchdowns, and led the team in rushing with another 68 yards. It still wasn’t enough. Mahomes finished with 378 yards, four total touchdowns, and also led his team in rushing with 69 yards. The rushing yards are an anomaly for Mahomes and a bit of an outlier for Allen. But these are two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL who will be doing battle for the next decade-plus.
Fans who don’t align with the Chiefs or the Bills quickly went from being in awe of the masterpiece they had just witnessed to yearning for their own Mahomes or Allen. There aren’t many like them in the league. Teams in search of their next signal-caller can live with players like Kirk Cousins and try to get it done that way, or they can do what Buffalo and Kansas City did and make a big reach.
The Bills were building on something before they drafted Josh Allen, but they knew Tyrod Taylor was not the answer. Instead of burning two or three more years, they took a swing on Allen and hit a home run.
In KC, Alex Smith was playing fabulously for the Kansas City Chiefs, but Andy Reid and the rest of the brain trust clearly thought it wouldn’t ever be good enough. They ended up taking a gamble on Mahomes. It’s already paid off with one Super Bowl title and two appearances.
The Vikings have to ponder their situation. Cousins isn’t Allen, and he isn’t Mahomes. He won’t ever be either of those quarterbacks. So, does Minnesota keep riding this wave with him while trying to add excellence elsewhere on the roster? Or do they step into the box and start swinging away in the draft? That’s the looming question. Allen and Mahomes have proven time and again how important it is to have a franchise-altering quarterback.
Buffalo’s defense was quietly magnificent for most of the year. But they fell flat on their face against Kansas City. That’s the Mahomes effect.
On the flip side, the Chiefs’ defense started out miserably this year and finished the last 10 games giving up the least amount of points per game in the league. But they looked lost against Buffalo. That’s the Allen effect. Neither defense mattered on Saturday because they couldn’t stop the opposing quarterback. If Minnesota bases the future of its own quarterback position on what happened in the Buffalo-Kansas City game, they should start hacking away in the draft.
The NFC painted a different picture. The NFC Championship will feature Jimmy Garoppolo against Matthew Stafford. The former was brutal against the Packers, leading his team to six total points, yet they won. The latter painted a masterpiece of his own against a stingy Tampa Bay defense, holding off Tom Brady in the end. Stafford made two huge throws to Cooper Kupp on the last drive of the game to get LA into field goal range. Both have one thing in common: a tremendous supporting cast.
San Francisco boasts one of the most efficient running games in the league, and the defense has really dialed it up it in the last month. Led by Fred Warner and Nick Bosa, the 49ers’ defense has been as disruptive as they’ve been in years.
On offense, Deebo Samuel is the Swiss Army knife of all Swiss Army knives. George Kittle continues to be one of the best tight ends in the NFL. And complementary pieces like Brandon Aiyuk and Elijah Mitchell are incredibly crafty. The cast around Garoppolo hold up the entire structure, and they manage to get by with him at quarterback.
Stafford’s situation is just as sweet. Kupp is arguably the best wide receiver in football, and the Rams have three likely Hall of Famers on defense in Aaron Donald, Von Miller, and Jalen Ramsey. Sean McVay puts Stafford in spots to succeed. The downfall is the interceptions, and Stafford is tied for the league lead in that category. It’s held the Rams back at times, but he’s played tremendously so far in the postseason despite not being an Allen, Mahomes, or a Joe Burrow. How Cousins stacks up with the two NFC finalists and their quarterbacks is pretty cut-and-dried.
Cousins is better than Garoppolo, and Garoppolo is still a game away from a second Super Bowl appearance. Stafford just won the first two playoff games of his career. Stafford over Cousins, Cousins over Stafford, it depends who you ask. It’s a coin toss. LA and San Francisco have arrived at the conference championship with top-tier defense and an impressive group effort on offense. Stafford has been and is far superior to Garoppolo, but both come with limitations. If Minnesota bases the future of their quarterback position on what happened with the 49ers and the Rams this weekend, they will conclude that they can stick with Cousins and work to build a complete roster around him.
The Vikings have a lot going for them despite being a team that missed the postseason. The biggest looming question will be what to do with Kirk Cousins, and the new regime, whoever it is, could draw very different conclusions based off what transpired over the weekend.