Is 11 Still the Vikings’ Magic Number?

Photo Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Kirk Cousins was sure he had scored. With 50 seconds left in the Minnesota Vikings’ Week 10 game in Buffalo, Cousins dove left of center and fell near the goal line. “I think I got in,” he told Kevin O’Connell as he stood beside him on the sideline. The quarterback and coach looked up at the big screen as the officials replayed Cousins’s quarterback sneak.

“Did you call that on your own?” O’Connell asked Cousins.

“Yeah,” confirmed Cousins.

“I was gonna call timeout, man,” O’Connell informed Cousins.

“Oh. Okay, I didn’t hear you,” Cousins responded.

“That’s my fault.”

Netflix mic’d up Cousins and O’Connell for the Buffalo Bills game to use for their Quarterback documentary, which they ran in the offseason. It showed how Cousins and O’Connell interacted in a tense moment, one of many in a 13-4 season where they went 11-1 in one-score games. Buffalo led the Vikings 27-23 with less than a minute to go. O’Connell wasn’t thrilled that Cousins called the quarterback sneak on his own, but he chose to instruct rather than scold his veteran signal-caller.

After seeing the replay a few times on the jumbotron, O’Connell confirmed what everyone knew. “I don’t think you got in, brother,” he told Cousins.

“In that situation, you can go over the top.”

“Yeah, I know. I know,” Cousins confirmed.

The documentary then cut to Cousins speaking directly to the camera, saying he made “a pretty critical error.” Back on the field, O’Connell said, “I could have given you a better formation.”

“I got you,” Cousins responded. “Okay.”

O’Connell looked him in the eyes and said, “You know, you just gotta let me help you, okay?”

Cousins responded affirmatively.

The Vikings won 13 games last year. Cousins threw for 4,547 yards; Justin Jefferson had 1809 receiving. Minnesota’s defense ranked 31st in yards allowed. But the number 11 defined their season. The Vikings were 11-0 in one-score games until the playoffs, when they lost to the underdog New York Giants by seven points. That number has divided NFL pundits nationwide as they predict how Minnesota’s season will go.

VegasInsider has Minnesota’s over-under at 8.5 games. They have the Detroit Lions at 9.5 and the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears at 7.5. Interestingly, though, ESPN’s metrics favor Detroit in the NFC North, giving them a 43% chance to win the division. The Worldwide Leader has the Vikings at 29% and favors Chicago (16%) over Green Bay (12%). Still, many pundits believe the Packers will reclaim the division in Jordan Love’s first year.

“I’m going under on [8.5],” Bill Simmons told Cousin Sal on his annual NFC over/under podcast. Sal Iacono is Jimmy Kimmel’s cousin — hence the nickname — and met Simmons working on Kimmel’s eponymous show. They’ve done a preview over/under win total podcast for years, and Cousins Sal seemed particularly surprised that Simmons had the Vikings going 7-10.

“Now, the big number that jumps out at everyone, they were 11-0 in one-score games, right?” he asked Simmons. “Can’t they be 7-4 in one-score games and win nine games this year? Why is that so hard?”

Simmons said he doesn’t see the talent on Minnesota’s roster. Cousin Sal pushed back, saying the Vikings have Jefferson, Christian Darrisaw, and Brian Flores coming in as the defensive coordinator. Furthermore, he believes Alexander Mattison can replace Dalvin Cook, Byron Murphy will take over for Patrick Peterson, and Jordan Addison will replace Adam Thielen.

“I think they win 11 games,” Cousin Sal concluded. “They win this division. That signing of Danielle Hunter makes me think, ‘Alright, they’re serious about this team.’ Everybody’s sleeping on them. They’re going 11-6.”

Conversely, Simmons has the Packers winning 11 games and taking the division. It’s not about Love so much as the team around him. “[Love is] fine,” Simmons concluded.

I just thought Rodgers was pretty mediocre last year. There’s major Ewing Theory potential with him, even though Rodgers won a Super Bowl in Green Bay. It was so long ago, people barely remember.

I just like the team. I just think they’re loaded with dudes on both ends that were picked in high rounds of the draft. What did they finish last year? 8-9? It felt like it was 5-12, but it was 8-9, and they were kinda in some of those nine losses, too.

The Rodgers thing was just bizarre. It hung over the team like a black plague. And the schedule is just ridiculously easy.

It’s not just Simmons jumping on the Packers bandwagon. The NFL Network’s Kyle Brandt is a huge Cousins supporter. But the Good Morning Football host has the Packers winning the division, and he doesn’t think the Vikings will make the playoffs.

“I almost fell off my chair earlier when Kyle Brandt didn’t have the Vikings in the postseason,” Bradt’s co-host Jamie Erdhal told KFAN’s Paul Allen on Tuesday.

Yes, this is a man who last season touted with his tucked-in Kirk Cousins jersey, that Cousins is gonna have a MVP candidate season.

Kirk Cousins is his guy. KB and Cousins are like peanut butter and jelly, yet Kyle Brandt, out on the Vikings making the playoffs. I had them winning the division. I had the Lions also making the playoffs. I believe the three other guys either had them winning or in the playoffs. No one else had them missing.

Erdahl grew up in Bloomington and is still in on the Vikings.

I’m still high on the Vikings. I think Kirk Cousins playing on this one-year deal that he seems to find himself in again, is always an interesting prospect. … But if he’s playing with his back up against the wall, Cousins usually fares pretty well.

On Wednesday, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio told Paul Allen he’s all-in on the Packers.

I picked the Vikings to win the division last year, and I was right. So give me the benefit of the doubt here.

Look, I’m cutting against the notion of the Lions being the class of the division because they haven’t done anything. And I know one of these years, if football continues long enough, and the Lions continue to be part of it, they will inevitably win the division and maybe even win a playoff game, even though it’s been 32 years since that’s occurred and counting.

I just will believe it when I see it. I don’t think because they had a strong finish to last season, capped by the win that knocked the Packers out of the playoffs, that means that they’re suddenly gonna be great. And I think the Packers, after 30 years of consistently contending, passing from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love is the guy that they were willing to disrupt their relationship with Aaron Rodgers for. They traded up to get him. They see something in him.

So I’m ready to give some respect and some credence to what the Packers are gonna be able to do with Jordan Love and Matt LaFleur, etc., etc. I think the Packers will win the division. Not by like five games. It’s gonna be close, right?

Ultimately, it comes down to the No. 11.

Last year, it was too many rabbits out of the hat. You just can’t sustain that many. These games are too close. The teams are too good.

Like many other NFL teams, Minnesota’s players and coaches will tell you that that’s just noise. They believe in the culture that they’ve built and that late-game wins aren’t a coincidence. The Vikings practice late-game situations and manufacture pressure during the week, so the players are ready for it on Sundays.

Ultimately, all that matters is what shows up on tape. Last year, the Vikings won 11 one-score games in the regular season and lost one in the playoffs. They also won one game as an underdog and lost one as a favorite. Vegas had them beating the Giants in Round 1, but Brian Daboll, Daniel Jones, and Co. upset them in Minneapolis.

Still, Netflix’s Quarterback documentary showed why they won so many one-score games. O’Connell could have flipped out at Cousins for calling his own quarterback sneak. Cousins could have brushed him off and slinked into the morass of players on the sideline. But instead of admonishing Cousins for going rogue, O’Connell reminded him that he’s there to help. The Bills tied the game, sending it to overtime. But Cousins led the game-winning drive in the most memorable of Minnesota’s one-score victories last year.

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