It’s that time of year when all the season predictions are coming out in force- and in case you missed it here’s mine for the Vikings- but there is one prediction out there, or really set of predictions- that I found a bit surprising or at least a little intriguing.
The first one is Kirk Cousins for MVP. Yes, you can file this one under “bold predictions” as Cousins is a 40-1 shot for MVP, with the usual suspects- Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady- the favorites. Both Kyle Brandt and Micheal Irvin on nfl dot com predicted Kirk Cousins for MVP this season. Okay, this is entertainment and throwaway picks nobody will remember next week let alone next year when they’re decided, but still I don’t believe Cousins has ever even been predicted to win the MVP before.
But Kyle Brandt does make at least a somewhat plausible argument for Cousins getting the MVP nod this season, which is essentially this: every once in a while a good not great QB finds himself in the right scheme, with the right coach, with the right receivers, and that leads to a spike in performance that propels him to the MVP award. Examples include Rich Gannon from back in 2002, and Matt Ryan in 2016. You could also add Kurt Warner, who started his pro career with the Packers briefly, then played a few years in the arena league, then came to the NFL in the Greatest Show on Turf and won the MVP twice. And last season, while he didn’t win MVP, Matthew Stafford was a similar case.
2022 MVP pick.— Kyle Brandt (@KyleBrandt) September 7, 2022
I’d like to take this chance to apologize, to ABSOLUTELY NOBODY pic.twitter.com/HFA16AghR8
But is this really the right coach, right scheme, right receivers for Kirk Cousins to really shine to the point he’s at least in the MVP conversation, maybe even win it? You could certainly make that argument.
We’ll start with the last element: receivers.
KJ Osborn tweeted this updated poster of ‘Three Deep,’ the original being Randy Moss, Cris
Carter, and Jake Reed back in the day. It’s a bit premature to compare the Vikings’ current trio to its greatest, but there’s no denying the Vikings have a pretty good receiver lineup.
There is no comparison to Randy Moss, but Justin Jefferson has the second-shortest odds to be Offensive Player of the Year, and is the favorite to have the most receiving yards, and could very well have a Randy Moss-like season this year in terms of overall production. Adam Thielen would need to stay healthy, but if he did he could rival a Cris Carter production year when Carter played with Moss. It’s premature to project KJ Osborn as a Jake Reed type receiver, but Reed’s production dropped after Randy Moss was drafted, and a year similar to last season for Osborn would equal the production Reed had with Moss and Carter. Add in some other receivers- Jalen Reagor, Dalvin Cook, Kene Nwangwu and Ty Chandler, Irv Smith Jr. - and there could be some nice ancillary production there too.
So the receiver element definitely seems to be there, although it was there last year too.
There is some whispers and thoughts that if Justin Jefferson is in the role Cooper Kupp had in the McVay/O’Connell Rams’ offense last season, how much more productive could the speedier and more athletic Jefferson be? Kupp won the receiving triple crown (most receiving yards, catches, receiving TDs) last season.
It’s interesting that the last few years the NFL MVP has gone to the QB with the highest passer rating and who wasn’t injured. Last year, Cousins was tied for 4th best passer rating with Russell Wilson. Aaron Rodgers, Joe Burrow, and Dak Prescott finished higher. And so it wouldn’t take much of a leap in passer rating for Cousins to lead the league this year. And Rodgers’ may well decline with the loss of Devante Adams.
Coach and Scheme
It’s one thing to have a top group of receivers, but Cousins isn’t the only QB with that advantage. But having a good coach and scheme that makes the most use of those advantages is key as well. For years Sean McVay has been able to have some pretty high-ranking offenses despite having a mediocre quarterback in Jared Goff running things on the field. And Matthew Stafford had his best season last year in that system and might have won the MVP if he hadn’t led the league in interceptions.
And so while Cousins has been in a similar Shanahan-tree scheme, the O’Connell/McVay
version is more modern and nuanced than the Kubiak version the Vikings have run the last couple years. A better scheme could help Cousins make that extra step to enter the MVP conversation this year.
And there is also the coach. It’s no secret now that Cousins had a dysfunctional relationship with Mike Zimmer, who was on the hot seat, didn’t like him, didn’t see eye-to-eye with him on many things, and was a defensive coach with little to offer him from a coaching standpoint. From all reports, including both Kevin O’Connell and Kirk Cousins, the two have a good relationship, communicate regularly, and are on the same page when it comes to the offense and goals for Cousins this season. Indeed, O’Connell has said from his first press conference that he was looking to build the offense around Cousins, while also asking Cousins to take more of a lead in getting things done on the field than his predecessors. With O’Connell being a former NFL quarterback, and with a similar temperament as Cousins, O’Connell and his scheme seems to be a perfect fit for Cousins.
Often left out of the conversation about MVP quarterbacks is their offensive line. I can’t think of an MVP quarterback that didn’t have a good offensive line in front of him. Rodgers, Mahomes and Brady had good pass blocking offensive lines every year they won the MVP.
For Cousins, that’s never been the case, at least not since he joined the Vikings. But this season is probably the best starting offensive line he’s had.
Christian Darrisaw looks to continue to excel as the Vikings' blindside protector in 2022.— The Athletic NFL (@TheAthleticNFL) August 15, 2022
"Occasional hiccups aside, Darrisaw has everything he needs to be a great player for a long time."@nickbaumgardner has second-year breakout candidates:https://t.co/uOtWMOy4PG pic.twitter.com/I9rWT8QVv7
Brian O’Neill has been solid at right tackle for a few years now, and left tackle Christian Darrisaw is being lauded as a breakout candidate this year by some, and also was praised
by All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams during joint practices with the Vikings. Darrisaw had a decent rookie season once he was healthy enough to start, and looks to build on that this season. Ezra Cleveland has been solid for the most part at left guard, and rookie Ed Ingram could be an improvement over Oli Udoh (particularly from a holding penalty standpoint) this season too. That leaves Garrett Bradbury, who hasn’t been good in pass protection since being drafted, but perhaps if Bradbury is the only sub-par lineman, they can get by and show some improvement this season in pass protection for Kirk Cousins. It’s not out of the question that Bradbury is benched either, and his replacement proves to be an improvement.
And so the elements appear to be there for Cousins to improve on what was a pretty good season for him last year. Whether he can improve to be a legitimate MVP contender remains to be seen, but it’s not out of the question. Of course for Cousins to be in that conversation, besides having a league-leading passer rating, the Vikings need to be more than a .500 team too- double digit wins at least and probably need to win the division too.
One More Related Bold Prediction and Coach of the Year Odds
In ESPN’s preview of the Vikings this season, analyst Matt Bowen had a bold prediction that stood out to me. His bold prediction was that the Vikings would have the highest scoring
offense this season, something they haven’t done since the 1998 season. But it centers on all of the above. Whether the Vikings offense is explosive enough to get to #1 from #14 a year ago remains to be seen, but the talent is there, the scheme seems a good fit for really all the skill position players, and they have seven games against the bottom eleven defenses last season in points allowed, so there is certainly potential.
The last interesting preseason tidbit is that Kevin O’Connell has the best odds to win Coach of the Year. +700 on one site and +1200 on another, but in both cases the best odds of any coach on the site. That honor typically goes to a new or young head coach, but it’s interesting that O’Connell is the favorite, which implies some positive view of the Vikings’ season. The reason is that while O’Connell makes sense as a young or new head coach, typically that coach’s team has to have a pretty good season for him to win. Matt LaFleur went 13-3 and won the division three seasons in a row, but didn’t win Coach of the Year- presumably because he already had an elite quarterback. So for O’Connell to be the favorite for Coach of the Year, clearly the wagering community is thinking he could both have a positive effect on Cousins and the Vikings season prospects.
For now, all of this is just talk. But if the Vikings put up a lot of points on the Packers- who are thought to have one of the better defenses in the league this year- that may give more credence to these early takes.
Which of these bets is the most attractive?
This poll is closed
Kirk Cousins MVP 40/1 odds
Kevin O’Connell Coach of the Year 12/1 odds
Justin Jefferson Offensive Player of the Year 9/1 odds