Start-time: Tuesday, 01:15
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Vikings can stop the Hawks from winging it in a postseason preview
Benjamin Franklin long maintained that our critics are our friends. They show us our faults. In which case, Kirk Cousins' career-story of enemies becoming friends is perhaps a festive heart-warmer to keep Minnesota Vikings' fans happy, and maintain Cousins' high level of play over the Christmas season and well into the play-offs. The Minny quarterback has certainly silenced his early season detractors, particularly chastened by those dissenters among his own teammates.
However, like an A-list actor making the adjustment on notes from their director, Cousins has rebounded in style to post 21 touchdowns for the current campaign, north of 250 yards per game on average, with a median 115 Passer Rating blighted by just the three picks. Cousins may also have been marginally underwhelming in his first season in Minneapolis but now that his superstar running back Dalvin Cook is back in rude health, there's no more excuses.
His comeback last weekend against Denver made believers of his entire locker room, rallying his troops from a 0-20 half-time deficit. Okay, so admittedly that unfolded at home to a very mediocre outfit, but Cousins got it done when it mattered most (with three TDs for 319 yards and no interceptions). These are the timely characteristics which he displayed in Washington and made him such a hit on the free-agency circuit with the Vikes self-evidently winning that bidding war.
Regardless, whatever the stats line reads, we all know Cousins remains subordinate to the real elite QBs of the NFL, even if his wider team (possessed of a staunch defensive line and a stud, dual-danger RB) can elevate his status. Tonight, however, Cousins comes up against a legit top-notcher is his own back yard, Seattle's Russell Wilson. This 31-year-old has merrily continued a largely one-man-band defence of CenturyLink Field. His own figures this term average 267 yards per game, with 24 TDs for a 112 Passer Rating. And that's despite his offensive line getting a few dents and scrapes while his receiving crew get little nominal attention beyond their own households. And, regardless of his own scrambling skills, ol' Russ definitely has no-one of Cook's calibre to help him out in the backfield.
In short, snatching victory from the gaping jaws of defeat has become something of a Wilson signature - indeed, he did it against the other week on the road against the previously unbeaten Niners. Therefore, the the lazy temptation would simply be to trust him to work the oracle again at his CenturyLink fortress, where the decibel level regularly rises above deafening for rival offenses trying to go to work. The so-called 12th Man will without doubt test Cousins' mettle to its fullest.
When all's said and done, though, Wilson can't keep plugging all the gaps in the Hawks' roster like some fairytale hero putting his finger in the proverbial dike. After all, most leaky dykes only spring another hole before the floodgates open. Just so, Seattle fans still pining for the dominant defensive days of their self-styled Legion of Boom may get an unwelcome reminder as to its glaring absence this evening across a potentially porous secondary.
Instead of Cousins, however, expect everything to stem from Cook on this Minnesota offense. The rushing man has already amassed five 100+ rushing games (part of a wider haul of 1,000 yards for the year, featuring 11 touchdowns) and has pretty much become a solo embodiment of Minny's overall average for ground gains. His twin-threat talents are not to be overlooked either, pouching passes out of the backfield for over 40 yards per game receiving. New Orleans' Alvin Kamara, last year's star for versatility, may now have a legit rival in the long term.
Now ally Cook's reliable gains (the Vikes rank ninth in league for the run) and variety to Cousins' accurate arm and there are serious reasons to believe Minnesota can derail the Seattle express across an array of lines tonight. Not that it will necessarily make much difference to the overall outcome of their respective divisions (the NFC West and the NFC North) where pivotal divisional duels with the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers will likely determine playoff position for both these teams. However, in the short term, the Vikes can build some useful momentum and score a potentially significant conference head-to-head.