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Kirk Cousins won’t be under center when the Minnesota Vikings face the Green Bay Packers with their season on the line on Sunday night. His absence couldn’t have come at a worse time.

A loss in Green Bay with backup Sean Mannion at the helm would sink the Vikings’ playoff odds to 3%, according to FiveThirtyEight. At that point they’d need something as improbable as the Minneapolis Miracle to reach the postseason.

Vikings fans are often in position to wonder what they did to deserve such cruelty from the Football gods. Just in the years following Stefon Diggs’ magical game-winning touchdown against the New Orleans Saints, Vikings die-hards have been put through a lot.

They have seen their squad get blown out in the NFC Championship game by a team that won the Super Bowl on US Bank Stadium turf. They watched as Cousins and Adam Thielen argued on the sideline during a Week 17 no-show that cost them the playoffs in 2018. A playoff win in 2019 was followed up by 147 yards of total offense in a divisional round loss to San Francisco. Last year the defense came apart and the season ended on Christmas, when they gave up 52 points to the Saints.

This year has been its own bad-break beast. From Irv Smith Jr. getting hurt in the final preseason contest; to Danielle Hunter going down for the second straight year; to losing games in the final moments against Cincinnati, Arizona, Dallas, Baltimore and Detroit; to losing Harrison Smith, Dalvin Cook and Dalvin Tomlinson to the COVID list at different times; to seeing Thielen lost to a high ankle sprain in the midst of the playoff race. And now the Vikings will be without Cousins in a game that represents their final shot at the playoffs.

It’s been a rough ride.

Maybe there’s an alternate universe somewhere in The Matrix where the Vikings win all of the last-second games and the untimely absences don’t happen and the Vikings are starting 2022 as an 11 or 12-win team competing for the No. 1 spot in the NFC.

But if you pull your head out of the snow and look around, it’s hard to find another team in the NFC that doesn’t have its own woe-is-me story. The Packers lost a game with MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers on the COVID list. Green Bay has also been without stars Za’Darius Smith, Jaire Alexander and David Bakhtiari. The Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys saw their quarterbacks get banged up. DeAndre Hopkins is out for the year. Tampa Bay’s roster is severely depleted by injuries. The Saints were on their fourth quarterback in a key game last week. Jimmy Garoppolo is banged up again in San Francisco. And add all the COVID absences on top of that…

Coming into Sunday’s game, Cousins was one of just 13 quarterbacks who have started every game this season. This chart, published heading into Week 15, shows the Vikings as having lost the ninth least Wins Above Replacement per game due to injury.

chart

If we use a microscope to look at the games the Vikings lost at the end, the opportunities were endless to win those contests. They got down two scores in Cincinnati and had the ball in overtime. They had a two-score lead over Arizona and played too conservatively to hold the lead. They couldn’t stop career-backup Cooper Rush. They had the ball in OT against the Ravens and couldn’t score. They couldn’t stop Jared Goff, who ranks 28th of 31 starting QBs by Pro Football Focus’s grades.

The other losses were there for the taking, too. Last week Matthew Stafford gifted them three interceptions. Baker Mayfield and the Browns only produced 14 points at US Bank Stadium. San Francisco kept them in the game with a missed field goal late in the fourth quarter that allowed the Vikings one more drive.

The Vikings also have had the fortunate luck to still be in the playoff race to begin with. The bottom of the NFC has largely been a mess.

And it’s tough to claim bad luck when the Vikings’ Expected Win-Loss record by Pro-Football Reference is 7.8-7.2.

If we look back at the offseason, we can connect numerous questionable decisions to the team’s present predicament. The Vikings invested in a second nose tackle and signed a 31-year-old cornerback coming off his worst two seasons rather than improving the offensive line. The answer to better their pass protection struggles was to draft a guard in the third round and then when that didn’t work out, they moved a developmental tackle to guard. The Vikings rank 28th in pass protection by PFF, as you might expect.

Cornerback is probably the most valuable position in Mike Zimmer’s defense, yet the Vikings rank 20th in cornerback spending. Bargain-bin signings Bashaud Breeland and Mackensie Alexander have gone sideways as Cam Dantzler, their best statistical corner by a country mile, has often watched from the sideline.

The airing of grievances could also include hiring an offensive coordinator with no play calling experience, trading a fourth-round pick for Chris Herndon and filling out the receiver depth with Dede Westbrook on a $990,000 deal rather than drafting a receiver earlier than the fifth round. Oh, the Vikings currently have $19 million in dead cap (per OverTheCap.com), by the way.

The Vikings trusted a third-round pick to back up Cousins. When he failed in training camp, they opted to bring back a No. 2 who had started two career games before. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles traded less than the Vikings did for Herndon and got Gardner Minshew. He won his only start of the year. The Vikings knew from the opening of training camp that it was possible if not likely that Cousins would miss time due to COVID and didn’t improve the backup position.

Beyond the roster building process, there have simply been too many times that they were not good enough. The Vikings have lost three of their last five games and Cousins hasn’t played well in any of them. On defense, they have allowed the sixth most passing yards against and held opposing teams under 100 yards rushing only three times.

Several of the vital players who missed time on the COVID list also made the choice to put their availability at risk by not getting vaccinated.

So while it’s true that the timing of Cousins’ absence is a kick in the teeth for Vikings fans hoping to see their team beat the Packers on Sunday night and reach the playoffs, their current situation was earned by the whole organization over the entire season.

Cousins will draw ire — and much of it is fair — but there were plenty of ways they could have avoided his one-game absence being so crushing.

Or, hey, maybe it won’t be. Mannion winning in Lambeau would be a stroke of good luck, eh? 

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