The belief among many Vikings observers is that Kirk Cousins is not a big-game quarterback. Even though he puts impressive statistics on the board nearly every season, his performance against top opponents and in prime-time situations has been subpar.
However, the new Vikings leadership regime of general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O’Connell have indicated they believe in him. After all, he remains on the roster for the 2022 season and he carries a cap hit of more than $31 million.
Cousins will have plenty of opportunities to prove his multitude of critics wrong, and it will start in Week 1 when the Vikings host the Green Bay Packers. There are indications that this year’s version of the sons of Vince Lombardi may not be as strong as previous editions, but they are still the defending NFC North champions and the Vikings’ No. 1 rivals.
A prime time game follows in Week 2 at Philadelphia, and after a brief respite (hopefully) at home against the Lions in Week 3, the Vikings travel to London the following week to take on the resurgent Saints.
The first four weeks of the season will not define the 2022 season, but it will go a long way to determining if Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell have ventured on a fool’s errand by taking on the season with Cousins under center.
There is clearly no easing into this season, and here is a full look at the Vikings’ schedule, including kickoff times (Central time) :
Week 1: Sept. 11, vs. Packers, 3:25 p.m.
Week 2: Sept 19, at Eagles, 7:30 p.m.
Week 3: Sept. 25, vs. Lions, Noon
Week 4: Oct. 2, at Saints in London, 8:30 a.m.
Week 5: Oct. 9, vs. Bears, Noon
Week 6: Oct. 16, at Dolphins, Noon
Week 7: Bye
Week 8: Oct. 30, vs. Cardinals, Noon
Week 9: Nov. 6, at Commanders, Noon
Week 10: Nov. 13, at Bills, Noon
Week 11: Nov. 20, vs. Cowboys, 3:25 p.m.
Week 12: Nov. 24, vs. Patriots, 7:20 p.m.
Week 13: Dec. 4, vs. Jets, Noon
Week 14: Dec. 11, at Lions, Noon
Week 15: TBD, vs. Colts
Week 16: Dec. 24, vs. Giants, Noon
Week 17: Jan. 1, at Packers, 3:25 p.m.
Week 18: TBD, at Bears
The opener should set the tone for the season, as the Packers have been tormenting the Vikings and the rest of the NFC North for years. Aaron Rodgers remains under center for Green Bay, but he no longer has Davante Adams, who was traded to Las Vegas.
Justin Jefferson has established himself as one of the league’s star receivers, but this is the season he must step up and become dominant on an every-week basis. He will be the best receiver on the field in Week 1, and he needs to punish the Packers. If he can and does that with reasonable support from fellow receiver Adam Thielen and running back Dalvin Cook, the Vikings will have a chance to write a new script in 2022 against the Packers.
A win in the opener will give O’Connell a serious chance to bring a confident and explosive team to Philadelphia to play in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football. This is exactly the kind of situation that Cousins has stumbled in throughout his career. Will that change with a new coach? That answer has to be determined, but the evidence suggests that significant improvement is needed if it is going to work out.
After the London game, the Vikings have four games against the Bears, Dolphins, Cardinals and Commanders, and this section of the schedule seems somewhat easier than the one that follows against the Bills, Cowboys, and Patriots.
A breather could follow with games against the Jets and Lions, before the Vikings close the regular season with the Colts, Giants, Packers, and Bears.
An optimistic view of the schedule could turn that penultimate game against Green Bay as an opportunity to gain control of the division. The season finale in Chicago could be a classic cold-weather game that the Vikings can win against a rebuilding team.
The Vikings know the opening part of the schedule is vital – perhaps more so this year with new leadership than it has been in the past.