3 Vikings Who Absolutely Need to Show Up in the Playoffs

Football is a team game. Many say the ultimate team game, and for a successful playoff run, the Minnesota Vikings need everyone on their roster to be at their best. But a few players for these Vikings have a disproportionate impact relative to the rest of the roster, and if those players don’t show up and show out, Minnesota won’t be in the playoffs for long.

Kirk Cousins

3 Vikings Who Absolutely
Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

It may seem obvious that Kirk Cousins needs to be at his best for Minnesota to win in the playoffs. Of course, you need your QB to play at an elite level, especially when he makes 35 million dollars a year.

But for the 2022 Vikings, Cousins’ level of play is specifically relevant. This team relies heavily on executing a high-level downfield passing attack, and that passing attack often has to be executed in the face of pressure. Cousins won’t have an easy job in these playoffs, especially with second- or third-stringers starting for Minnesota at the center and tackle positions.

3 Vikings Who Absolutely Need to Show Up in the Playoffs

A common criticism of Cousins throughout his career has been his inability to elevate the players around him. If the team is doing well, he is a competent and capable quarterback, but if the team is struggling, he cannot do anything. Whether true or not, Cousins must put that narrative to bed this postseason. 

If Minnesota wants to win on Sunday against New York and then keep winning this postseason, Cousins will need to elevate the entire team.

Justin Jefferson

Justin Jefferson Can Still
Dec 17, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

As Justin Jefferson goes, so do the Vikings. When Jefferson isn’t at his best, the Vikings offense doesn’t produce, and the Vikings collapse. For a deep playoff run to be a reality, every game in the playoffs will have to be one of Jefferson’s best. This team does not have the weapons to allow Jefferson an off day.

It doesn’t matter what happens on the field or what happens off the field. Jefferson can’t let his opponents get in his head this postseason as he let Jaire Alexander. The Vikings need to force Jefferson the ball regardless of the coverage because when a player like Jefferson is at his best, he is always open. 

Za’Darius Smith

The Vikings Final Injury Report: Week 11
Aug 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Halfway into the 2022 season, Za’Darius Smith looked like a potential DPOY candidate, and Vikings fans were ecstatic about his signing.

But somewhere between then and now, his play has dropped off substantially. While he has played at a solid level in recent weeks, he has significantly regressed from his early season highs. Many speculate this is due to a nagging knee injury. The hope is that after his extra week of rest from sitting out the Bears game and given the increased energy of the playoffs, the early season Za’Darius will return with force.

Minnesota needs Za’Darius at his best, especially since Danielle Hunter has been on a tear recently. Both of Minnesota’s star EDGEs need to be game wreckers come playoff time if Minnesota wants to make a run. This Vikings defense has struggled in the secondary all year, but what better way to cover up a struggling secondary than by destroying the line of scrimmage?

Legends Are Made in Playoffs

For these three players, a good quarterback with a reputation for folding in big moments, a young wide receiver who seems poised for the Hall of Fame, and a journeyman EDGE nearing the end of a great career –- playoff time is an opportunity to rewrite legacies.

Nobody will care in 10 years about Cousins’ NFL record nine game-winning drives if Minnesota gets bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Nor will they care about Jefferson’s historic season or all the sacks and awesome plays Smith made this season.

People will remember how these players perform when the lights are bright and the moment is large.

Minnesota needs every player on its roster to go out there and play at a high level. But these three players need to be game-changers. They need to rewrite their legacy with their performance this postseason if Minnesota wants to have any shot at hoisting their first-ever Lombardi trophy.