For the second consecutive year, the Vikings' Kirk Cousins was deemed a Top 10 NFL quarterback from a reputable source: Pro Football Focus, which evaluates every play from every game to come up with one grade for every QB.
Last year, Cousins graded out as the No. 6 QB in the league. This year he dipped a bit to No. 9, but that's still a very good mark in a 32-team league.
That he made it that high in 2020 is no doubt a testament to the back half of his season, which included a 69% completion percentage on 307 attempts, 2,410 yards, 20 touchdown passes and just three interceptions over his final eight games.
PFF notes that for the year, Cousins "finished with the eighth-lowest percentage of uncatchable passes thrown while posting the No. 9 passing grade on 10-plus-yard throws," which can be read as a testament to both his accuracy and his deep passing ability.
If you're a Vikings fan, though, there is a good chance you are shaking your head. The eye test with Cousins seems to tell a different story, particularly in late-game situations. Had he led one final scoring drive in a number of instances this season – most recently in Week 15 against Chicago – the Vikings would be preparing for the playoffs.
While the insistence that Cousins only produces in garbage time is not accurate, it was symbolic at least that Cousins early Wednesday was named NFC Offensive player of the Week after a strong Week 17 performance in a relatively meaningless 37-35 win over Detroit.
Cousins' overall record as a starter – an overrated metric given there are 22 starting players for each team – is 51-51-2. With the Vikings, it's only marginally better (26-22-1, including a split in two playoff games) and he's taken Minnesota to the postseason just once in three seasons.
And it's important to note that this year's final PFF grades do reveal a significant drop-off: The top seven QBs, six of whom led their teams to the playoffs, all have grades above 90. Then there's a quick dip below 85 for No. 8 (Derek Carr, 84.7) and Cousins (No. 9, 83.9).
Cousins is about as close to No. 7 (Russell Wilson, 90.3) as he is to No. 17 (Philip Rivers, 77.2). But even if you believe he's near the top of the second tier of NFL quarterbacks, is that good enough to get the Vikings to a Super Bowl?
That's the eternal (and perhaps at some point internal) dilemma. But the PFF grades might also present you with a good piece of evidence that Cousins isn't the problem with the Vikings – and that with a better offensive line and a defensive resurgence (two big ifs) 2021 could be a much better year. That seems to be Mike Zimmer's approach at the moment.
Or if you are never going to be a Cousins supporter, try this: 49ers QB Nick Mullens finished No. 34 in those same PFF QB grades, while injured primary starter Jimmy Garoppolo would have been in the mid-20s had he played enough snaps to qualify.
If the 49ers are the clearest potential trading partner the Vikings have for Cousins – a persistent rumor even though Minnesota has given no indication it is considering such a thing — these rankings suggest he would be quite an upgrade in San Francisco.
Here are four other things I'm thinking about Wednesday:
*If we are to the point of this Timberwolves season where we are searching for moral victories in the midst of losing streaks — seven games in, five losses in a row — then I suppose the more competitive nature of Tuesday's 123-116 loss at Denver qualifies. And it should be noted that four of those five losses came to the Lakers, Clippers and Nuggets — quite possibly the three best teams in the West.
But what we can't sugarcoat is this: The team's roster and rotations — particularly without Karl-Anthony Towns — don't seem to mesh well or make sense so far. And Ricky Rubio, scoreless in 21 minutes (and a team-low minus-18) on Tuesday, is struggling to figure out where he best fits in.
*Sports and politics collided (as they often do) Tuesday when Kelly Loeffler, co-owner of the WNBA's Atlanta Dream, was defeated in a U.S. Senate runoff race by Raphael Warnock. League players overwhelmingly endorsed Warnock, who ended up winning a tight race.
*Jim Souhan makes a good point as a counterweight to Zimmer's optimism in 2021: The Vikings should have better luck with defensive injuries next season; but assuming they will enjoy the same relative good fortune they had regarding offensive injuries in 2020 again next season is dangerous.
*The Gophers men's basketball team is building an impressive early resume with wins over Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State already in conference play. But while that has led to a strong No. 16 AP ranking, they are just No. 32 in the NET ratings that help determine NCAA tournament selections at the end of the year. Winning would cure that inequity — especially Wednesday night's showdown against Michigan.