Dalvin Cook went 10-4 this season. The Minnesota Vikings were 0-2 without him.
What’s that? Running backs don’t have individual records? Quarterbacks shouldn’t either because football is a team game, but the final two games did show how much Cook has meant to the Vikings this season.
The do-everything third-year running back is returning from a shoulder injury and right on time for the Vikings, who face the New Orleans Saints in a wild-card game on Sunday that can be live-streamed on the Yahoo Sports app.
The Vikings have plenty of stars and Kirk Cousins will get all of the credit or blame for what happens Sunday. But Cook is their most valuable player.
Dalvin Cook ready to go
Perhaps the time off came at the right time for Cook. He suffered a shoulder injury in Week 15. He had previously had a chest injury, and his numbers dipped after that. Or, it’s possible he was just wearing down a bit under the weight of a career-high workload. Either way, the Vikings lost both games without Cook to end the season.
This week, Cook said he was healthy and also refreshed.
Dalvin Cook on his status after missing the last two games: “I definitely feel refreshed. I’m going to be ready to go. I’m going to be at full strength.”— Chad Graff (@ChadGraff) January 1, 2020
The health part is huge, but so is the notion that Cook is refreshed. He had 1,654 total yards and 13 total touchdowns. He dealt with injuries in each of his first two seasons, but got 303 touches this season. Cook had just 258 touches in his first two NFL seasons combined.
The Vikings wanted to shift to a run-first attack, and that was centered around the multiple talents of Cook. For the most part, it worked out very well, though Cook’s production dipped as the season went on. Cook hasn’t averaged four yards per carry in a game since Week 8. To pull off an upset, the Vikings need him to look like he did in the first half of the season.
Vikings, Saints both talented playoff teams
The Vikings are one of the better No. 6 seeds you’ll find, but they’re also facing one of the best No. 3 seeds ever. Since 1990, only three 13-3 division champions haven’t gotten a bye: 1999 Titans, 2011 Saints and 2019 Saints. It’s fairly shocking New Orleans is playing this weekend.
The Saints are playing very well lately, with quarterback Drew Brees and receiver Michael Thomas setting records, Alvin Kamara starting to look like his normal self and a defense that has been pretty good most of the season. Even as a No. 3 seed, the Saints are a Super Bowl contender.
They could also be a one-and-done, because the Vikings are quite capable. Minnesota’s ability to pull off the upset rests in large part on Cook, and whether he’s recharged after a couple of weeks out with an injury.
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