Five bold Vikings predictions for 2019 NFL season: Kirk Cousins' improvement sets up Minnesota for Super Bowl run

The 2018 season was somewhat of a nightmare for the Minnesota Vikings.

After coming just one game away from the Super Bowl in 2017, the Vikings finally made the decision to go out and acquire their franchise quarterback in Kirk Cousins. You would think someone who received $27.5 million last year alone would help you take that extra step towards a Lombardi trophy, but it didn't happen that way. Despite having a nice roster on paper, the Vikings went 8-7-1 in 2018, and failed to make the playoffs.

The defense wasn't as dominant as it was in the past, Cousins struggled when it mattered most and Minnesota seemingly imploded down the stretch. The Vikings have a new offensive coordinator in Kevin Stefanski, however, and it was a switch that appeared to help the offense in general towards the very end of the year.

Now that Cousins has a full year with his new team under his belt, is 2019 the year we should expect the Vikings to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender?

Let's examine five bold Vikings predictions for the 2019 NFL season:

1. Kirk Cousins tops his 2018 numbers, finishes top five in passing

While Dalvin Cook, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are all excellent weapons, Cousins is going to be the one who makes this offense go. 

The former Washington Redskin did have some good performances last year, but the bad ones are what have stuck in the minds of fans all offseason. Look no further than the last game of the season, when the Vikings hosted the divisional rival Chicago Bears in a win-and-you're-in situation. Minnesota put up just 10 points while Cousins threw for just 132 yards and one touchdown. The Vikings' first four drives of the game were three-and-outs, when the offense was charged with being at its best. 

Still, if you take a step back and look at the season as a whole, Cousins completed 70.1 percent of his passes for 4,298 yards, 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Those are career numbers all across the board. Also, it's not like we can act that he didn't have some incredible throws in 2018.

In his second full season as a Viking with an offensive coordinator who shouldn't be on the hot seat, I expect Cousins to have a huge season. He finished No. 10 overall in passing yards, and I expect him to rocket up the charts into the top five. This Vikings offense has some weapons in the passing game, and they are going to take advantage of them. 

Some people have seemingly already made their minds up on Cousins and that's not fair. I can see him going for 4,500-plus yards and 30-plus passing touchdowns. 

2. Stefon Diggs finally outperforms Adam Thielen

Both of these guys are stars, don't get me wrong, but I've been waiting for Diggs to take over on the stat sheet for some time now. The former University of Maryland star did beat out Thielen in 2015, when he caught just 12 passes for 144 yards, but ever since then, Thielen, who was an undrafted free agent, has been arguably the best player on this offense, and has recorded at least 1,200 receiving yards the past two seasons.

Thielen is about to turn 29 years old while Diggs is just 25. I have a feeling that the younger of the two is going to break out in a big way.

Diggs recorded his first 1,000-yard season in 2018, and he and Thielen actually became the first receiving tandem in franchise history to record over 100 receptions apiece in the same season. You can see it in the stats, Diggs is getting better every year, and I think 2019 could be a season when he proves to everyone that he's one of the best wideouts in the NFL. Thielen has made the last two Pro Bowls while Diggs has been on the outside looking out. That will change this season, too. 

3. Dalvin Cook doubles his output from 2018

The Vikings' wideouts have proven themselves, but the same can't be said for the running backs. 

Cook rushed for 615 yards and two touchdowns last season, so saying that he's going to double those numbers is not exactly the boldest take I can make. What is bold, however, is saying that he will finally play in all 16 games. 

Cook has struggled to stay healthy during his first two seasons in the NFL -- playing in four games in his rookie season and then 11 in 2018. He may be only 24, but his body has taken a beating. I remember watching him touch the ball 766 times in college and praying that he would have some tread left on the tires by the time he got drafted. He clearly does when it comes to how explosive he can be -- we all have seen it.

It's bold, but I think that Cook will play in all 16 games in 2019 and put up the best numbers of his young career. He understands the rigors of the NFL now and he hates missing games more than anybody. Look out for him in 2019, he will record his first 1,000-yard rushing season. 

4. Mike Hughes quickly turns into a defensive playmaker

Remember Mike Hughes? From the very beginning of the 2018 season, the Vikings' first-round pick looked like he had a place on this defense. In the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers, Hughes made three tackles, three passes defensed and recorded a pick six. Quite the debut for a rookie cornerback.

His next couple of games weren't as good, but he still had eight tackles and a forced fumble against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 4. Unfortunately, Hughes tore his ACL in Week 6, and missed the remainder of his rookie campaign. 

While the Vikings have players like Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander at corner, Hughes could be the one who stands out among the rest this season. He's still recovering from that ACL injury, but he will be back at some point in the early stages of this season. 

If you forgot, Hughes was a part of that undefeated UCF team in 2017. He earned All-American Athletic Conference honors after recording 44 tackles, four interceptions and 11 passes defensed. At No. 30 overall, he was the highest-drafted defensive player from UCF in history for a reason, and I think he's going to turn some heads this season. 

5. Vikings make it to Super Bowl LIV

These are five bold takes, so let's go for it. The Vikings will make the Super Bowl.

This is a team that should have been a Super-Bowl contender last year, so why can't Vikings fans expect it this season? You could look at 2018 as a year that signaled the downswing of Minnesota as a franchise -- a club that got close but will never seemingly have the firepower to actually win anything. But I don't see it that way at all.

People are going to be quick to forget the 2018 season ever happened if the Vikings do something special this upcoming year. I think there were some growing pains with Cousins in this new system and with his new teammates, and things just did not always click for whatever reason. Now that Cousins has some experience with how to dictate this offense, we should expect the Vikings to be good enough to set themselves up to make a postseason run. 

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