When the 2003 NFL schedule was released, it could have been much worse for the Vikes. They've been given a chance to beat up the division early, don't have the play at K.C. or Denver (and get the Broncs at home following a bye), spend more than a month without leaving Minnesota and have some cake at the end of the schedule. Now it's time to show that this team has was it takes to be a playoff contender.
The 2003 Vikings schedule promises to be interesting, to say the least. If Red McCombs has ideas of simply spending to the cap minimum and pocketing the rest of his available cap room, he should think again. With the AFC West and NFC West on the non-division schedule, nothing will come easy – but it does have intriguing aspects.
If the Vikings want to be the big dog of the NFC North, they will get their chance early. Their first three games are vs. the other division foes. They open at Green Bay – a huge plus because they would rather play at Lambeau in the heat of September than the frigid temps of December – at home vs. Chicago and at Detroit. Want to make a statement, Mike Tice? Go 3-0, big daddy.
After that, comes two tough games – at home vs. the Niners and at Atlanta. That date is crucial in one unprecented team respect. From Oct. 5 until Nov. 8, the Vikings players and coaches will never leave Minnesota. If you like home cookin’, Oktoberfest rocks.
December doesn’t look to be as harsh as the past three years, as the Vikes close with games vs. the Seahawks, at the Bears, vs. the Chiefs and at the Cardinals. It could be much worse.
The schedule won’t be easy, but the Vikes have a good chance of doing some damage in the early, middle and late portions of the schedule to get to 10-6 or 11-5 – which would guarantee them a playoff spot at a minimum and a division title most likely. It’s there for the taking. Will they do it? Stay tuned.
* Since when have coaches and corporate suits ruled Monday Night Football? The early part of the NFL schedule would tend to say they both do. In Week 2, the hapless Cowboys travel to New York to play the Giants and it’s on MNF. Why? Because Bill Parcells is the new Cowboys coach and he won two Super Bowls with the Giants. Two weeks later, the hapless Bears re-open Soldier Field and, as specifically requested, get to open on MNF vs. the Packers. At least it won’t be anything unusual for recent fans of the Bears – a loss. In Week 5, the Colts play the Bucs on MNF. The hook? Tony Dungy returns to Tampa. Ooh, feel the heat off of that. Historically, Monday Night Football has invested in time-honored traditional division matchups for ratings. This year, of the 16 Monday night games, 12 are from non-division opponents and five are non-conference games, including the last three. John Madden’s “biff-bam-boom” comments better be more entertaining than last year or the ratings will continue on their dive. Memo to ABC: Vikings+Packers=Ratings. Matchups based on a coach are gimmicks, and December non-conference games that have no impact on playoff tie-breakers are ridiculous.
* The Vikings want Chris Claiborne to shed a few more pounds and be more active as an outside linebacker. Apparently the rationale is George O’Leary’s desire to tinker with a 3-4 defense. It may not sound like a bandwagon statement, but stop somebody with a 4-3 before you start toying with the 3-4.
* In free-agent Vikings news, DT Darius Holland visited with the Redskins Friday, while LB Jim Nelson was visiting with the Browns in hopes of getting a better deal than either will apparently get from the Vikes.
* It looks more likely that WR Oronde Gadsden will return to the Dolphins. The Vikes have made no effort to increase their offer and, if the ‘Fins give him a comparable (or slightly inferior) offer, he’ll stay home.
* If nothing else, Dwayne Rudd made an impression while with the Vikes. Three teams are bidding for him, according to VU sources. They are the Bucs, Packers and Lions – all twice-a-year opponents when he was with the Vikes. That’s respect.
* Memo to C.J.: let’s see where you draw the line on consistency. C.J., the print nom de plume of a Twin Cities gossip columnist, has been a longtime friend of VU. When the TC media scoffed at VU breaking the Robert Smith retirement story – then to have a big honey-glazed ham hit them in the face 10 days later when it was “confirmed” – CJ was the only local print journalist to give credit where credit was due. However, she recently took a certain VU overlord to task for stating the truth in the aftermath of the Arctic Blast debacle – that “aggressive women” make a play for Vikings players. The unnamed VU czar was simply defending Todd Bouman at the time – a player never actually accused of any wrongdoing, simply deemed a “material witness” by investigators. In today’s edition of C.J.’s own publication, a veteran (i.e. ancient) media lap dog asked that the citizenry and local readership not have a rush to judgment on Kirby Puckett, who actually had to face a homer hanky owning jury as a charged defendant in a criminal prosecution for an alleged sexual assault. Will C.J. get her columnistic colleague to go “on the record” in his hearsay defense of an athlete whose personal relationship may have played a part in his defense of a friend? Let’s hope so – at least for the sake of consistency. We’d love to see it, but we’re not holding our breath.
* The Bears had a private workout with QB Kyle Boller – one of the fastest rising draftees on the board. While the Bears won’t take him at No. 4, it increases speculation that the team might move down a few slots and take him as their QB of the future. Given that he only has Cade McNown to surpass, it’s a no-lose situation for him.
* VU has been told that new Cowboys coach Bill Parcells and “give me the damn ball” whiner Keyshawn Johnson will be reunited sooner than later. K.J. reworked his deal with the Bucs that all but assures he will be released after this season. His deal calls for a paltry $2.1 signing bonus with base salaries vs. the salary cap of $5.2 million this year, $8.3 mil in 2004, $9.8. mil in ’05, $11.3 mil in ’06 and $10.9 mil in ’07. For a guy who essentially just moves the chains, that first-year number is too high vs. the cap. Guess what, Me-shawn? You’re gone from Tampa after this year and the cap hit will only be $1.6 million to lose you. Buh-bye.