With many fans wondering if the 2011 season will take place in full, in part or in absentia, the league announced the 2011 schedule. From the looks of things, the Vikings won’t be as hot of a prime-time ticket as they were in 2010 when Brett Favre was the talk of the NFL following an age-defying 2009 season.
When the schedule was released last year, the Vikings were honored with four prime-time games– one on the season opener at New Orleans, a Sunday night game against the Packers at Lambeau Field and a pair of Monday night games – one against the Jets at the Meadowlands and one at home vs. the Bears. They actually played five due to a December blizzard that pushed their game with the Eagles to a Tuesday night game. As it turned out, the Vikings didn’t play any of their prime-time games at the Metrodome, four were on the road and the Bears game was moved to the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium after the Metrodome roof collapsed last December.
If the Metrodome has been good for anything, it has been the deafening sound that can be created under the Teflon roof. It has always been a part of the time-honored clichés of the NFL. When the Saints host a game, there are the required images of Bourbon Street. A game at Soldier Field or Lambeau Field, you need the shots of their historic pasts, whether footage of Vince Lombardi or Mike Ditka or the statues of their great players. The New York skyline is somehow a must when the Jets or Giants are playing in New Jersey. When they come to Minnesota, the top cliché is the frenzied crowd.
The decision-makers of the NFL have decided that the Vikings aren’t the national draw post-Brett Favre that they were the year before – finishing last in the division will do that for you.
Not only are the Vikings only part of two prime-time games, they are both on the road – at Green Bay and at Chicago. Both are natural division rival type of matchups, but, it would seem the NFL isn’t expecting much from the Vikings.
Given the quick ascent and drop of teams, there have been a couple of years in which Monday night games have little interest to the casual fan. If Dallas stinks again this year, it will still be in front of a national audience – six of their 16 games will be the only games televised at the time it is being played. The Vikings have become a team that likely won’t have Joe Buck and Troy Aikman calling the game (at least not early in the year). They will be relegated to Dan Jiggets Country.
There is, however, good news to the 2011 schedule. It starts with the bye week – which is typically the first thing players have told Viking Update they look for in a schedule – coming at an ideal time in Week 9. Nobody likes to have a bye week early in the season, especially if it is a truncated season that starts without a preseason, a possibility with the current labor situation. Last year, the Vikings had an early bye and struggled throughout, getting off to a 0-2 start and never fully recovering.
Although the Vikings have the 12th-rated schedule in difficulty, it pales in comparison to the mine field the Vikings faced last year, when, coming out of their Week 4 bye, they had four of their next six games on the road – against playoff-bound New York Jets, Green Bay, New England and Chicago. The Vikings get the notoriously slow-starting San Diego Chargers on the road in Week 1 and follow it up with home games against the Buccaneers and Lions – two teams that many NFL analysts agree will likely be a more difficult opponent late in the year than early. In a sport built on momentum and gaining confidence, getting those teams early may be a better option than playing those young up-and-coming teams at midseason or later.
Unlike last year, there isn’t a stretch of games that can be viewed as a death march like the team had last year coming out of its bye week. In the first five games of the season, only one of them is against a 2010 playoff team – Week 4 at Kansas City. While the Vikings play the Packers twice in three games – they meet Oct. 23 and, after playing Carolina in Week 8 and having a bye, they get together Monday, Nov. 14 at Lambeau Field. The only time the team has back-to-back road games is when they are separated by the team’s bye week.
When the Vikings play at Chicago on Oct. 16 in Week 6, the Bears will be coming off a road Monday night game at Detroit – giving them one less day of preparation. When they play at Lambeau Field Monday night Nov. 14, they will do so when they are coming off their bye week and as rested as they’re going to be.
The entire Vikings schedule is right here.
2011 SCHEDULE NOTES
In what may be viewed as something of a hedge to the season starting late, in almost the entire time during the concept of the bye week, byes began in Week 4, expect for the hideous time when the league had an odd number of teams and there were bye weeks every week. There are two interesting indicators worked into the bye schedule. It doesn’t start until Week 5 and, for some reason, there are no byes in Week 10, yet four teams (Houston, Indianapolis, New Orleans and Pittsburgh) have Week 11 off for a bye. Those of us who see conspiracy among anomalies see these two variations that lead us to believe there is a secondary schedule – which wasn’t released – that envisions how a 16-game, 17-week schedule could be played with the first week of the regular season being missed. As we see it, under this scenario, Week 1 games would be shifted to the final week of the regular season (much like the games scheduled for the weekend after the Sept. 11, 2001 tragedies were shuttled, the bye weeks would be condensed – Week 11 bye weeks would revert to Week 10 and the Week 5 bye weeks become the standard Week 4 beginning. It’s a theory that makes sense and could be a pre-ordained, Plan B option if nail-biting time comes and goes.
For the fifth time in the last six years, the Vikings will open the season on the road.
With Christmas falling on a Sunday this year, 13 of the 16 games in Week 16 will be played on Christmas Eve. The Vikings will head to Washington for the Week 16 game. The only game played on Dec. 25 will be a Sunday night game between the Bears and Packers at Lambeau Field.
Only seven of the league’s 32 teams won’t play on Monday night this year – Carolina and Arizona from the NFC and Buffalo, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Houston and Tennessee from the AFC.
Only five teams have no prime-time games this year – Arizona, Buffalo, Carolina, Cincinnati and Tennessee.
On the flip side, nine teams will have two Monday night games – the New York Giants, Chicago, New Orleans and St. Louis from the NFC and New England, Miami, Jacksonville, Kansas City and San Diego from the AFC.
Five teams will have five prime-time games during the season – Dallas and Philadelphia from the NFC and the New York Jets, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis from the AFC.
The Colts may as well consider NBC to be its home network, since they will play four games on Sunday night. Dallas, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the Jets will each play three Sunday night games.
When a team is successful, it invariably results in that team getting pushed into nationally-televised games. Last year, the Vikings had just 10 games that started at the standard noon Central Sunday start time. The Packers, as defending champs, are going to have it even worse. Of their 16 games, only six of them will get underway at noon Sunday. Of their eight road games, only two of them will have the typical noon Central start time.
The Patriots have just four games that will be early Sunday starts. They will have a pair of Monday night games, a pair of Sunday night games and a whopping eight games that will have a 3:15 pm CT start time. What makes that ironic is that just two of them are going to be West Coast games, which, because of time differences, are always late games when those teams are at home on Sunday afternoons. Of those four games with 1 p.m.
Eastern start times, three of them come in the final four weeks. Of their first 12 games, one will start at noon CT, seven will start at 3:15 CT and four will be night games.
Dallas, despite not being anywhere close to the playoffs in 2010, has just five games at the standard noon local start time. They have five games in prime time and six games with 3:15 p.m. local start times.
On the other end of the spectrum is Carolina. The Panthers open their 2011 with a 4:15 p.m. (Carolina time) game at Arizona. After that, all 15 of their remaining games will be a 1 p.m. ET on Sundays for the rest of the season.
The Patriots will have a killer gauntlet of a schedule from early October to early December. In the middle eight games of their season, they play vs. the Jets, vs. Dallas, at Pittsburgh, vs. the Giants, at the Jets, vs. Kansas City, at Philadelphia and vs. Indianapolis.
It was hard to miss the absurdity of a lauded schedule release when even those playing the role of schedule talking heads on NFL Network or ESPN found it hard to get overly excited about a schedule in which the underlying tone seemed to be that it may not start on time.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.