I’m not sure NFL Network needed three hours to lay out the 2012 NFL schedule, but they and ESPN probably got better ratings for their belabored unveiling show in most media markets than the NHL playoffs, but that’s what the NFL has become. Their draft is a three-day schmooze-fest. The announcement of their games – even though everybody knew their opponents – is an event worthy of trumpeting fanfare.
The NFL clearly showed no love for the Vikings when it came to putting them in the spotlight. That may well come to be the Vikings’ advantage. NFL teams are like military units or prisons (take your pick). They are overly structured. You get to work at a certain time every day, every week. You eat at the same time. Lights go out at the same time. That is, unless you have something that alters your schedule. Fans love prime-time games. Players love performing under the national spotlight. Coaches hate it.
Why? It alters the routine that 32 generals have over their troops.
The NFL has capped a team’s prime-time games to five in a given regular season. Thanks to the NFL Network going yearlong, every team is guaranteed at least one prime-time game. For a league constantly looking to maximize its revenue potential, if you ain’t good, you ain’t showing up.
Half of the league’s 32 teams are going to be in prime time/stand-alone games four or more times. Half of the league will be in the national spotlight three times or fewer. Ten teams have their full complement of five, including four that didn’t make the 2011 playoffs (Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia and San Diego). Eight teams have their one mandatory appearance and, of those, six of them get it out of the way by playing each other – the Vikings-Buccaneers, Bills-Dolphins and Colts-Jaguars.
The eight teams with only the mandatory game have been deemed undesirable by the NFL. The most egregious of them all? The Indianapolis Colts. Of their 16 games, 15 of them will start at 1 p.m. (noon Central for Vikings fans). The NFL doesn’t even want them in a blackout doubleheader game. At least the Vikings get one unnatural late-game start at Washington.
The NFL has spoken – giving the other three teams in the NFC North a combined 14 games in which they are the only show going that isn’t on Sunday afternoon. The Vikings get that shot just once. For those looking to put a positive spin on the schedule release, aside from the Vikings playing the weakest teams on the schedule early and hammering division games out in November and December, at least the coaching staff will be happy about keeping the routine uncluttered.
PRIME TIME BY THE NUMBERS
The 2012 NFL schedule is going to feature some teams considerably more than others – on NFL Network Thursday nights, NBC Sunday nights, ESPN Monday nights and all three free broadcast networks on Thanksgiving. Here is a breakdown of how many games each team will play in prime time in 2012.
5 – Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Green Bay, New York Giants, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Diego, San Francisco
4 – Atlanta, Baltimore, Houston, New England, New York Jets, New Orleans
3 – Cincinnati
2 – Arizona, Carolina, Kansas City, Oakland, Seattle, Tennessee, Washington
1 – Buffalo, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Miami, Minnesota, St. Louis, Tampa Bay
SAN FRANCISCO TREAT?
Did the NFL re-dial its schedule? When the 32-team, eight-division symmetry of the NFL was born in 2002 with the addition of Houston, there was a press conference surrounding the release of the schedule that told season ticket holders that, if they had season tickets for eight years, they would see every other team in the NFL play. Every year division opponents are known ahead of time. For example, in 2013, the Vikings will play all four teams from the NFC South and the AFC North. With a balanced number of teams, the teams play one entire division from its own conference every three years and one division from the AFC every four years. The last time the Vikings played all four teams in the NFC West prior to the coming season was in 2009. The last time they played the AFC South was in 2008.
Vikings fans likely remember the last time the team played the NFC West in 2009. Some guy named Favre led a miraculous comeback against the 49ers that led to a last-second touchdown pass in the north end zone to Greg Lewis. Yet, for some reason, the Vikings are playing San Francisco at home again – breaking the decade-long policy of alternating home and road games with non-division opponents. The question now is why?
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.