Never underestimate the late Val Pinchbeck's role in devising the NFL schedule. Part of his job was to present the NFL in the most possible positive light. He was the one entrusted with coming up with the preliminary list of prime-time games – the games that ideally would pit the best possible matchups for a national TV audience.
Before you scoff at Val's ability to accurately predict the rise and fall of franchises, go back to 1998. The Vikings were a good but not a great team. Under Pinchbeck's prognostication, the 1998 Vikings were the only NFL show in town four times. The first was their national coming out party at Green Bay. Next was a Thanksgiving Day dismembering of the Cowboys. The final two were Sunday night games in December when the Vikings were the Greatest Show on Turf. Ah, Pinchbeck! Brilliance!
Since the loss of legendary schedule-maker, was struck by a taxi and killed leaving his New York office in 2004, the predictions have been far sketchier. The Monday night schedule alone included matchups pitting San Diego-Oakland, Houston and the Jets, Detroit-Chicago, Kansas City-Pittsburgh, Carolina-Philadelphia and the Jets-Titans. Ouch! Must-see TV it wasn't.
On the flip side, there was the hiding of the "ugly cousin" franchises in the NFL. Given the expanded NFL Network contract, all 32 teams got at least one prime-time game. The post-Pinchbeck schedule-makers crossed two teams off their list last October when they scheduled the Vikings-Buccaneers for a Thursday night special that would meet the obligation to both franchises. The same was true for Indianapolis, but Philadelphia was in prime time five times.
The loss of Pinchbeck still echoes through the halls of the NFL corporate headquarters. The crystal ball used to project great matchups has been hit and miss at best. Which begs the question – what are the plans in New York for the fans in Minnesota?
The Vikings are guaranteed a "distraction" game when they play a home game in London against the Steelers, but that isn't a prime-time game. The London games typically air along with the early Sunday games. That doesn't meet the minimum requirement of one prime time game per team. Seeing as Adrian Peterson is the reigning NFL MVP and the Vikings are a hot commodity coming off an unexpected playoff run (especially if Percy Harvin is back), they could be a candidate for more TV exposure.
A glance at the Vikings schedule could end up having Minnesota in numerous prime-time scenarios. The Packers and Bears are always options, but the 2013 schedule also includes games with Washington, Philadelphia, Dallas, the Giants, Baltimore and Seattle – all teams that have enough national following that they could be in the plans for the Sunday/Monday/Thursday night spotlight.
How the schedule will play out won't be known until mid-April. One thing seems certain. Armed with a Most Valuable Player award, the NFL is going to look to take advantage of having Adrian Peterson (and the other 52 Vikings) in the national spotlight. Don't be stunned if they have three prime time games, not to mention the London game that counts as one of their eight home games.
Is that what Val would do? Probably.
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.