When the schedule was devised last April, Weeks 2 and 4 were carefully orchestrated. Both were laid out with an extended lockout in mind. If one looks at the schedules as they were crafted by artisans that use more of the left side of their brains than most, it shows history will be made this weekend.
From the time of the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, there has never been a weekend without at least one divisional matchup. Given the complexities of filling in the Super-Sudoku that is a 17-week NFL schedule, it's almost impossible not to have a divisional game, if not three, four, five or more. In Week 2, it happened.
This week, not only is lightning striking twice in the same place, but it is done with intent of purpose. Put the Week 2 schedule up against the Week 4 schedule and you will find an intelligent, pre-planned, choreographed way to make a 14-game NFL schedule work. Had the league season been shortened to 14 games, it could have been a nightmare scenario if pre-planning didn't take place. How would tie-breakers work? If a divisional game was lopped in shortened-season scenario and the first tie-breaker is head-to-head results, the potential would exist that two division teams tied at the end of the season would have played each other just once instead of twice – tipping the competitive advantage in favor of the team that got the home game. The potential would also exist that, if two weeks were cut from the schedule and it was formulated under typical circumstances (that has been consistent for 40 years), at least one or two teams would find themselves with six home games and eight road games.
That is, if the Beautiful Minds of the NFL scheduling crew were filling out this New York Times crossword puzzle in pencil. They were doing it in pen at the end and made it work.
Just two weeks after the first time in 40 years that there were no divisional games played, it happens again this week. Some could claim that the NFL innocently made history twice in the span of three weeks of the 2011 NFL schedule. As a dyed-in-the-wool conspiracy theorist, this writer would have trouble with that explanation. But, as a conspiracy theorist, never underestimate the depths to which intelligent people will go to cover their bases.
What makes their own 14-game schedule conspiracy so deeply thought out is that all 16 teams that were at home in Week 2 are on the road this weekend. The odds of that happening unintentionally are about the same as getting killed by falling space junk last weekend.
If you're wondering why ESPN has a Monday night game featuring Indianapolis at Tampa Bay, much less with the only connection between the franchises being Tony Dungy (who works for NBC), look no further than the Beautiful Minds at NFL headquarters in New York. The Val Pinchbeck Brigade. They did their job. They did it well.
In the end, it wasn't necessary, but it does shed some light on the depths to which the NFL was prepared for a "dig-in-the-heels" fight when push came to shove between the NFL and the NFLPA. The proof is in the forensic examination of the schedule. As fans enjoy the weekend games, understand that they might not have happened if cooler heads hadn't prevailed.
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.