One of the time-honored traditions among NFL players and coaches is to never "look beyond" this week's opponent. The Vikings players aren't. Much in the way parents don't give out too much information to their kids, the coaches for the Vikings – for one week only – are looking beyond this week and the Arizona Cardinals. They are looking ahead to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and bet your bottom dollar they have already devised contingency plans based upon the Tampa Bay Bucs, not the Arizona Cardinals.
The Vikings play Arizona Sunday, but they also play Tampa Bay a week from Thursday. Fortunately for them, the Bucs have to pay the freight for the flight – and the well-fueled home crowd that will be out for pirate blood (Yarrgh!!). But, as the only non-traditional Sunday game on the entire 2012 schedule (barring Viking largesse that could get them assigned a flex-schedule Sunday night game), the coaching staff are the parents. The players are the kids. Father knows best and they're preparing for two games as we speak on the players' day off.
There are only two teams in the league that regularly experience what the Vikings are going to endure in the eight days they have to prepare for two games – the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions. Thanks to the expansion of the NFL to the point that it has its own network, the worst of teams get prime-time Thursday night games for a TV contract the NFL awarded to itself (they even put in a bid of their own money that would, ironically, be paid back to themselves – a brilliant concept).
Over the years, Viking Update has conducted hundreds of interviews about Thursday games. As several former Cowboys and Lions over the years have ended up with locker space at Winter Park, it's been a natural question – what is that week like? Seven days compressed to four. Monday you are healing up. Tuesday becomes Friday. Wednesday becomes Saturday.
If you're the Buccaneers, you're crying foul. Tampa Bay has to play New Orleans Sunday – an angry team without a head coach that has had two weeks to prepare for them (the Saints are coming off their bye week) – and the Bucs are in for a war on Sunday with a hated divisional rival. Never underestimate the intensity of playing the same team twice every year as opposed to AFC teams seen once every four years. The Bucs will be beat up on Monday win, lose or tie. Monday's out. Tuesday will be more of a walk-through than a practice. Wednesday will be a prep session as the team prepares to disembark for Minnesota.
Given the new nature of Thursday games for the entire league, the NFL rule of being in the host city the night before games isn't always enforced for Thursday games. Either way, it isn't good for Tampa. You don't want to fly out three hours early in the morning on a game day. Jet lag sucks. If they fly in late Wednesday, they've sacrificed the one full day of practice they can have to incorporate a game plan.
When members of the Cowboys or Lions were asked about how the preparation went for a Thursday game, the standard answer (with variables to the text) was something on the line of, "The coaches had us ready." How?
They knew how to work the compressed schedule for well-regimented soldiers that know how the standard Wednesday-Thursday-Friday progression works. Don't be surprised if you see an inordinate number of veteran players limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday. The same coaches barking in their ears to impress upon them the importance of not looking beyond Arizona are themselves looking beyond Arizona. Hypocritical? Maybe. Needed? Definitely.
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.
Coaches will be doing double duty
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