In the ever-expanding world of the “business of the NFL,” the discovery of new and additional revenue streams is always part of the equation.
The main reason there is a bye week is so the NFL can sell networks a 17-week schedule for a 16-game season. One of the other significant changes was to add a few Saturday stand-alone games late in the season and a slate of Thursday games throughout the year.
Every team has to play at least one Thursday game during the season and this week it’s the turn for the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals. It’s part of the grind of the season that players know is coming and, like it or not, have to prepare for.
“It’s a short week, but still you have to go out there and play,” cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. “You have to go out there no matter how you feel. As long as you’re healthy and able to play, you’ve got to out there and it give it your all.”
The biggest issue for many players is the mental aspect of cramming a game plan that is typically installed on a Wednesday and practiced for three days prior to a Sunday game. The timeline is sped up to break-neck speed and it can be a problem at times trying to absorb all the information that is coming at them and the preparation needed, especially against an elite team like the Cardinals
“It’s more of a mental grind than a physical grind because you’ve got to cram so much stuff into two days that normally we have four days to do from a preparation standpoint,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “I know our coaches were right back here (Sunday) night preparing and game planning so that we could come in (Monday) and get started on the Arizona Cardinals. For us, moving forward, that’s what it’s all about. We need to go to Phoenix and get a win.”
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer took it so far as to sleep at Winter Park on Sunday night to maximize his prep time before seeing the players again on Monday.
There is a bit an upside to it after the game has been played. Players get extra time to heal up, which, for the Vikings, has been a long time coming.
The Vikings got stuck with a non-advantageous bye week. The byes run from Weeks 4-11 and only two teams are off the first bye week. Players and coaches ideally like to see their bye weeks around Week 8 or 9 because it serves as a natural break in a season that included three weeks of training camp, four (or, in the Vikings’ case, five) preseason games and half the regular season.
The Vikings got saddled with a Week 5 bye, which has left them playing games eight straight Sundays. While the short week has its disadvantages, when the game is over, there is a little extra time for players to recharge their batteries.
“You enjoy the break afterwards, because it’s like a mini-bye week in a sense,” kicker Blair Walsh said. “You’re out there trying to win this game. It’s kind of nice to have a Thursday game after a result you didn’t like because then you sort of get that taste out of your mouth really quick. We were in here on Sunday night after the game getting ready, getting prepared. We’re ready to go.”
The short week works both ways. Each team faces a similar challenge of turning around a game plan and trying to ease the aches and pains of the previous game in a shorter than normal period of time.
In a conference call with the local Twin Cities media, local product Larry Fitzgerald Jr. said the Cardinals are facing much the same dilemma as the Vikings, but admitted the Vikings have the built-in disadvantage of travelling, too.
Fitzgerald didn’t mince words on the subject. He doesn’t like it and feels for the team that has the added burden of travel thrown into the mix.
“I hate Thursday night football, to be blunt with you,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s no fun. You don’t get the time to heal your bodies. We’ve got guys – I would probably say two guys on each (team) – this week that if we were playing on Sunday they probably would have been able to go. You just don’t get the time to recover from the injuries you sustained the week before. It’s just tough, especially on the Vikings. You have to travel on a short week. It’s even tougher on the teams that have to travel.”
The timing of the Vikings’ shortened week couldn’t come at a worse time in terms of injuries. Defensive starters Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith and Linval Joseph could all miss Thursday’s game and there are a lot of other players – including the top four safeties – that missed practice Monday due to injuries.
There may be the inclination that, if a player is injured and not close to 100 percent that the wise move is to sit him on a Thursday so as not to risk further injury, give him more time to heal and hope that when the team returns to action 10 days later at home against Chicago, everyone will be back in playing shape.
“This is probably the worst time of the year to have injuries because it’s a short week,” defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said. “We know we have to forget about the last game and keep moving forward. Again, it’s next man up. You can’t deny it. We just have to go.”
With so many new faces in the lineup because of the number of injuries that have beset the Vikings over the last couple of weeks, there could be a question of what sort of continuity the defense will have.
Although it may seem like not a whole lot is accomplished down at training camp – players spend a lot more time than they used to standing around in Mankato than putting on pads and hitting – it is the familiarity of working with their teammates in drills and walk-throughs that make the difference when adversity strikes during the season and the next man up gets the call.
“That’s what camp is for, building trust with your teammates and understanding that people go down, people get hurt,” Floyd said. “The next man up has to fill in and play just as good. That’s just trust by the guy next to you and understanding that. He can do the job, too. He knows what it takes. He knows what he has to do. He’s been studying just like (the starters).”
Thursday’s game will be a difficult one for the Vikings given their injuries, going on the road to Arizona and going up against the highest scoring offense in the league. But, when it comes down to it, it’s an annual ritual everyone has to go through and it’s just a matter that in Week 13, the Vikings and Cardinals’ numbers came up for their turn.
“My take is that it’s the next game on our schedule and that’s all I’m worried about,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “You have to get your mind around coming and getting yourself ready to play. Everybody does it. It’s just the next one.”