One thing that appears to be certain heading into the 2016 NFL season is that the Minnesota Vikings are going to be getting more high-visibility games. With a team that won the NFC North, still has Adrian Peterson – one of the most high-profile players in the league – a young team that most are seeing as a team on the rise with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations and a brand new showpiece of a stadium, the number of noon games local time the Vikings will likely be diminished.
In 2015, the Vikings were scheduled to play just two prime time games – the opener against San Francisco as the back end of the Monday night doubleheader and the obligatory Thursday game at Arizona. When the schedule was released, the Vikings were clumped into the mass of Sunday early games for 12 of their 16 games.
Expect changes this season, including the potential for a Thanksgiving matchup against Detroit.
The 2016 schedule is two months away from being released, but talks are already underway to leverage high-profile teams in the games that run unopposed and the Vikings are building some street cred to be one of those teams.
In a story in the Sports Business Journal, the discussion of the behind-the-scenes meetings between the NFL and top television executives for CBS, ESPN, FOX and NBC came up. The networks are always angling to get the best potential matchups in the stand-alone games that they carry.
As part of that discussion is the annual Thanksgiving Day matchups for the Lions and Cowboys – the two NFL teams that play on Thanksgiving every year. In odd-numbered years, CBS carries the Dallas game against an AFC opponent. In even-numbered years, CBS gets the Detroit game. However, recent changes to the rules don’t require that the Thanksgiving games have to include a team from the AFC. Since the cross-flexing rules were put in play, if a matchup didn’t seem desirable, the schedule would allow two NFC teams to play on CBS, including a recent Detroit-Chicago game on Thanksgiving Day when it was intended to be against an AFC opponent.
According to SBJ, the league is looking at the possibility of cross-flexing Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day game, primarily because neither of the AFC home opponents that would typically be in line to play the Lions – Jacksonville and Tennessee – are matchups viewed as destination television.
Enter the Vikings, stage left. Chicago has played games on two of the last three Thanksgivings and the Packers have played on Thanksgiving two of the last three years. The Vikings haven’t played on Thanksgiving since 2000, so it would seem they would be the most likely to be asked to play the short week, especially given their status as the defending NFC North champion.
It could also involve the Vikings being involved in the typical Thursday night schedule the following week. Each of the last two seasons, two of the teams that played on Thanksgiving Day met the following week – Green Bay-Detroit in 2014 and Dallas-Chicago last year.
While the NFL determines when and where it announces its schedule and when it is allowed to leak out – on Tuesday, it was announced that the Colts and Packers will play in the Hall of Fame Game – don’t be shocked if the buzz that was discussed behind closed doors during Super Bowl week in San Francisco comes to fruition and the Vikings end up playing at Ford Field on Thanksgiving Day and likely having a 50-50 chance of playing the following Thursday.
With the NFL looking to get its infrastructure inside U.S. Bank Stadium to give it a “dry run” in a smaller sample size, don’t be surprised if you see the Vikings on national TV in a stand-alone game at least a couple of times this season.
It shouldn’t be a stunner to see the home opener in prime time as the NFL showcases its newest football palace and, instead of playing Thursday night, Sunday night or Monday night games on the road because the Metrodome was a dump, having more games at home in prime time to promote the fact that Minnesota will be hosting Super Bowl LII.
Get your prime time popcorn ready, Vikings fans. Not only will the Vikings likely be altering the mealtime for Thanksgiving dinner throughout the Upper Midwest, it won’t come as any shock to see at least a couple of the home games this coming season coming at night in front of a national TV audience.