Most fans know that the third preseason game is the one in which you see most of the front-line starters. Typically, they will play the entire first half and a series or two in the second half, turning the game over to the backups in the final quarter-and-a-half. That could pose a problem for those on the fringe, because the Vikings have 10 days between games – having played Kansas City on Friday and not playing Houston in their third game until a week from tonight on Monday Night Football.
Rosters will be hatcheted over that week, but not much initially. On Tuesday, Sept. 1, teams need to get their rosters down to 75 players from the current total of 80. That will have to come the day after the Texans game. The big cuts will come Saturday, Sept. 5 – a day after the Vikings play the Dallas Cowboys in the preseason finale at the Metrodome. At that point, the roster will have to be trimmed to 53 players – meaning that 22 roster hopefuls will have to go.
Sept. 5 will be a bad day for a lot of players. In all, more than 700 players will be cut on Black Saturday – 22 each from 32 teams. There will be front office people like Rick Spielman scouring the waiver wire to see if there are players who could help the roster, but for those home-grown talents trying to stick, the Vikings' schedule couldn't be worse.
The Vikings will play Monday night and, if the game holds to its typical form, it won't end until after 11 p.m. local time. Then the team will fly back home and Tuesday will likely be a very light practice day. Compounding their travel considerations is that they will have to play Dallas with just three days of preparation before the Sept. 4 finale. Don't expect to see many of the veteran players even suit up for that game.
For those who are on the cusp of making the roster, next week will be the make-or-break period. With two games in five days and a total of 27 players needed to be cut, they will be under the microscope and every good play or bad play will be magnified. There won't be much time to make up for the mistakes that are made, which could result in a player being released because of one critical mistake. Is it fair? Maybe not, but who said life in the NFL is fair? Ask Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels about fairness. Their answers will likely let you know that the NFL is business and decisions are made constantly that have a major impact on careers. For those trying to make the roster without any assurance of being around in two weeks, this will be a critical time for all of them.
Why feel bad for the Broncos? First off, they drew the NFC East this season, viewed by many as the strongest top-to-bottom division in the NFL. But, by virtue of finishing second in the AFC West last year, they get the two second-place teams from the AFC East and AFC South, which just happen to be New England and Indianapolis. From Oct. 1 to Nov. 9, the Broncos will play Dallas, New England, San Diego, Baltimore and Pittsburgh in a brutal five-game stretch, not to mention the Giants, Colts and Philadelphia between Thanksgiving and Christmas weekend. Good luck, Denver. Maybe that's why Cutler wanted out of town.