VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell and Patrick Donnelly of SportsData, and Ted Carlson of TST Media. They are Twin Cities-based Vikings and NFL experts who crunch numbers, watch video and tell you what's on their minds.

Posts about NFC

VikesCentric: How to beat the Packers in Lambeau

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: January 5, 2013 - 1:11 AM

The Green Bay Packers spent most of the 1960s building a mystique on the "frozen tundra of Lambeau Field" – a line, incidentally, that NFL Films legend John Facenda never once uttered, but hey, when has Chris Berman let the facts get in the way of a good story? Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jerry Kramer and the great Vince Lombardi dominated the NFL, winning five NFL championships (including the first two Super Bowls) from 1961-67. 

That mystique was put on hold for a 25-year period during which the Packers made the playoffs just twice, but it was resurrected in 1993 when a good old Southern boy named Brett Favre picked up where Starr, et al, left off. Through the 2001 season, the Packers had played 13 postseason games at Lambeau Field, and they had won 13 postseason games at Lambeau Field. 

Since 2001, however, the fabled Lambeau mystique has gone AWOL. The Packers are just 2-4 in their last six home playoff games: 

  • 2002 Wild Card – Falcons 24, Packers 7
  • 2004 Wild Card – Vikings 31, Packers 17
  • 2007 NFC Championship – Giants 23, Packers 20 (OT)
  • 2011 Divisional Round – Giants 37, Packers 20

Along the way, a few trends have emerged, both in the Packers' Lambeau losses and in their two wins (both over the Seattle Seahawks, in 2003 and 2008). The following points lay out something of a blueprint for the Vikings to follow if they want to pull out a win tonight. The path to victory might appear to be common sense on the surface, but the stats behind the concepts should help illustrate their importance.

For the Vikings to beat the Packers tonight at Lambeau, they need to do the following:

1. Score first – The Falcons took a 24-0 lead into halftime (whereupon announcer Bob Trumpy uttered the often-replayed line, "The silence you hear … is Lambeau Field"). The Vikings jumped out to a 17-0 cushion in the first quarter. In 2007, the Giants led 6-0 before the Packers got on the board. In 2011 the Giants led 3-0 and took a 20-10 cushion into the locker room at halftime. The best way to get a team out of its gameplan is make it play from behind. Plus, with alcohol sales being cut off at halftime, if the Vikings lead in the third quarter the stands might empty out fast. (Of course, it's not a guarantee – Seattle scored first in both of its losses at Lambeau – but it's still your best bet.)

2. Win the turnover battle – In their four losses, the Packers coughed up the ball 15 times – nine interceptions (including four by the Vikings against Favre in 2004) and six fumbles – and had just two takeaways. In their two wins over Seattle, the Packers turned it over twice and forced two turnovers.

3. Run the ball effectively and stop the run – This could be a chicken-or-egg phenomenon, because teams often run the ball more when they're protecting a lead, but you still have to be effective to make that strategy work. In Green Bay's four losses, their opponents averaged 136 rushing yards and chewed up the clock by running the ball an average of 34 times per game. The Packers averaged just 21 attempts and 84 yards in those losses. In their two wins over Seattle, Green Bay outrushed the Seahawks by an average of 157 to 39 yards.

4. Make them work for their passing yards – The Packers have been a passing team since Mike Holmgren and Favre came to town in 1992. They're going to move the ball through the air. Just make them work for it. In their four losses, Packers quarterbacks put the ball up an average of 39 times and completed just 55.8 percent of those passes, with nine interceptions and an average gain of 6.2 yards per attempt. In their two wins, Favre averaged 30.5 passes and had a 72.1 completion percentage, with no picks and an 8.1-yard average per attempt.

Sounds simple, right? Four easy steps to victory at Lambeau Field. Again, all four points are pretty much common sense to win most any game, but in the playoffs, sometimes it's good to remember that the best approach is to keep it simple.

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, a contributor to the 2012 Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

VikesCentric: Playoffs?!? You kidding me? Playoffs?

Posted by: Ted Carlson Updated: December 30, 2012 - 9:22 PM

Four weeks ago, the Vikings hit a low point in their season. The December 2 loss in Green Bay left the Vikings at 6-6, and with four losses over their previous five games, it appeared as though an improbable run from 3-13 to the playoffs was over - just another crushed dream for the Minnesota sports scene.

But a funny thing happened while fans were punching Christian Ponder's ticket out of town, calling for the entire coaching staff to be fired, and wondering what wide receiver the Vikings might target with their top-15 pick... the Purple won their final four games and earned the NFC's sixth seed. Amazing.

How refreshingly wonderful does this feel? Over the last four weeks, the Vikings stepped up, defied odds, exceeded expectations, and ripped off wins over the Bears, Rams, Texans, and Packers. Even the most grumbly, curmudgeonly, passive-aggressive Vikings fan should be all smiles right now.

Sunday's win over the Packers was one of the sweetest victories in my recent memory, especially since I'm one of the many Minnesota sports fans often consuming by the pessimistic belief that our teams are somehow doomed to fail and slap us in the face. Every Aaron Rodgers counter-punch - and there were many in the second half; #12 was brilliant - threatened to end the Vikings' season, but MVP* Adrian Peterson, the much-maligned Ponder, and the entire team took the punishment, got off the canvas, and ultimately delivered the victory.

(*There should be zero doubt across the country that AD is the 2012 MVP. I have nothing against Peyton Manning, but he joined a team that won a playoff game last season thanks to an excellent defense and a strong running game. I can name 5-10 quarterbacks who might have led the 2012 Broncos to the playoffs. Replace Peterson with any other running back in the NFL and the Vikings aren't in the postseason.)

In the biggest game of his young career, Ponder may have secured his space atop the 2013 depth chart. We've all been pining for him to perform exactly like he did on Sunday - work off of Peterson's lead, keep the chains moving, protect the ball, and occasionally step up and make a big play or three. I'm still in shock that the Vikings completed four passes of 20-plus yards in one game, including the 65-yard strike to Jarius Wright**. Through 15 games, the Vikings owned a mere 24 completions of 20-plus yards, by far the worst in the NFL.

(**As an aside, this impressive four-game win streak and push to the playoffs has come without Percy Harvin, the team's MVP during the first half of this season. It will be interesting to see how this plays into what should be an interesting offseason when Percy could receive a contract extension, be traded, or begrudgingly play out his contract.) 

Ponder has deserved every bit of criticism he has received for his poor on-field play this season, and he also deserves praise for improving in recent weeks and for the win over the Packers. No matter what happens in the playoffs, Ponder's recent play should be a confidence boost as he heads into a critical offseason and a make-or-break 2013 campaign.

The Vikings will be heavy underdogs when they head into Lambeau this coming weekend, and frankly, a victory would simply be extra frosting on what currently feels like a pretty sweet and fulfilling season. Then again, the Purple are peaking at the right time with four straight wins and coulda, shoulda won in Green Bay on December 2. Anything can happen in the postseason; just ask the 2005 Steelers or the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings.

But let's start worrying about the playoff game later this week. Take a moment to bask in the fleeting glow of a Minnesota sports team rising to the occasion and delivering a winning performance (and four weeks of winning performances) beyond our expectations.

VikesCentric: Vikings Pro Bowl hits and misses

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: December 26, 2012 - 8:57 PM

The NFL Pro Bowl has become a joke of a game. Many of the players who participate in it don't care enough to break a sweat – witness last year's 100-point debacle. Many others concoct flimsy injury excuses in order to decline the invitation to the NFL's annual All-Star game. The NFL is the most dominant sports brand in the world, but it has the worst showcase for its stars. It has gotten so bad that commissioner Roger Goodell actually admitted last spring that doing away with the game was an option.

 
Expunging the Pro Bowl still remains a possibility, but it lives for at least another year -- and with it the annual debate over who made it, didn't make it and who should have made it blazes anew.
 
For a game everyone loathes, it sure stirs up a blizzard of controversy each year. Why? Because as much as the game itself doesn't matter one iota, the honor of being elected to the Pro Bowl still does. It's still supposed to reward those who are among the elite at what they do.
 
Pro Bowl recognition is a convenient and powerful short-hand for gauging a player's career. Adrian Peterson is now a five-time Pro-Bowl player. Those are among the words that will be etched on his plaque when he is enshrined in the Hall of Fame someday… only it will likely be anywhere from seven-to-nine Pro Bowls by then. The point is: in terms of how history values a player's career for the ages, Pro Bowl honors really do matter.
 
That Peterson was among the four Minnesota Vikings invited to play in this year's Pro Bowl was hardly surprising. He's been a lock for the game for a couple months now and currently would have my vote (if I had one) for NFL Most Valuable Player.
 
The Vikings other three Pro Bowlers this year are defensive end Jared Allen, fullback Jerome Felton, and rookie kicker Blair Walsh.
 
Felton's inclusion was a pleasant and well-deserved surprise. Fullbacks that actually produce some offensive stats generally get the nod, but the NFC doesn't really have any Mike Alstott types that catch a lot of passes or score a half-dozen touchdowns. Felton is being rewarded for blasting open holes for the game's best running back. That's precisely what he has been asked to do this season, and he has done so with aplomb. This will be Felton's first Pro Bowl.
 
Like Peterson, Allen will be going to his fifth Pro Bowl. Unlike Peterson, Allen might not deserve to be going to Honolulu this winter. Let's be honest, he made it on reputation more than merit for once. He's probably earned this mulligan, though. There's no denying Allen's credentials over his career. He has been the most prolific quarterback sack artist in the NFL since he entered the league. He's also very solid against the run and usually finds a way to make a handful of interceptions, defensive touchdowns or safeties each season. He was robbed of the Defensive Player of the Year award last year when he racked up 22.0 sacks, falling 0.5 sacks shy of the single-season record. I'm guessing Allen himself might admit that he didn't envision falling off to "only" 10.0 sacks this season.
 
Don't get me wrong, Jared has still had a good season -- a better one than you might think considering the injuries he's been playing through. Based purely on statistical merit, however, the Panthers Charles Johnson or Falcons John Abraham would have been more worthy selections this season. That being said, Allen will probably notch 3.0 sacks and a forced fumble on Sunday against the Packers, making his statistical differences with Johnson, Abraham and others look negligible.
 
That brings us to Walsh, who absolutely deserves to be making the trip to Hawaii as a rookie after the season he's had. Earlier today I was all set to rip the process, assuming Walsh would be omitted, but thankfully I get to save the rant for a different Viking who was robbed (more on that in a moment). Walsh is currently tied for second in the NFL with 32 field goals. His 91.4 field goal percentage ranks fifth among all kickers (second in the NFC) with at least 20 attempts this season. He set an NFL record last week with his ninth field goal from at least 50 yards out this season (missing none). Oh, and he also ranks fourth in the NFL in touchbacks with 49.
 
Compelling arguments for Matt Kalil, Chad Greenway and Antoine Winfield could be made.
 
Kalil stepped in and played very well as a rookie starter from Week 1, but he plays at a position loaded with blue-chip talent so it may take a year or two for him to get his turn as a Pro Bowler.
 
Greenway currently ranks second in the NFL in tackles (145) and was named as a replacement to the Pro Bowl team last year, but I can't say he deserved the Pro Bowl more than those linebackers who made it ahead of him from the NFC: namely DeMarcus Ware, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Clay Matthews. Heck, Panthers rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly has more tackles, passes defensed, interceptions and fumble recoveries than Greenway does, and he didn't make it.
 
Over at ProFootballFocus.com, where they do highly-regarded NFL scouting and grading work on every single play from scrimmage, they have Winfield ranked as the NFL's No. 1 cornerback this season. However, much of that ranking is predicated on his 14.6 mark against the run. Only two other corners have more than a 7.0 grade against the run. That's dominance. Winfield is the league's premier tackling cornerback which is nothing new. But without the splash plays like interceptions, touchdowns or suffocating coverage skills, you usually don't make the Pro Bowl as a cornerback.
 
Winfield, Greenway or even Kalil could eventually be named as replacement Pro Bowl players when others pull out for injuries or Super Bowl obligations.
 
However, the one Vikings player who was completely jobbed is center John Sullivan. Most scouts will tell you he's been one of the two or three best centers in the NFL this season. The aforementioned ProFootballFocus has Sullivan ranked No. 1 among all centers. Max Unger of the Seattle Seahawks will start for the NFC at center in the Pro Bowl. He's a deserving Pro Bowler. No argument there. The backup for the NFC, however, is Green Bay Packers center Jeff Saturday. Not only is he a backup for the NFC, he's a backup for his own team. Yes, you read that right: Sullivan – the center with the best grade in the NFL per PFF.com was beaten out for the Pro Bowl by Saturday, who was benched by head coach Mike McCarthy last week. And it's not like the Packers have an embarrassment of riches on their offensive line. Their line has been severely thinned by injuries all season. Ironically, the Packers' best lineman is guard Josh Sitton, and he was snubbed by the Pro Bowl process as well.
 
There you go, Vikings fans -- just another reason to detest your rivals from the East in advance of Sunday's big showdown at Mall of America Field, right? But to take your venom out on Saturday or the Packers for the Sullivan snub would be misguided. He probably wouldn't have voted for himself either – and you know coach McCarthy wouldn't have.
 
Alas, the Pro Bowl voting process will never be perfect. Congrats to the four Vikings who made it and here's hoping Sullivan – one of the biggest Vikings Pro Bowl snubs in my memory – gets the nod as a replacement between now and Jan. 27 when they suit up for this sham of a game in Hawaii.
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Parsing the playoff picture

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: December 21, 2012 - 2:16 AM

Coming off a 3-13 season, that last thing any of us expected to be doing in Week 16 is discussing the Vikings' playoff chances, but here we are. As you all know, the Vikings are 8-6 and currently hold the sixth and final seed in the NFC Playoffs. Thus, if the season ended today, the Vikes would be in.

However, the season doesn't end today. It ends next Sunday. And strange as it might sound, the Vikings could win their final two games and still find themselves on the outside looking in.

That's right, the Vikings don't control their own destiny, for reasons that are probably far too convoluted to get into in a blog post. (It boils down to conference record – because the Vikings play an AFC team in Houston on Sunday, they have only one more chance to improve their NFC record, while most of the other teams in the 8-6 logjam play two more NFC foes.)

So who should Vikings fans root for this week? It's pretty easy to figure, actually, because most of the teams the Vikings need to lose are facing opponents who are non-factors in the NFC playoff race. The biggest question is the Niners-Seahawks game in Seattle. Vikings fans should be rooting for the 49ers to win that one, because even if the Niners lose out, their 10-5-1 record would be a half-game better than the Vikings' best possible record of 10-6. Thus, hope Seattle goes in the tank – just keep in mind that Seattle has the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Purple by virtue of its win on Nov. 4, so if Minnesota hopes to leap-frog the Seahawks, it'll need to win out and have the Seahawks lose home games to the Niners and Rams. That's about as likely to happen as the networks to eschew their standard "fish tossing" shot at the world-famous Pike Place Fish Market on any given week. Meaning, not bloody likely.

We'll sort through the various scenarios in greater detail next week. For this weekend, just pull for the Purple, and pull for the Giants to lose at Baltimore, the Cowboys to lose to the Saints, the Redskins to lose at Philadelphia, and the Bears to lose at Arizona. Then we can pull out the calculators and slide rules and figure out what needs to happen in Week 17 for the Vikings to return to the playoffs.

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData and a contributor to the 2012 Vikings Yearbook. He's covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

VikesCentric: Pondering options at QB

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: December 7, 2012 - 12:20 AM

I'll admit, I've been slow to hop on the anti-Christian Ponder bandwagon. Not that I've loved what I've seen from him on the field, but I just think it's unreasonable to expect the Vikings to already give up on their No. 1 draft pick from 2011. True, the timetable for young quarterbacks has accelerated and expectations are higher, thanks to the rookie-year success of Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. Heck, even the rare flashes of competence that Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill have shown this year are a step up from most of Ponder's performances. 

My main argument for supporting Ponder is that you'll never know what he's capable of until he's throwing to a full slate of NFL-caliber receivers. I even took to Twitter after the Bears debacle two weeks ago – when Jerome Simpson put on a pass-dropping clinic, and Jarius Wright and Stephen Burton were quick studies – and said dumping Ponder now would be akin to the Twins firing pitching coach Rick Anderson because he couldn't turn Esmerling Vasquez and Luis Perdomo into Cy Young winners. 

Then the Vikings went to Green Bay. Ponder absolutely gave away a winnable game with two horrendous decisions/throws, and did nothing on the plus side to overcome those errors. He was truly, spectacularly horrible, and the fact that the coaching staff didn't replace him with Joe Webb should tell you all you need to know about Webb's stock within the organization. Had the Vikings won that game, they'd be tied with the Packers at 7-5, one game behind the Bears in the NFC North, and their unlikely playoff bid wouldn't be on life support. 

When Leslie Frazier took over full-time in 2011, it looked like he had a major rebuilding project on his hands. Instead, Adrian Peterson has recovered from injury and remains in his prime as an elite tailback. The defense is still getting decent run out of veterans like Jared Allen, Chad Greenway and Antoine Winfield, and they went a long way toward shoring up weaknesses on the offensive line and in the secondary in last year's draft. 

But with Ponder flailing about in the backfield, giving away games that could be won by simply "managing" rather than putting the team on his back, the Vikings are wasting Peterson's prime. They're wasting the continued efforts of their defense and recent draftees. And they're wasting a golden opportunity to challenge the Bears and Packers, who aren't as invincible as the Vikings feared. 

Thus, presuming Ponder doesn't suddenly morph into the second coming of John Unitas the next four weeks, I've come around to the idea that the Vikings should at least consider their options at quarterback for 2013. The decision won't be made in a vacuum – it's not, "Should Ponder be the starting quarterback next year?" but rather, "Is Ponder the best of the Vikings' options at quarterback next year?" 

So let's take a look at their options. They way I see it, the Vikings could go one of three ways. They could maintain status quo and give Ponder no competition for the starting spot; they could go 180 degrees the other way and bring in a veteran to supplant Ponder from Day 1, or they could split the difference and bring in a second-tier veteran to push Ponder and at least give Frazier a backup he felt confident in calling on when Ponder puts up a stinker like he did last Sunday. (We're not going to bother considering drafting another rookie starter, because the attendant learning curve would likely keep the offense in wheel-spinning mode as Peterson, et al, get another year older.) 

So, let's take a spin around the NFL and see who the Vikings might be considering as they weigh their options for 2013 

Alex Smith – His $7.5 million salary is guaranteed on April 1, 2013, meaning he'll get the axe as long as Colin Kaepernick doesn't completely fall apart during the final few weeks of the season. Jim Harbaugh traded up to draft Kaepernick in the 2011 draft, and he'll give the former Nevada star every chance to prove his worth and make him (Harbaugh) look like a genius. 

Kevin Kolb – He's due $9 million in 2013, with a $2 million roster bonus. Even though rookie Ryan Lindley isn't tearing it up, it's possible that between Lindley and John Skelton, the Cardinals will be happy to let Kolb go and choose from the two much, much cheaper options. Also, Kolb has pretty much stunk when he's played, so … he's got that going for him. 

Matt Flynn – His contract was worth $10 million guaranteed, and $19.5 million over three years. The Seahawks might just hang onto him for that investment, although if they decide that Wilson is their present and future, it's possible Flynn will be on the market. How fun would that be? First Favre, then Flynn? Packers fans would be apoplectic. 

Chase Daniel – The Saints' backup will be a unrestricted free agent. It's hard to say what he's capable of doing in the NFL, because Drew Brees doesn't take a play off. But he might be worth a sniff as a quarterback to challenge Ponder. 

Michael Vick – There's no way the Eagles pay him the $15.5 million he's owed in 2013, and they'll probably have a new head coach anyway, somebody who will want to make his mark on the Eagles roster. Thus, Vick will be a free agent. But does he have anything left? Will he be a fit in Bill Musgrave's offense? Will Musgrave even be the Vikings' offensive coordinator? So many questions … 

Matt Leinart – He'll be an unrestricted free agent, and he's making just $700,000 with the Raiders in 2012. Oakland has hitched its wagon to Carson Palmer, so Leinart would likely jump at the chance to challenge for the job. But isn't he just a left-handed Christian Ponder? 

Matt Cassel – He's due $16.5 million over the next two years, and it's likely the Chiefs have seen enough from him. But isn't he just a right-handed Matt Leinart? 

Chad Henne – The Jaguars are in a similar position as the Vikings. Do they stick with their 2011 first-round draft choice, who's been underwhelming thus far? In this case, Blaine Gabbert might have more rope to work with because the Jags aren't close to contending. They're more likely to let Henne walk, thus dodging his $2.6 million salary for 2013, and rolling the dice on Gabbert. 

Matt Hasselbeck – He'll be 38 next September and he sure looked like he was done when the Vikings schooled him in October. But Jake Locker is the future in Tennessee, and with $5.5 million due Hasselbeck in 2013, it's possible the Titans will gamble on Locker with Rusty Smith as the backup, meaning the former Seahawks Pro Bowler could be available as a veteran mentor and possible challenger to Ponder. 

Ryan Mallet – He was in the same draft class as Ponder, but slipped to the third round due to rumors of drug use. He's apparently kept his nose clean thus far in New England, but he's signed to a team-friendly contact and there's no way Bill Belichick trades his insurance policy for Tom Brady for anything less than a price the Vikings should not be willing to pay. 

Matt Moore – The Dolphins are obviously smitten with Tannehill, meaning they could save $2.5 million by letting Moore walk after this season. He showed promise at the end of the 2009 season, when he went 4-1 down the stretch for Carolina, including a three-TD, no-interception performance against the Vikings. But he went 6-7 as a starter for Miami in 2011 and would be little more than competition for Ponder if the Vikings were to bring him aboard. 

There are a handful of potential free agents not even worth discussing – Derek Anderson, Jimmy Clausen, Rex Grossman, Kyle Orton, Colt McCoy, Tarvaris Jackson, Tyler Thigpen – and at least one other – Joe Flacco – who won't be hitting the market. 

So, looking at our list, there's probably only one guy out there (Smith) who would become the starter the moment he sets foot in the locker room at Winter Park, a couple of guys (Flynn, Daniel) with intriguing potential, a couple players (Kolb, Cassel) who had their chance as starters and failed spectacularly, some possibly washed-up has-beens (Vick, Hasselbeck) and never-weres (Leinart, Henne, Moore). 

Are any of them better options than starting next year with Christian Ponder as the only quarterback option on the roster? That's up to Rick Spielman and – perhaps – Frazier and Musgrave to decide. 

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData and a contributor to the 2012 Vikings Yearbook. He's covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

VikesCentric: Thursday game gives Vikings the advantage

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: October 23, 2012 - 6:00 PM

The schedule-makers did the Vikings a favor by setting them up at home for their lone prime time game of the season. Said favor is even bigger considering the game is on a Thursday night.

 
Of course the alternative was to play this game in Tampa, but the league probably didn't want one of their showcase games of the week to be played in front of stadium with empty seats and to be blacked out in the local market – as many games have been in Tampa the last few years.
 
Nonetheless, the Vikings have to be pleased with the advantage this week's game gives them… and make no mistake, it is an advantage. The numbers speak for themselves.
 
This is the first season in NFL history that the league has scheduled a Thursday night game every week of the season. The decision to go with Cee Lo Green on the NFL Network bumper music is hopefully a one-and-done deal, but it appears the Thursday night games themselves are here to stay.
 
Home teams have benefitted greatly from the Thursday night schedule, winning five of the six games played on Thursday nights this season. The only loss: the woefully-underperforming Panthers (who are 1-5 and just fired GM Marty Hurney on Monday) lost at home to the defending Super Bowl champion Giants in Week 3. Of course, there was probably no way the Panthers were going to win that game regardless of day or location.
 
Note: they moved the Week 1 Thursday night game to Wednesday night so as not to compete with President Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention. The Giants lost at home in a surprising win by the Cowboys that first Wednesday. Counting that game, home teams are 5-2 in mid-week games this season.
 
That's still a solid winning percentage for home teams, even considering the Giants/Panthers aberration. Thursday night home-field dominance is nothing new. Going back to last season, home teams are 13-4 on Thursday nights. That's a .760 winning percentage compared to a .615 winning percentage (64-40) enjoyed by home teams overall this season.
 
In a league of parity, a seemingly small thing such as a condensed schedule favors the home team.
 
NFL players and coaches are creatures of habit. When the game is on Sunday, they know what to be ready for – reviewing game film on Mondays, rest and community work on Tuesdays, practices Wednesday-Friday, etc. When the game is on Thursday, it's completely different. And for the road team, having to hop on a plane the day you're usually practicing for the first time all week can screw everything up. There's less time for coaches to game plan and less time for players to heal from injuries.
 
The Vikings now need to take full advantage of the scheduling benefit, get to 6-2, and take a few days off… because the same schedule makers that gave them a Thursday-nighter at home also back-loaded their schedule.
 
For those Vikings fans who haven't peeked ahead, the second half of the season kicks off with a game in Seattle – perhaps the toughest venue in the NFC, maybe even the entire NFL, in which to win as a road team. Then they have a winnable home game against the Lions followed by their bye in Week 11. After that: road games in four of the last six to finish the season -- at Chicago, Green Bay, St. Louis, and Houston with home games against the Bears and Packers to break up the road trip. The combined record of the Vikings' post-bye week opponents: 27-13 (.675). Ouch!
 
In other words, enjoy the comparatively primrose path while it lasts and enjoy the national spotlight Thursday night because the road is about to get rocky.
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

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