MINNEAPOLIS -- It appears likely we'll see the 2014 NFL schedule this week, possibly as soon as Tuesday night. When the 256-game slate is made public, fans will be able to get their hands on the Minnesota Vikings' calendar for their first season at TCF Bank Stadium. It's an itinerary that, in all likelihood, was more difficult for the league to plan than any in the past five years (and possibly longer).
The Vikings will once again be sharing a stadium with the University of Minnesota, which moved out of the Metrodome in 2009, but this time the Vikings are playing on campus and working under an agreement that places some fairly stringent restrictions on when the team can play home games at TCF Bank Stadium.
For starters, if the Vikings have a prime-time home game this season, it almost has to be on a Sunday night, Thanksgiving night or in late December when the fall semester is over. The team's agreement with the university prohibits the Vikings from playing a weeknight home game while school is in session, and considering how the Vikings have hosted Thursday night games each of the past two seasons, it's difficult to see them playing at home on a Thursday for a third consecutive year. It seems like a prime-time home game would come on a Sunday night, on Monday, Dec. 22, or not at all.
The university also asked the NFL and the Vikings to work with them in preventing home games during the Minnesota State Fair and on Gophers' home weekends. That's part of the reason the Vikings are playing their final two preseason games on the road, and it seems unlikely the league will be able to avoid at least one or two weekends when the Vikings and Gophers are home at the same time (the Gophers have home games on Sept. 6, Sept. 20, Oct. 11, Oct. 18, Nov. 8 and Nov. 15). The university also asked to set aside a pair of Sunday afternoons in November for Gophers basketball games, and the agreement between the university and the team means Vikings' ticketholders wouldn't have parking priorities if the teams are playing at the same time.
Assuming many -- or at least some -- of those demands were compatible with the many other scenarios NFL scheduling guru Howard Katz must manage, it probably isn't too hard to make some reasonable guesses about the Vikings' 2014 schedule. If they open on the road, they'd avoid sharing a home weekend with the Gophers after the first week of the school year (even though the Vikings have opened five of their past six seasons away from home). The league could put the Vikings on the road on both Nov. 9 and 16, or give the team a midseason bye, setting those two Sundays aside for Gophers basketball games when there are already football games on Saturday. And assuming the league sticks with its rotation of Week 17 division matchups, the Vikings would be slated to finish the season in Chicago.
It's a difficult (albeit temporary) set of circumstances to manage, but taking all that into consideration, here's one guess (and it's nothing more than that) at the Vikings' schedule that could keep all parties relatively happy:
Sunday, Sept. 7 -- at Buffalo, 12 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 14 -- vs. Washington, 12 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 21 -- at Tampa Bay, 12 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 28 -- vs. Chicago, 7:20 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 5 -- at Miami, 12 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 12 -- vs. New York Jets, 12 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 16 -- at Green Bay, 7:20 pm.
Sunday, Oct. 26 -- vs. New England, 12 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 2 -- vs. Carolina, 12 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 9 -- Bye
Sunday, Nov. 16 -- at St. Louis, 12 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 23 -- vs. Detroit, 12 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 30 -- at New Orleans, 12 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 7 -- vs. Green Bay, 3:25 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 14 -- at Detroit, 12 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 21 -- vs. Atlanta, 12 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 28 -- at Chicago, 12 p.m.