During last year’s 8-7-1 season, the Vikings lost prime-time games against the Rams, the Saints, the Bears, and the Seahawks. This year, the Vikings have five more night games on the schedule.
So why do they suddenly struggle under the lights?
“I think it’s just because when you play in prime time everything’s magnified,” tight end Kyle Rudolph recently explained, in a visit to the #PFTPM podcast. “Unless you’re going out there and winning every game in prime time, which is difficult because if you’re playing in prime time you’re probably playing against somebody that’s pretty good. For us under Coach Zimmer we’ve been pretty good in prime time games over the course of the last five years. You do so much to try to keep your routine and whatnot but at the end of the day it’s just football. We’re going out whether we’re playing at noon or 7:30 at night. You go out there and play football and try to be better than that team that night.”
Rudolph has a point about the quality of the competition; the Vikings four prime-time losses in 2018 came against playoff teams, including the two NFC finalists.
This year, the Vikings have some time to get their footing before playing football at night. The first prime-time game happens on a Thursday night against Washington, after seven regular-season games have been played.
Then comes a Week 10 visit to Dallas, followed by a Week 13 trip to Seattle, a Week 16 trip to L.A. to face the Chargers (subject to flexing), and a Week 16 Monday night game against the Packers.
By the time the Vikings hit that stretch, the team will have developed its identity. And that’s another point Rudolph made: In 2017, the Vikings had a clear identity. In 2018, they didn’t. This year, they won’t have to worry about playing in prime time while they establish one, or while they don’t.