Why the Vikings are making their trip to London as short as possible

The Minnesota Vikings are taking their third trip to London in franchise history this week as part of the NFL’s international series, and their plan is to make the trip as short as humanly possible.

The Vikings face the New Orleans Saints at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur in London. Locally, it’s an 8:30 a.m. kick on NFL Network. Tyler Williams, the Vikings’ executive director of player health and performance, spoke with reporters Wednesday morning to talk about the team’s travel plans and the thought process behind their strategies.

The Vikings are practicing and meeting as normal on Wednesday and Thursday at TCO Performance Center in Eagan. After a few additional meetings, they depart for London at about 7 p.m. Thursday. They’ll land around 8 a.m. Friday. They’ll stay up, workout and have practice as well as meetings.

They’ll be allowed to sleep in on Saturday, then lock in for game preparation Sunday. Between players and staffers, up to 100 people and many of their families are making the trip. They’ve opted for a short window, coming home immediately after the game, since they don't have a bye in Week 5. 

The Saints are already in London, and practiced there Wednesday.

Williams said the team consulted with multiple sleep experts about their travel plan. They want the Vikings to stay on central time as much as possible, keep their body clocks as consistent as possible, given that they return home to face the Chicago Bears the next Sunday. Players are encouraged to get whatever sleep they can on the plane there, even take melatonin. They'll be provided eye masks on the plane, the lights will be off and they're encouraged to stay off their phones.

"We like our players to have the advantage of their own beds, have the advantage of the normal food, the chefs they have, their normal training facility, their locker, any type of recovery strategies," Williams said. "The more we can keep that the same and minimize the effects of traveling, that’s our whole goal is to mitigate the risk to travel. The longer you’re there, the more you have to put out fires."

It’s not just the players and staff that travel. The team’s nutrition staff has already sent over food so they can eat as normal in London. They also have to send all their football and training equipment, and their technology.

One of the main reasons for the shorter trip? They don’t want the players to acclimate to London time, not with another game six days later.

"The goal is to not have them fully acclimated. The minute you have them fully acclimate, you’re going to have to fully acclimate back. The goal is to keep them on central as much as possible," Williams said. "We’ll use everything from light exposure to caffeine to charge their system up to get them going on Sunday."

This will be Williams’ fifth trip to London. In his previous four with the Rams, they’ve done two longer trips and two shorter trips, like this one. Those Rams teams went 2-2. Kevin O’Connell has been in lockstep with Williams from the minute he was hired as head coach, and realized they were going to London.

"I feel like we’ve got a clean-cut, clear plan. I feel like we can present it to our players understanding it’s never going to be perfect, but everything we do is for them and about having them feel as close to their best as we possibly can every single time that three-and-a-half hour window starts, whenever, wherever that is," O’Connell said. "I feel good about our plan, it’s been dialed in for a while and we’re in the phase of making it come to life."

The Vikings will land back in Minnesota by 1:30 a.m. the following Monday, and immediately start getting their minds and bodies ready for the Bears.

For Kirk Cousins, it’ll be his second time playing in London.

"It’s something that our staff has been strategizing on since we found out we were playing there. It’s just about us doing what our trainers and coaches are telling us, just making sure no matter what on Sunday that we execute well and play at a high level," Cousins said.

Alexander Mattison, who may see extended time Sunday with Dalvin Cook battling a dislocated shoulder, says he’s confident in the plan the staff has put together.

"I think we have a really good plan to make sure that we’re getting the best out of our bodies and not missing a beat. I think with the plan that we put together, the resources that we have as far as getting our sleep and making sure that we’re hydrating, getting well-rested, I think it’s going to serve to be something that helps us out," Mattison said.

Some players will sleep, others will have trouble. Some will adjust fine, others will battle. What matters is flying home with a win over the Saints and getting off to a 3-1 start. It would also be their third win in London.

"Ultimately it’s a work trip. We’re going out there to win a football game against a team that we’ve got a lot of respect for," O’Connell said. "We know it’s going to be a challenge, we’re trying to do everything we can on our side. The plan is set in place for them, but also being smart and doing things for reasons that will help them be at their best on Sunday."