Analyzing a Potential Playoff Expansion and What it Could Mean for the Vikings

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On Monday afternoon, a report began floating around that due COVID-19’s effect onbye weeks and games around the NFL, the playoffs could see an additional expansion this season. Yes, you heard that right, THIS season. As in, the playoffs that would start two months from now. 



During the offseason, the NFL had already expanded their playoff format from the 12 teams that had been in place since 1990 to 14 teams. Now, talks have begun this week of an expansion to 16 teams, eight from each conference. 


This format would be similar to the NBA’s (minus the seven game rounds, obviously) where the one seed would play the eight, two would play seven, three would play six, and four would play five. The top four seeds would still be the division winners, and the remaining four would be wild cards. However, it would eliminate the one seed’s advantage of having a bye. 


Great for fans and $$$

Strictly from a financial or a fan’s perspective, this would be a home run. Who wouldn’t tune in to two extra playoff games? The extra TV revenue (and while doubtful, we can still hope for a few fans in the stands right?) would be very beneficial in a season filled with money losses. 


We also saw the MLB, NBA, and NHL expand their playoffs for this season very successfully, so why not have the NFL join the club?


As fun as it would be, I don’t see this happening. One glaring reason is while the other three leagues had three or four months to plan these expanded playoff formats, the NFL would have at most three or four weeks.


The NFL would have to *gasp* care about its players

This plan is also contingent on games being cancelled due to COVID diagnoses within teams, and if Thursday’s Packers/49ers game is any indication of the NFL stance, it’s full steam ahead no matter how many people are out. 


The fact that the 49ers could close their team facilities on Wednesday morning before a Thursday night game and still suit up to play less than 36 hours later states pretty clearly the NFL has no plan to cancel games. 


Now, it’s certainly possible that the “head down and grind it out” approach is taking place because the NFL feels it has no choice. If an expansion plan passes, the approach could change as it would no longer be necessary for every team to fulfill 16 regular season games. 


Even so, I doubt the league is suddenly having a change of heart. The NFL has always had the standpoint that players are expendable, even if they would like to deny it. We are seeing that more than ever this year not only with the handling of COVID, but also the rash of early season injuries that anyone could have seen coming without a preseason. 


Finally, not that the league would care that much, but I also wouldn’t want to be the one that has to tell Pittsburgh and Seattle that they’ll lose their bye week even if they maintain their conferences’ number one seeds. On top of that, there is the potential that there would be no off week between the conference championships and the Super Bowl under this format. 


Could Vikings fans be cautiously hopeful?

I know, I know. It’s completely foolish to not only think that this plan will go through, but that the Vikings could somehow reach that fourth wild card spot. 


But come on, it’s fun to look at the possibilities anyway. If you disagree, feel free to roast me in the comments. 


If the season were to end today, the Vikings would be half a game out of the seventh spot in the wild card race. The four teams directly ahead of them are Carolina, Detroit, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. 


It’s not likely, but it’s possible. Carolina is on a serious decline, Detroit plays Minnesota (potentially without Matt Stafford) this week, San Francisco is playing their entire bench, and the Rams just got embarrassed by the Dolphins. 


Minnesota also has the second easiest schedule of these five teams in terms of opponent winning percentage, with only Detroit’s being easier. In fact, the other three all land in the top six most difficult. San Francisco is third, LA is fifth, Carolina is sixth, Minnesota is 18th, and Detroit is 22nd. 


Minnesota’s Recipe to Success

We saw last week against Green Bay what can happen when Minnesota goes against a bad run defense. Dalvin Cook, well, he cooks. As long as he stays healthy, he should be whipping up plenty more in that backfield’s kitchen for the rest of the season.


Three of Minnesota’s remaining opponents are among the bottom 12 in run defense (in terms of yards per attempt), and only Tampa Bay and New Orleans are better than 14th. And this week against Detroit, they play a Lions team that will either be starting Chase Daniel or a Matt Stafford that hasn’t practiced all week at quarterback. 


With Carolina playing Kansas City this week, there is little chance of them winning. If they lose, a win for Minnesota moves them past Carolina and gives them a tiebreaker with Detroit. There’s also a big chance that San Francisco loses to a Green Bay team looking for revenge, not only from last week’s shellacking, but also the beatdown that the 49ers gave them in the NFC Championship game. After their bye, LA begins a difficult stretch as well against Seattle, Tampa Bay, San Fran, and Arizona. 


Again, not likely, but not impossible. If a playoff expansion were to be passed, that’s the motto for the rest of the Vikings season.