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An Open Letter to Roger Goodell and Zygi Wilf

Stephen Dunn

Dear Mr. Goodell and Mr. Wilf,

Hi. It's CCNorseman. I was recently brought on as a front page writer for the best Vikings blog on the internet: Daily Norseman, and I've been a huge fan of the Minnesota Vikings for many years now. I've learned recently that the NFL is "seriously considering" expanding the number of playoff teams from 12 to 14 by adding in one more wildcard team from each conference. I also learned that you will be voting on this issue in March at the big NFL "owner's meeting," and my kneejerk reaction was to be vehemently opposed to the idea. But after looking into it a little more, I hope that you will strongly considering voting YES on this proposal!

First, I realize that expanding the playoffs means more money for the NFL and owners, and therefore it's likely already a done deal. Money talks and I get that. But in case either of you are on the fence then let me try to persuade you with some reasons as to why a 14-team playoff structure will be good for the NFL. I'll start by debunking the reasons against expanding the playoffs.

1. Expanding to 14 teams devalues the exclusivity of the playoffs.

Currently, a 12-team playoff features the best 37.5% of the NFL, which is just a simple minority (not a "super minority"). Expanding to 14 teams increases the percentage of playoff teams by only 6.25%, and still keeps it a simple minority, albeit slightly less of a minority. But the idea that the NFL playoffs represent some kind of super exclusivity is simply wrong. A change from 37.5% to 43.75% would not make much difference to the exclusivity.

2. Expanding to 14 teams Would Allow Bad Teams in the Playoffs.

Since the league expanded to 32 teams in 2002, only six 8-8 teams (out of a possible 24) would have made the playoffs with a 14-team expansion. And no wildcard teams would have gotten in with a losing record. On the contrary, 8 teams with a record of 11-5 or 10-6 have missed the playoffs since 2002 and would have gotten in with a 14-team expansion. Here is the breakdown by record of teams since 2002 that would have made the playoffs had there been 14 teams:

11-5: 2 teams
10-6: 6 teams
9-7: 10 teams
8-8: 6 teams

In fact, the Minnesota Vikings would have been one of those teams to benefit as they went 9-7 back in 2003 and missed the playoffs that year. They would have been team #14 in 2003.

3. Expanding to 14-teams would mess with the mathematical symmetry of the playoff structure.

I'm not sure what this means, but it's decidedly arbitrary. If someone was truly concerned with symmetry, then they would likely prefer only an 8-team playoff with only division winners, as that would not require any wildcard games, and the whole playoff structure would be even more "nice and neat". Expanding to 14-teams would not change the schedule much at all. Right now on "wildcard weekend" we have 4 games that lead to a 2nd week of 4 games before the conference championships. It's currently a 3-week playoff schedule that leads to the Super Bowl. With 14 teams we'd still have a 3-week playoff schedule leading to the Super Bowl, but we would instead have 6 games on wildcard weekend (and only 1 team from each conference on a BYE) with the 2-7, 3-6, 4-5 seeds playing each other in each conference. Then we'd have a 4-game playoff on the 2nd week with the one BYE team playing the lowest seed winner, and the other two winners advancing to play each other, which would then lead to the conference championships. If anything, this structure is actually cleaner as fewer teams would require a BYE week. Not to mention that each round of the playoffs would reduce the number of games (6 games down to 4 games down to 2 games down to the Super Bowl). That actually represents better symmetry than what we've got now.

And if that wasn't persuasive enough, here are the benefits of an expanded playoffs.

1. More revenue for the NFL with 2 extra playoff games

Having two more playoff teams guarantees that there are also two more playoff games, and thus two more franchises would get the benefit of an extra home game. These two extra home games would add a lot to the collective profits of the NFL, which is already struggling to make money during the playoffs.

2. Would make NFL expansion easier, as it would add more exclusivity back to the playoffs

If you expand the playoffs now, it makes expanding the league even more attractive. For all of the critiques above, it makes adding a franchise in Los Angeles or London or what-have you even easier. 14 out of 34 teams for the playoffs would represent a reduction of the percentage of playoff teams from 43.75% to 41.1%.

3. More of the best teams enter the playoffs

Frequently in the past 12 years, division winners have not necessarily been the best teams. As evidenced above there were several very good 11-5 teams in the past that never made it to the playoffs. By expanding to 14-teams, it ensures that all of the best teams make it to the playoffs. For example, in 2008 the 11-5 Patriots and 11-5 Falcons missed the playoffs, while division winners Chargers got in at 8-8 and division winning Cardinals got in with a 9-7 record. A 14-team playoff would have ensured that the Patriots and Falcons would have gotten in that year. And who can forget the division winning 2010 Seattle Seahawks who went 7-9? They were one of the few (if only) teams to ever make the playoffs with a losing record, and got in over the 10-6 Giants, 10-6 Bucs and 9-7 Chargers that year. A 14-team playoff would have let the Giants and Chargers into the playoffs.

4. Keeps teams relevant longer

Almost every year, the final week or two of the season represents meaningless games for many teams who have already been eliminated from the playoffs. By expanding the playoffs, it will keep more games relevant for more teams, and should help minimize the number of meaningless games. For example, the Vikings and Lions played a game during week 17 this year that meant nothing for either team. Had the Lions won the game, they could have finished 8-8 and been in the discussion for the last wildcard spot, which would have made that game mean something for at least one of the teams involved.

So please Zygi Wilf, vote to approve the expansion of the playoffs from 12 teams to 14. It makes for a better league, and it makes sense for the Minnesota Vikings.