For a defensive guy, Vic Fangio went on the offensive this week when asked whether the NFL should address a playoff format that’s three games from rewarding the best of the worst in an NFC East Division that’s a combined 17-35 heading into Week 15.

“Since the league went to 32 teams, which was when the Texans came in 2002, my ideal suggestion — which has never been put forth in front of anybody important — I don’t think there should be divisions,” Fangio, the Broncos’ head coach, told reporters in Denver on Wednesday. “I think you’ve got 16 in each conference. Everybody should play each other once. That’s 15 games.

“Then, if you want a 16th game, you play a natural rival from the other conference — Jets and Giants play every year. Eagles-Steelers, Texans-Cowboys, etc., play every year. Then keep it at 16 games, but you’ll avoid the problem that’s going to happen this year where probably an 8-8 team is hosting a 12-4 team.”

Or a 7-9 team hosting if that Week 17 slugfest in Philly pits the 6-9 Eagles against the 6-9 Cowboys in must-miss TV.

This, of course, isn’t the first time this issue has come up. In just the past 10 years, 16 teams with better records have had to open with road games against division winners. Of those 16 visitors who spent an entire year building a better record, eight of them saw that work disappear in three hours in part because they had to travel.

In 2016, 12-4 Oakland lost at 9-7 Houston. In 2011, 12-4 Pittsburgh lost at 8-8 Denver in overtime while one AFC team with a winning record (9-7 Tennessee) missed the playoffs.

Also, since 2010, the NFL has introduced its first two sub-.500 playoff teams. In 2010, 7-9 Seattle won the NFC West while the 10-win Giants and Buccaneers missed the playoffs. And in 2014, the 7-8-1 Panthers won the NFC South while the 10-win Eagles sat out.

Those who disagree with the idea of seeding based on records or ditching the division format altogether point to the fact the 2010 Seahawks and 2014 Panthers won their playoff openers and therefore justified their postseason participation.

But was it fair that the 2010 Saints, an 11-win team, had to play at Seattle? Or that the 2014 Cardinals, another 11-win team, had to play at Carolina?

“You’re going to get the six best teams in each conference [without divisions],” Fangio said. “The divisions always float. There are some that are easy some years, some that have a bunch of good teams, that switches back and forth every couple years.

“I just think that’d be a good way to avoid [weaker teams making the playoffs].”

Every division rivalry would stay intact if every team played every other team in the conference. And, let’s be honest, do we really need to see the Lions and Vikings play twice a year? Or a dynasty like the Patriots play the Bills, Jets and Dolphins 120 times in two decades?

As for losing the interconference competition, maybe that would add another layer of intrigue to the Super Bowl, if that’s even possible. And instead of scheduling one geographical interconference rivalry game a year, as Fangio suggested, perhaps the league uses that interconference game date for marquee matchups (Brees v. Brady). Or maybe that interconference game is based on the previous year’s records.

Or more likely, the NFL does nothing and defends its division format again even as the NFC East winner possibly hosts a 12- or 13-win team.

Right, Commissioner Roger Goodell?

“Teams go into the season with the first objective is to win the division,” he told reporters at the NFL owners meetings last week. “That’s what they work on — we win the division and get into the playoffs. That is something we’ve considered over the years. I don’t see that as an issue. If it comes up we’ll certainly have a conversation. I don’t anticipate it.”

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was asked what he thought of Fangio’s suggestion.

“Maybe Vic’s got more time than I do,” Zimmer said. “But I don’t have time to think about what would be a good changeup and if we should play 15 conference games. I just kind of go week by week.”

 Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL E-mail: mcraig@startribune.com

 

WHAT IF?

What if the NFL did away with its eight divisions and just seeded the best six teams in each conference? Here’s how the top six in each conference look, and how they would look without divisions:

NFC (actual)

1. San Francisco, 11-2 

2. Green Bay, 10-3 

3. New Orleans, 10-3 

4. Dallas, 6-7 

5. Seattle, 10-3 

6. Vikings, 9-4 

NFC (what if?)

1. San Francisco, 11-2

2. Seattle, 10-3

3. Green Bay, 10-3

4. New Orleans, 10-3

5. Vikings, 9-4

6. L.A. Rams, 8-5

(In this scenario, Dallas would hold the eighth seed.)

 

AFC (actual)

1. Baltimore, 12-2 

2. New England, 10-3 

3. Kansas City, 9-4 

4. Houston, 8-5 

5. Buffalo, 9-4 

6. Pittsburgh, 8-5 

AFC (what if?)

1. Baltimore, 12-2

2. New England, 10-3

3. Kansas City, 9-4

4. Buffalo, 9-4

5. Houston, 8-5

6. Pittsburgh, 8-5