The NFL is considering expanding its playoffs in 2015. Currently, 12 of 32 teams make it to the postseason, meaning that the first weekend of playoff competition this year featured Ryan Lindley playing quarterback, a team with a losing regular-season record earning a victory and an acknowledged mediocrity like Cincinnati participating.
More than a third of NFL teams make it to the postseason, meaning that earning a playoff berth is no longer a measure of success. The Atlanta Falcons might have fired coach Mike Smith even if he had won the putrid NFC South this season.
The modern measure of NFL success is playoff victories, not playoff appearances, and by that measure your Minnesota Vikings have one person to thank for saving them from abject failure over the past 14 years.
Currently, many Vikings fans are highly encouraged by the promise of red-faced Mike Zimmer and baby-faced Teddy Bridgewater.
Promise, for this franchise, is a much-needed salve, because if Brad Childress hadn't talked Favre into coming out of retirement before the 2009 season, recent Vikings history would look an awful lot like the Tennessee Titans'.
Denny Green's tenure ended with NFC Championship Games featuring high drama and low comedy — the Helga-horn twisting loss to Atlanta in 1998 and 41-donut in 2000. Since that 2000 Vikings team beat Aaron Brooks and the Saints in the Metrodome in January 2001, your Minnesota Vikings have won exactly one NFL playoff game and have made it to zero conference championship games, without the help of old No. 4.
Favre helped the Vikings whip the Dallas Cowboys before throwing the interception that ended the 2009 Vikings' season in the Superdome. That is the only championship game the Vikings have been involved with since Green's firing.
If not for Favre, the Vikings' only other playoff victory since 2000 would have been this moment of Purple Glory:
The Vikings backed into a wild-card spot in 2004, after Randy Moss walked off the field without his teammates in a loss at Washington. He then helped beat Green Bay at Lambeau Field while rubbing his derrière on a goalpost.
The Vikings failed to make the playoffs in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014. They made it to the expanded tournament in 2008 and 2012 only to lose in the first round.
Vikings fans love to complain about the big losses in franchise history. Recent history offers a different form of pain, with one exception produced by Favre: The inability to earn the chance to lose a big game.
Without that victory over Dallas provided by Favre, the Vikings would have fewer playoff victories since 2000 than such tradition-rich franchises as the Titans, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Texans, Rams, Raiders, Chargers, Bears, Falcons and Panthers. They would have the same number of playoff victories — one — as the Jacksonville Jaguars and the racist team in Washington.
The Vikings might feel comforted by looking down upon the Bills, Dolphins, Bengals, Browns, Chiefs and Lions, none of which has won a playoff game since 2000.
This bit of easily produced research gives the lie to two popular notions promoted by the NFL, its fans and its broadcast partners:
1. Vikings fans are tormented by big-game losses. In fact, an entire generation of Vikings fans has experienced exactly one heartbreaker — the Favre loss in New Orleans.
2. The NFL's structure, featuring a salary cap and a popular draft of high-end college talent, ensures parity.
In fact, 19 NFL franchises have won four or fewer playoff games since 2000.
When the Vikings lined up as favorites against the Giants on Jan. 14, 2001, in the swamps of New Jersey, they were at the end of a decade of consistent competitiveness and playing in their second NFC title game in three seasons.
Since 41-donut, the Vikings have been nothing more than consistently mediocre. Only Favre has been able to elevate them. It's up to Zim and Teddy to make the Vikings good enough to again have the chance to lose the occasional big game.