The NFL made its postseason 6.3% easier to reach when owners expanded the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams last month.
How big a boost is 6.3%?
Ask Jim Caldwell. Or Lovie Smith. Or Jon Gruden. Or Marty Schottenheimer. Or Mike Tice.
Especially Mike Tice.
From 2001 to ’17, these five men were fired after seasons in which they would have made the playoffs as the seventh seed in the NFC.
From 2003 to ’05, Tice’s Vikings finished the regular season seventh, sixth and seventh in the NFC. But instead of three straight playoff appearances, Tice got sucker-punched out of the postseason by Nate Poole on the last play of the 2003 season and fired in the locker room within minutes of beating the Bears in the 2005 season finale.
Bummer for Tice. Booyah for Mike Zimmer, who certainly can use a 6.3% leg up as he tries to turn a retooled roster into the first Vikings outfit to post consecutive playoff seasons since 2009.
Based on 30 seasons of data, Zim will need 8.7 wins to secure the seventh seed. Let’s round up to 9.
A week ago, NFL.com published a power ranking that listed the Vikings eighth in the NFC. Let’s bump the Purple up to seventh in this man’s Ridiculously-Too-Early-But-Hey-We’re-All-Bored NFC Power Ranking.
Here’s the gumption behind this power guesstimate:
• • •
The Giants, Panthers and Redskins were a combined 12-36-1 last season. And now they have new coaching staffs stuck at the starting line for who knows how long because of COVID-19. They’re out.
We’re down to 13 teams for seven playoff spots.
• • •
The Lions have been going backward ever since Caldwell somehow lost his job while taking them forward. The Bears now have two quarterbacks, which means they still don’t have a quarterback. And the Cardinals still need another year even after using Texans GM Bill O’Brien to pilfer DeAndre Hopkins from Texans coach Bill O’Brien. That’s three more teams out.
We’re down to 10 teams for seven playoff spots. Let’s shift to the top of the heap.
• • •
The reigning NFC champion 49ers, Packers and the Saints each went 13-3 a year ago. The 49ers scored this year’s 13th overall draft pick for an expendable DeForest Buckner. The Saints added Emmanuel Sanders alongside Michael Thomas. And don’t be surprised if the Packers turn a free-agency bunt single into much more if Devin Funchess stays healthy.
With those three in, that leaves seven teams for four playoff spots.
• • •
The Seahawks have won at least nine games in each of the eight seasons in which Pete Carroll has been paired with Russell Wilson. There’s nothing to suggest that will change in Year 9. They’re in. So are Tom Brady and a Bucs team that will benefit greatly from a quarterback not throwing 30 picks. And throw in Philly, which isn’t great but doesn’t have to be in the NFC East.
And that leaves the Vikings, Cowboys, Falcons and Rams vying for that seventh playoff spot in this power ranking.
• • •
In Los Angeles, Sean McVay’s Super Bowl-losing hangover continues into a second season with an offseason exodus of big-name players. Let’s pencil the young genius in at No. 10.
• • •
In Atlanta, maybe Dante Fowler Jr. brings an edge to a soft team. And maybe Todd Gurley’s career isn’t kaput at age 25. But this is a team and a coach that haven’t woken up since Brady put them to sleep in the second half of Super Bowl LI. Let’s put coach Dan Quinn on an even hotter seat at No. 9.
• • •
In Dallas, what’s left of last year’s most disappointing band of underachievers gets a reboot under new coach Mike McCarthy. But how effective will it be with little to no offseason practice time? Let’s put the ’Boys at No. 8.
• • •
The Vikings will have at least seven new starters, five on defense, including the top three cornerbacks. So, yeah, the first window the team held open for Kirk Cousins to lead them through has closed.
“Unless you’re one of those special teams that can plug pieces in every year and stay ahead of the curve, you get a four- to six-year run and then you got to kind of retool,” former Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said by phone last week. “It happened when I was there. We had a tremendous run and then we had guys who still had ability who got asked to take pay cuts or were allowed to move on.”
Allen said he thinks the Vikings can stay in the playoff picture through this retooling.
“They obviously trust Kirk as the franchise quarterback,” he said. “And [General Manager] Rick [Spielman] has done some nice things in the draft. You have Danielle Hunter, who’s an absolute stud. You got your linebacker corps that’s still there. You have to retool your secondary a little bit.
“Trading [Stefon] Diggs, if a guy doesn’t want to be there, it doesn’t matter how good a talent he is. He becomes a distraction, and even if he’s not a distraction, you are not going to get his absolute best. So you get the most you can for him.
“So, I think if they can bolster up the offensive line, they’ll be OK because you know with Zim the defense is going to come together.”
Cousins can win for a team. But he can’t carry one with a lot of holes. So that makes this draft — with 12 picks, including two first-rounders — the most pressure-packed one the Vikings have faced in recent memory.
For now, let’s rank them seventh in the NFC and increase by 6.3% their chances of turning pink slips into a playoff run.