NFL playoffs are widely popular amongst football fans, offering a fresh new excitement that the league can’t quite match. You have the pre-season, which only tests the players and the tactics of the coaches, and then you have the season in which teams get to qualify for the playoffs.
Only several teams from each division get a chance to fight for the title. Once the score is settled in the AFC and the NFC through the divisions, the winners move on to the next stage.
Now that the holiday season and the “most wonderful time of the year” are over and the Christmas trees are down, it is time for the period that is marked on every sport’s fan calendar; the NFL playoffs. How do NFL playoffs work? What are the format and bracket? How many teams get to fight for the title?
In our article, we will talk about the NFL playoffs, how they work, and what changes the league made over the years!
National Football League Playoffs
In the NFL, 32 teams are divided in half. 16 are part of the AFC or American Football Conference, and the rest 16 are in the NFC or the National Football Conference. The conferences are divided into four divisions, East, West, Nort, and South.
In the regular season, teams mostly play against their rivals from the same division. When the season is over, only seven teams from each conference qualify for the playoffs and get a shot to win the Super Bowl.
The seven teams consist of four leaders on the board plus three runner-ups of the division. The pre-season matches start in August, and the regular season starts in September.
The season has 16 games spread across 17 weeks. In December, NFL fans know which teams made their way to the playoffs.
How Do NFL Playoffs Work?
The playoffs work with elimination, and there is no bracket like in the NBA. We will elaborate a little further on the wild card and the bracket.
The NFL playoffs are a tournament with single elimination. The game is played in the stadium of the team with the best score during the regular season. For instance, if the Green Bay Packers are playing against the Minnesota Vikings, the match will be played on the team with a better score during the season.
After the conference finals, a final game determines the year’s champion, also known as the Super Bowl.
Which teams are the “Wild Cards”?
As mentioned, seven teams from each conference can play in the playoffs. The first four teams are the board leaders that won the most games during the season. After the division winners are determined, the last three teams with the best record are called “Wild Cards.”
The wild card team that has the best record and beats the other teams will get to join the four division winners. The second team from the wild card round will face the second team from the division winners. The team in the middle will be seeded with the sixth team from the division. Each conference has a wild card of three teams.
Teams from the “Wild Card” that have made it to the Super Bowl
Because this is the NFL we are talking about, where each game is filled with surprises and a lot of excitement, a team from the wild card can easily win the Super Bowl.
In fact, many teams over the years have made a mark on the history of the sport by walking on thin ice from the beginning and struggling through the wild card round to appearing in the Super Bowl.
In 1975, Dallas Cowboys were the first team to reach the finals. Qualifying as the fourth seed, the Cowboys made their way to the Super Bowl but lost the title to Pittsburgh. Here is a full list of wild cards that appeared in the “ Big Game”.
|1975||Dallas Cowboys||No.4 seed||Pittsburgh Steelers||21-17|
|1985||New England Patriots||No.5 seed||Chicago Bears||46-10|
|1992||Buffalo Bills||No.4 seed||Dallas Cowboys||52-17|
|1999||Tennessee Titans||No.4 seed||Los Angeles Rams||23-16|
Teams from the “Wild Card” that have won the Super Bowl
In addition to appearing in the finals, some teams have even managed to beat every single opponent in front of them and go all the way.
Most recently, Tom Brady has managed to bring Rob Gronkowski back from retirement and take the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the finals, where they won the Super Bowl.
As a boost of motivation, Tampa was the host of the Super Bowl that year, and the Bucs were the first team in NFL history to play at their stadium.
Here is a full list of wild cards that have managed to raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
|1980||Oakland Raiders||No.4 seed||Philadelphia Eagles||27-10|
|1997||Denver Broncos||No.4 seed||Green Bay Packers||31-24|
|2000||Baltimore Ravens||No.4 seed||New York Giants||34-7|
|2005||Pittsburgh Steelers||No. 6 seed||Seattle Seahawks||21-10|
|2007||New York Giants||No.5 seed||New England Patriots||17-14|
|2010||Green Bay Packers||No.6 seed||Pittsburgh Steelers||31-25|
|2020||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||No.5 seed||Kansas City Chiefs||31-9|
NFL Playoffs Over The Years
How do NFL playoffs work? Were there any changes over the years?
The NFL playoffs have been an occurring event for 33 years. It all comes down to the Super Bowl, where the two conference winners go head-to-head. In 1967, the NFL expanded the playoff table to four teams and turned them into a single-elimination tournament. Three years later, in 1970, the playoffs expanded to eight teams.
The league got good feedback from the fans over the years and decided to continue with the progression and expand the playoffs to 10 teams. In 1990, there were 12 teams which was the appropriate amount of rivals for one tournament.
Fans got a lot more to watch and more games to bet on. Through the years, there have been several teams that made it to the Super Bowl. Yes, this is the era of Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes, but what about the league’s early years?
Have you heard about Brett Favre, who took the Packers to the finals many times? He eventually was dissatisfied with the team and ended up joining Green Bay’s greatest rivals, the Minnesota Vikings.
NFL Teams with the Most Playoff Appearances
|Packers||Green Bay||Lambeau Field||35|
|Giants||New York||MetLife Stadium||33|
|Rams||Los Angeles||SoFi Stadium||31|
|Vikings||Minnesota||U.S Bank Stadium||31|
|Colts||Indianapolis||Lucas Oil Stadium||29|
|49ers||San Francisco||Levi’s Stadium||29|
|Eagles||Philadelphia||Lincoln Financial Field||29|
|Patriots||New England||Gillette Stadium||28|
How Are the Playoffs Different From 2020?
The NFL playoffs format got another change in 2020. For the last three years, 14 teams have qualified for the tournament.
In the past, the league had reserved a spot in the playoffs for each division winner and extra two wild cards. The league added an extra “Wild Card” for every team conference, meaning there are 14 players out of 32 teams in the playoffs.
How do NFL playoffs work? How many teams qualify, and what teams have the most appearances in the Super Bowl?
In our article, we have discussed everything related to the NFL playoffs; how they work, the bracket, what teams get to play in the “Wild Card” round, and which teams have the richest history with the most appearances.