Off the Record (OTR)

How the NFL Playoffs Work

If you have an interest in football, then chances are you follow the NFL playoffs pretty closely. You may even partake in fantasy football. However, do you really understand the process? If you just know the basics or just play along half-heartedly, you are missing out. Learning how the NFL playoffs work could help you to be a better fantasy football player or just increase your overall satisfaction of being a fan.

The Basics

playoffs involve the two conferences. These are the NFC or the National Football Conference and the AFC or the American Football Conference. Each conference has 16 teams. Six teams from each conference go to the playoffs. Who goes is based upon win and loss records in the regular season, which are all the games played before the playoffs. It is also based upon what division the team is in.

Each conference is made up of four divisions, each with four teams. The playoffs start with the four top teams from each division. There are then two wildcard teams, which are the next two best teams in the conference. This makes up the six teams for each conference.

The First Two Rounds

In the playoffs, each conference’s teams play each other. The first round will be two games between the wild card teams and the third and fourth seeded division winners. This means the third best team plays the second best wildcard team and the fourth best team plays the first best wild car team. Whoever wins each game moves to the next round where the first and second seeded teams will play them. The first seeded team plays the worst winning team from the previous round and the second seeded team plays the best team from the previous round.

The Championship Game and Super Bowl

After the first two rounds, the winning teams are matched for the championship game. This game will determine who is the conference winner and who will then go to the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl will feature one team from the NFC and one team from the AFC.


It is important to note that the playoffs are not a true bracket because in a true bracket teams all start playing the next best team in the first round and winners advance, each playing the next best team. This can lead to some issues, especially since the best teams are chosen by division and not by records. It is very possible that one league could be much better than the others but the lesser teams won’t make the playoffs because of the way they are designed. This is a situation where analytics, like those in this infographic, could come in handy and allow you to better figure out the likelihood of teams to make the playoffs, championship, and Super Bowl.

Figuring out the way the NFL playoffs works is a little confusing in the beginning. Most people assume it works like any other sports bracket, but that is not true. Understanding the NFL “bracket” can make it much easier for you to follow the playoffs and even make you a better fantasy football player.

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