How Playoffs Work

As the regular season winds down, you may be wondering, Rookies, how the best of the best will be determined. The road to the Super Bowl is paved in blood, sweat, tears, and charts. So many charts.

Here’s how it works:

The NFL has 32 teams. It’s divided into two conferences: the AFC and the NFC, each with 16 teams. Each conference is divided into four more specific conferences (divisions), each with 4 teams.

After the regular season is over (all of the games are played except any sort of championships), each major conference gets 6 spots for the playoffs. They get 1 for each sub division (4), plus 2 Wild Cards.

That’s a total of 12 teams in the playoffs. Are you still with me?

How do they decide who the 12 are?
Each division will have a clear winner, based off of their win-loss-tie record. That’s the one who gets to go. The next best records – and there are only 2, remember – get the Wild Card spots.

What if there’s a tie in the record?
There are twelve different rules that can be applied in order to break ties. I’m not going to go over all of them. Basically, if your team ever beat the team with whom you’re tied, you win. If your schedule was harder – because you played tougher teams, based off of their records – you win. The twelfth rule is a coin toss. Seriously.

What are seeds?
Once the 12 teams are determined, 6 in each conference, they get seeded. This means they are ordered into a playoff schedule, based off of their record. The best gets 1, and the Wild Cards get 5 and 6.

(When I was a kid, I thought the word was SEATED, which still makes more sense to me. Which seat did you get? Whoohoo! I got the first seat! Whatever.).

Here’s a chart (see? I told you. Charts!), stolen from Wikipedia, that shows the seeds in playoffs:

What happens if you lose?
You’re out, baby. The NFL playoffs are single elimination. That means that once you lose, you can’t move on.

Where do they play the playoffs?
The higher seeded team gets home field advantage. This is a big deal. After all, it’s easier to win at home than away. Some teams are garbage “on the road,” so it’s imperative for them to get a high seed (I’m lookin’ at you, Green Bay).

Figuring out where your team – and your rivals – will be seeded in the post-season is all the fun of this time of year.

And the holidays. They’re fun this time of year, too.

Merry Christmas and Happy Road to the Playoffs!


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