How Do the NFL Playoff Standings Work?
At the end of the NFL regular season, 14 teams progress to the NFL playoffs where the best teams from the season go head to head in elimination games to decide who will be Super Bowl champions.
The NFL playoffs are played in knockout style over four rounds; they are the Wild Card Round, Divisional Round, Conference Championship, and the Super Bowl.
The winners in each round progresses to the next, with the losing teams’ season ending there and then.
What Are the NFL Playoffs?
The NFL playoffs are the NFL’s postseason showpiece where the best teams in the regular season go head to head.
The winner of each NFL division, along with three Wild Card teams in each conference, reach the NFL playoffs. Those playoff spots are decided by the NFL standings at the end of each season. The playoffs then feature teams going up against other teams in their conference, based on rankings in a knockout fashion until there is a conference champion. The winners of both conferences then face off in the NFL’s showpiece event, the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is a prestigious event, which is one of the most-watched television events worldwide.
What Is the NFL Playoff Format?
There are four divisions in each conference, and the winner of each division makes the playoffs. The other three playoff teams are selected from the remaining teams with the best records in the NFL standings. The seven playoff teams in each conference are then seeded by their season ranking. The four division winners get the first four seedings, with the division winner with the best regular-season record receiving the No. 1 seed. The division winner with the worst record amongst the division winners will be the No. 4 seed. These teams will all get at least one game at home. The three Wild Card teams are then seeded 5 through 7 based upon record.
The No. 1 seed in each conference gets a bye in the first round of the playoffs. The matchups are decided by the highest-seeded team in each round playing the lowest-seeded team in that round. The higher seed is also the home team.
In the first round of playoff action, known as the Wild Card, teams from each conference go head to head to try and make it to the next round. The No. 2 seed plays the No. 7 seed, the No. 3 seed faces off against the No. 6 seed, and so on.
The three teams that win in the Wild Card Round for each conference progress to the Divisional Round, where the No. 1 seeds will begin their postseason run. Again, the highest-seeded team plays the lowest-seeded team left remaining at home.
The final two teams in the playoffs for each conference then go head to head in the Conference Championship to decide the winner of the conference and who will play in the Super Bowl.
The playoff scenario is played out across both the AFC and NFC, with the winner of each conference playing each other in the Super Bowl.
How Many Teams Make the Playoffs?
Fourteen NFL teams make the NFL playoffs; seven from each conference.
They consist of the winners of each division, plus three Wild Card teams from each conference, who make the playoffs as the best of the rest. Wild Card teams are teams with the best records who did not win their divisions. The teams then get knocked out of the playoffs as the postseason progresses through each elimination round.
How Do the NFL Playoff Tiebreakers Work?
When teams are tied with the same regular-season records, a tiebreaker is applied. The NFL has a vigorous set of rules in place to decide tiebreakers in a long setout plan. Those plans are as follows.
For ties within a division:
If teams have identical records at the end of the season, the following rules are applied.
If two or more teams are tied with the same record within their division, then the tiebreaker will be the head-to-head record in the games between the two teams. If the head to head is also tied, then more tiebreakers are applied in the following order; best winning percentage in only divisional games; best winning percentage in games where both teams have played against the same opponent; best winning percentage in only conference games; strength of victory in all games; strength of schedule in all games.
For ties to determine Wild Card teams:
If teams vying for Wild Card spots are tied, then the following tiebreakers are applied. If teams are in the same division, apply the rules stated in ties within a division. If the teams are from different divisions, there are more tiebreakers to work through in the following order. Head to head if teams have played each other; best winning percentage in conference games; best winning percentage in games both teams have played a common opponent, this must be a minimum of four games; strength of victory; strength of schedule.
Longest NFL Playoff Drought
The longest active playoff drought belongs to the New York Jets, whose drought stretches back 12 years. The Jets have not made the playoffs since 2011, when they reached the AFC Championship Game.
The longest historical NFL playoff drought belongs to the Cardinals, who went 25 seasons without making the playoffs between 1949 and 1973. Back then they were both the Chicago Cardinals and St. Louis Cardinals before they moved to Arizona. The Cardinals were then the Phoenix Cardinals before changing their name in 1994 to the Arizona Cardinals. Arizona began life as a team in Chicago, then moved to St. Louis in 1960, where they played until 1987 before moving to Arizona for the 1988 season.
The Cardinals also boast the record of having the most seasons without a playoff win. Between 1948 and 1997, they went 50 seasons without a win in the postseason.
Unfortunately, the Detroit Lions hold the record for the most consecutive playoff losses, with the streak stretching back to their loss in the 1991 Divisional Round. The Lions have lost nine consecutive games in the Wild Card Round of the NFL playoffs.
Record for Most NFL Playoff Appearances
The record for the most NFL playoff appearances is tied between two storied NFL franchises. Both the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys have made 35 playoff appearances. The Packers and Cowboys are significant historic teams synonymous with NFL success.
Next in line are the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants with 33 appearances each, followed by the Los Angeles Rams and Minnesota Vikings with 31.
Since the year 2000, the team with the most appearances in modern times is the New England Patriots with 18, who also have six Super Bowl wins in that time.
The team with the fewest NFL playoff appearances are the Houston Texans with six outings.