NFL Playoff Rules

NFL Playoff Rules

The NFL has a fairly complicated set of rules and regulations for any regular season football game. The same goes for its playoff format. Most recently, it underwent even more changes after the passing of a new agreement between players and teams. With an ever evolving set of postseason rules with every new rule change, here is how the playoffs work in the NFL

Who Makes the Playoffs?

The NFL postseason is made up of 14 teams, seven from each conference. These teams for the most part have the best regular season records in the seventeen regular season games played. Playoff contenders can be broken up into two categories. Teams who win their division, like the 2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC South, and wild card teams like the Eagles in the NFC East.

What is a Wild Card in the NFL?

A wild card in the NFL is any team that is not good enough to win their division but good enough to make it to the playoffs. These teams are the three teams with the best record in their conference, who didn’t win their division. They play in the first round of playoff games known as the wild card round.

What are the Divisional Tiebreakers?

Just like any sport there can be ties in record, this makes things complicated when two or more franchises are leading a division. Luckily, there are a series of tiebreakers that can be used to find a definitive division winner. They are as follows:

  1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs).
  2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.
  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.
  4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
  5. Strength of victory in all games.
  6. Strength of schedule in all games
  7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed in all games.
  8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed in all games.
  9. Best net points in common games.
  10. Best net points in all games.
  11. Best net touchdowns in all games.
  12. Coin toss

What are the Wild Card Tiebreakers?

There are also tiebreakers for the wild card teams. They are much like the divisional tie breakers but with a few added tweaks. If the teams tied are from the same division (for example: teams like the ravens and browns) the divisional tiebreaker is used. But if they are from differing divisions, this tiebreaker is used:

  1. Head-to-head, if applicable.
  2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
  4. Strength of victory in all games.
  5. Strength of schedule in all games.
  6. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed in all games.
  7. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed in all games.
  8. Best net points in conference games.
  9. Best net points in all games.
  10. Best net touchdowns in all games.
  11. Coin toss.

How does Seeding and Gameplay work?

Seeding is decided by record and the divisional winners take the top four seeds, with the wild card teams taking the last three seeds. The top seeds do not play until the divisional round, in 2021 they were the Tennessee Titans and the Green Bay Packers.

The remaining seeds play in the super wild card round, with the winners advancing to the divisional round. The two winners from that round play in the NFC or AFC championship game depending on conference. The winners of that advance to the Super Bowl.

Where and When Do Playoffs Happen?

Postseason games typically start in January, with each round occurring every week. They take place in the stadiums of the respective teams until the Super Bowl, which takes place in a neutral field.

Has NFL Playoff Overtime Rules Changed?

The overtime rules have been a source of controversy for many years and were much different from that of the NBA or MLB. The old format gave a team first possession by way of an overtime coin toss. If the first team scored a touchdown on their opening possession, the game would end without the other team touching the field. If the first team scored a field goal or didn’t score, the game would move to a sudden death format.

However, the NFL overtime rules would change after an intense game between Patrick Mahomes and his Kansas City Chiefs and Josh Allen and his Buffalo Bills. The Chiefs and Bills battled in their AFC divisional matchup and were tied at the end of regulation. The Chiefs won the coin toss and would score a touchdown, allowing for the Bills to lose without having a chance to score. NFL owners resolved to change this and have introduced new NFL rules.

How do Scoring and Ties in Postseason Overtime work?

The NFL playoff overtime rules have mostly stayed the same, except for one tweak. Overtime games no longer end on a first possession touchdown. Instead, the other team will have a chance to match the touchdown and send the overtime period into sudden death.

What were the new playoff rules implemented in 2022?

The newest rule change implemented for the playoffs was the addition of a third wild card team and the removal of the two seeds’ bye week. Instead of the two seed having a bye week, they will instead play the newly implemented seven seed.

How does home field advantage work in the NFL playoffs?

Home field advantage allows for one team to play in its home stadium in a playoff game. Home field advantage is decided by having the higher seeded team play host to a lower seeded team. The Super Bowl is hosted at a neutral site. However in 2021, the Los Angeles Rams played the Cincinnati Bengals in their home stadium of Sofi Stadium.