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NFL Playoffs Qualification, Seeding, and Wildcards

With 32 teams split across the AFC and NFC, and each competing directly against three other teams in their division, qualification for the Playoffs is the absolute priority from week one.

The NFL regular season schedule saw some major changes at the start of the 2021 season. Each team now plays 17 games following the addition of an extra interconference game. This year, the AFC teams will get home advantage for the 17th game, but this will alternate each season.

The Playoffs officially start on the Saturday, January 15; the final games of the 2021 NFL regular season will be on Sunday, January 9.

How many teams make the NFL Playoffs?

Prior to the regular season schedule changes, the NFL announced that 14 teams will now qualify for the Playoffs. Three wildcard teams will now qualify alongside the division winners, meaning seven will qualify from both the AFC and the NFC.

NFL Playoffs Seeding

The NFL playoffs seeding system is simple: the division winner with the best record is given the top seed, the team with the second-best record is given the second seed, and so on. The wildcard teams are always seeded fifth, sixth, and seventh; the fifth seed goes to the wildcard team with the best record.

Each team's seeding has a direct impact on every Playoff game. Before last season, both the first and second seed would get a bye into the Divisional Round, but the extra wildcard place attributed to each conference means now only the first seed gets a bye.

Seeding also impacts home advantage - the highest seed will always play the lowest seed possible and the higher seed always gets home advantage. The first seed from each conference gets a bye and home-field all the way to the Super Bowl.

NFL Wildcards Explained

NFL Wildcards are given to the three teams from each conference with the best records behind the division winners. These teams will all feature in the Wildcard Round of the Playoffs, and will face seeds two, three, and four - all wildcard teams will be on the road for these games.

Wildcard Round Structure - AFC & NFC

Seed 7 @ Seed 2

Seed 6 @ Seed 3

Seed 5 @ Seed 4

Due to the seeding, wildcard teams will mostly play on the road throughout the Playoffs, but any upsets during Wildcard Weekend can change this. 11 wildcard teams have made the Super Bowl, with seven of them actually beating the odds to win as a wildcard. Of those seven, five of them played three consecutive road games before reaching the Super Bowl. In 2021, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did exactly that, but also made history by becoming the first team to ever win the Super Bowl in their home stadium.

Wildcard Super Bowl Winners

1980 Oakland Raiders

1997 Denver Broncos

2000 Baltimore Ravens

2005 Pittsburgh Steelers

2007 New York Giants

2010 Green Bay Packers

2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Did You Know?

Two wildcard teams have ever met in the Super Bowl. The closest we've come to this happening was in 2010 when the Green Bay Packers won the NFC Championship Game after qualifying as a wildcard. Unfortunately, the Pittsburgh Steelers couldn't complete their comeback against the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game to make Super Bowl history.

NFL Playoffs Schedule 2022

Don't miss a minute of the action with our 2022 NFL Playoffs schedule. Running throughout January, the Playoff rounds are split across three weekends, with the Super Bowl taking place on Sunday, February 13.

Wildcard Round

Saturday, January 15 2022 (3 games)

Sunday, January 16 2022 (3 games)

As mentioned above in NFL Wildcards Explained, during the Wildcard Round the first seed from each conference gets a bye, with all other 12 teams competing. In this round, it's entirely possible for a wildcard team to knockout a division winner with the second best record in the entire NFL.

This season, the games will be played during the second weekend in January and the second seed will play the seventh seed, the third will play the sixth, and the fourth will play the fifth seed.

Divisional Round

Saturday, January 22 2022 (2 games)

Sunday, January 23 2022 (2 games)

The Playoffs then move to the Divisional Round, played on the third weekend in January 2022. The first seed will play the winner of the wildcard games with the lowest seeding at home, a benefit they'll be afforded throughout the Playoffs.

From there, depending on who qualifies from the Wildcard Round, the highest seed will continue to play the lowest seed possible, with the higher seed playing at home. This structure is replicated across both conferences, with the winners of the four games moving onto the Conference Championship games.

Divisional Round Structure - AFC & NFC

Note: Potential matchups for these games can't be forecasted due to the seeding rules.

AFC Best Division Record (BYE) vs AFC Wildcard Round Winner

AFC Division Winner vs AFC Wildcard Round Winner

NFC Best Division Record (BYE) vs NFC Wildcard Round Winner

NFC Division Winner vs NFC Wildcard Round Winner

Conference Championships

Sunday, January 30 2022, 3:05PM ET (AFC Championship)

Sunday, January 30 2022, 6:40 PM ET (NFC Championship)

The Conference Championship Games determine the champion of both the AFC and NFC. There are no byes to reach this round and the four teams will have won their Divisional Round game the week before. Home advantage is still given to the higher seed and the winner of each Conference Championship will progress to the Super Bowl to challenge for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Divisional Round Structure - AFC & NFC

AFC Divisional Round Winner #1 vs AFC Divisional Round Winner #2

NFC Divisional Round Winner #1 vs NFC Divisional Round Winner #2

Super Bowl

Sunday, February 13 2022, 6:30 PM ET @ SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, CA

The two Conference Champions meet on the second weekend in February 2022, competing in the 56th Super Bowl. This gives players a two week break after the previous round, as no one playing in the Super Bowl will feature in the Pro Bowl on Sunday, February 6.

Did You Know?

The Super Bowl is America's most popular betting event of the year. Each year an average of nearly $150 million is wagered.

2021 NFL Playoffs Review

For the first time in 12 years, we saw an NFL postseason without the New England Patriots. Tom Brady was there though, just this time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Packers went into the 2021 Playoffs as first seed in the NFC, while top seed in the AFC was occupied by the reigning champions, Kansas City Chiefs.

There were so many records set during last year's Playoffs, but Buffalo fans saw the Bills break their postseason duck, winning their first Playoff games in 25 years with wins over the Colts (Wildcard Round) and a dominant victory against the Ravens (Divisional Round). Unfortunately for the Bills, they ran into an electric Patrick Mahomes in the AFC Championship game as he threw for 325 yards in what was one of the postseason's standout games; the Chiefs earned the right to win back-to-back Super Bowls for the first time since the Patriots in 2005.

Over in the NFC, the Drew Brees era ended in unfortunate fashion as he threw three interceptions for the first time in a Playoff game. The Saints crashed out in the Divisional Round and the Bucs progressed to face the Packers in NFC Championship game. The highly anticipated matchup was won and lost either side of halftime, as the Packers leaked two quick touchdowns to lose their fourth consecutive NFC title game in seven years.

It was the Kansas City Chiefs taking on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl 55. In their home stadium, Tampa Bay were able to limit Kansas City to just nine points, as they stormed to a historic Super Bowl victory. Mahomes struggled with consistent pressure, leading to four sacks, while Brady threw four TD passes and won the game’s MVP for the fifth time.

Playoff Round Date Winner Loser Points Points
Wildcard 2021-01-09 Buffalo Bills Indianapolis Colts 27 24
Wildcard 2021-01-09 Los Angeles Rams Seattle Seahawks 30 20
Wildcard 2021-01-09 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Washington Football Team 31 23
Wildcard 2021-01-10 Cleveland Browns Pittsburgh Steelers 48 37
Wildcard 2021-01-10 New Orleans Saints Chicago Bears 21 9
Wildcard 2021-01-10 Baltimore Ravens Tennessee Titants 20 13
Divisional 2021-01-16 Green Bay Packers Los Angeles Rams 32 18
Divisional 2021-01-16 Buffalo Bills Baltimore Ravens 17 3
Divisional 2021-01-17 Kansas City Chiefs Cleveland Browns 22 17
Divisional 2021-01-17 Tampa Bay Buccaneers New Orleans Saints 30 20
Conference Championship 2021-01-24 Kansas City Chiefs Buffalo Bills 38 24
Conference Championship 2021-01-24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Green Bay Packers 31 26
Super Bowl 2021-02-07 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kansas City Chiefs 31 9

How to Bet on NFL Playoffs

Betting on the Playoffs is exceptionally popular and equally unpredictable, as form can go out the window once the knockout rounds start. One area that gets a boost during the Playoffs is prop betting; the number of prop bets increases massively as they start, allowing bettors to gamble on a whole range of different outcomes that aren't linked to the result.

Betting on the NFL playoffs is much more difficult than the regular season, though, with only the strongest teams over 18 weeks having qualified. This narrows the odds on any Playoff matchup, so many people instead choose to bet on point spreads and prop bets.

Here are four NFL betting tips to remember during the playoffs:

  1. Check out the stats By the time the playoffs come around, you'll have access to stats from the entire regular season. These stats will give valuable insight into how teams play, what their weaknesses are, and how they can beat their Playoff opponent. This will also make up for the fact that you won't have been able to watch every single NFL game of the season.
  2. Understand the depth of a team At the beginning of the NFL season, all the big names come out to play. Throughout the season though, form can drop, and injuries can happen. By the time the playoffs come around, a team can look very different, and often relies on a number of squad players. You need to understand exactly how good these backups are, as they could have a big impact on how their team fares in the playoffs.
  3. Look at regular season schedules It's very important to assess how difficult a team's route to the playoffs has been. For example, you could have one team with a 14-2 record, who only played poor teams throughout the season. Then you could have a team with an 11-5 record who played all the strongest teams, yet still managed to reach the playoffs. Is the team with the better record really the stronger of the two?
  4. Be Smart This is probably the best tip when it comes to online gambling, NFL playoffs betting, and your money management in general. Do your own research. Find a trusted online sportsbook, and, most importantly, don't ever bet with money that you can't afford to lose. Smart betting ensures that you will never find yourself miserable when the season is over.

NFL Playoffs 2022 Betting Picks

A new year means a new round of playoff fixtures. For the 2022 Wild Card, Divisional, and Championship games, we'll be bringing you picks and tips right here. Check back each week leading up to the Super Bowl for expert predictions and betting tips on all things NFL Playoffs.

NFL Wildcard Round Betting Tips

AFC

Steelers vs Chiefs

Pittsburgh Steelers:

Having got their business done against the Ravens in overtime on Sunday, the Steelers still had to rely on a Raiders win and Colts loss to make the postseason, and, incredibly, here they are. Their reward is a trip to Arrowhead for a game against the Chiefs. Steelers open as a huge underdog in this tie and it’s hard to see them prove bookmakers wrong this weekend, even with the star power of Diontae Johnson and Najee Harris. Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement is seemingly looming over Pittsburgh and it’s looking like the party will be Sunday night.

Kansas City Chiefs:

Kansas City started this year 3-4 and have looked like a team with a point to prove ever since. This will be their first wildcard game since Mahomes became a starter (four years total) and his on-field maturity will frighten any opposition. The Steelers managed to salvage some pride during the week 16 blowout, but the Chiefs will surely make good on the -12.5 spread and enjoy a home win to go one step further towards a mouth-watering Conference showdown with the Titans.

Prediction: Chiefs by 14.

Bills vs Patriots

Buffalo Bills:

The Bills clinched back-to-back AFC East titles on Sunday, ending the regular season with a four-game win streak. In 2021, it was only an abysmal 2nd quarter against the Chiefs that lost them the AFC championship game. This year, though, Josh Allen has been armed with much better protection from the o-line, especially in recent weeks. With him firing on all cylinders, the Pats will be worried; Allen tore them apart in week 16, throwing for 314 yards, three touchdowns, and rushed for 64 yards. The AFC bracket is stacked with offensive dynamism and The Bills might just be leading the pack right now.

New England Patriots:

Bill Belichick bolstered the New England defense during a busy offseason, but with 93 points conceded in the last three games, serious doubts will be cast over their ability to deal with the running game of Buffalo. This will be the third meeting between the teams this season, with the road team winning on both occasions so far. The Pats are 0-5 when their opponent has scored 25 or more points this year, but perhaps less significantly, Belichick is 10-2 against QBs under 25 in the Playoffs.

Prediction: Bills by 6.

Raiders vs Bengals

Las Vegas Raiders:

Coming off one of the most dramatic games of recent memory to wrap up the regular season, the Raiders will be feeling bullish ahead of their trip to Cincinnati. Their decision to not take a knee and go for the win pushed the Chargers out of the Playoffs and helped them avoid second-seed Chiefs - time will tell if it pays off. Rich Bisaccia has well and truly saved their season, going from 6-7 to 10-7 is an incredible turnaround. However, peel back the sensationalism and find a team struggling to put together consistent scores.

Cincinnati Bengals:

Despite a loss against the Browns on Sunday, the Bengals should have too much for the Raiders this weekend. Their offensive line is as explosive as they come, with Ja’Marr Chase boasting one of the best debut seasons in recent memory - on Sunday he broke Chad Johnson’s franchise record for receiving yards in a season. Many will doubt the experience of the Bengals when looking at a Super Bowl charge, but for the postseason's first round, they’ll end the Raiders fairytale with a dominant offensive display.

Prediction: Bengals by 6.

NFC

Bucs v Eagles

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Coming into the postseason as the NFC’s second seed, the Bucs are just warming up ahead of what could be one of the most unpredictable Playoffs in years. Winning seven of their last eight, Tampa Bay will be confident Tom Brady can lead them to back-to-back Super Bowls as he did in 2005 with New England. Despite losing Chris Godwin to injury, Leonard Fournette struggling with his hamstring, and Antonio Brown being cut, we expect the Bucs to have too much for the Eagles.

Philidelphia Eagles:

The Eagles clinched their playoff berth following a great streak of seven wins in 10, despite a heavy loss on Sunday to Dallas. If they want to make it far in the postseason they'll have to heavily rely on a run game that unexpectedly finished #1 in the NFL this year. Their ability to run the ball so well and the willingness to win ugly will spark hope in Philly fans, but to beat the Bucs you have to be on your A-game. With Jalen Hurts fitness in doubt, you can’t really see a way they get past the defending champions.

Prediction: Tampa Bay Buccaneers by 10.

Cowboys vs 49ers

Dallas Cowboys:

3rd seed Cowboys enter the Playoffs with a record of 12-5 and NFC East champions. They’ve made big strides this year defensively, with the d-line now in the top 10 for the league and averaging against just 18 points over the last six games. They’ll look to get at Jimmy Garoppolo and force some turnovers against a dogged 49ers team. There’s a tight spread for this game, with the Cowboys favored, but we’re not getting too excited by Dallas’ recent scoring against weak opposition.

San Fransisco 49ers:

Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury to his throwing hand is going to be a huge factor in this wildcard game. He showed on Sunday that he is durable though, as was good for 17 points to inspire a fantastic comeback against the Rams. San Fransisco’s run defense and explosive, yet inconsistent, offense led by Deebo Samuel, might just mitigate a fast start by the Cowboys. The 2020 finalists don’t know when they're beaten and could cause the upset of the round this weekend.

Prediction: 49ers by 3.

Rams vs Cardinals

Los Angeles Rams:

The Rams OT loss to the 49ers in week 18 pushed them down to 4th seed, meaning they now take on the Cardinals in maybe the tightest game of the round. Beat Arizona and a route to the Super Bowl now involves a trip to Lambeau Field to take on Aaron Rodger’s Green Bay Packers. However, five wins in six since the reintroduction of Cam Akers was still enough to win NFC West. As a short point favorite, we think that trip to Green Bay is looking likely.

Arizona Cardinals:

If you believe in psychological edges in sports, then the Cardinals losing their last regular season game to the Seahawks to hand the Rams the NFC West title and home advantage in their wildcard game is a great example. Arizona have been streaky all season, starting with seven straight wins and then avoiding four losses on the bounce with a win over the Cowboys in week 16. Both teams are 1-1 for the season going into this and with the point total set at 50, we’re expecting a tight Rams win.

Prediction: Rams by 7.

NFL Divisional Round Betting Tips

Coming soon.

NFL Conference Championship Betting Tips

Coming soon.

FAQs

What are the NFL Playoffs?

The NFL Playoffs are a postseason knockout tournament held after the NFL regular season has ended to determine the champion of the entire league.

When are the NFL Playoffs?

The 2022 NFL Playoffs start on Saturday January 15 for the Wildcard Round, with the Divisional Round on January 22 and 23, and Conference Championship games held on Sunday January 30. The Super Bowl is held on Sunday, February 13, 2022.

Where are the NFL Playoffs?

There are no neutral venues for the playoffs, instead, every postseason game is played at the home venue of the team with the higher seeding. The one exception to this rule is for the Super Bowl, which will be held at the Los Angeles Stadium.

How many wildcards in the NFL?

NFL PlayFollowing a change in 2020, six wildcards now qualify for the NFL Playoffs - three from the AFC and NFC.

What happens if there's a tie in the NFL Playoffs?

Unlike during the NFL regular season, there cannot be a tie in any NFL Playoff game. If at the end of the fourth quarter the game is tied, it will go to an overtime period. If at the end of each overtime period the game is still tied, it will simply continue until a winner is declared.