The NFL Playoffs are one of the biggest postseason events in world sport. Every January, the football world focuses on 14 teams playing to determine who will reach the Super Bowl. Read our full breakdown on how the NFL Playoffs work, use our interactive bracket, and get the edge with our latest betting tips.
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 NFL Playoffs is the absolute priority from week one.
The NFL regular season schedule saw major changes at the start of the 2021 season. Each NFL team now plays 17 games following the addition of an extra interconference game.
The NFL Playoffs officially start in the middle of January each year; one week after the conclusion of the regular season and ‘Black Monday’.
What is 'Black Monday'?
The day after the last day of the NFL season is known as ‘Black Monday’ – it’s the day that outgoing Head Coaches are usually fired by their teams after a poor season. There is an active betting market every year on who will be fired on Black Monday.
How Do the NFL Playoffs Work?
The NFL Playoffs happen every January following the end of the regular NFL season. Fourteen teams compete over four weeks in a single-game knockout tournament that sees the winning team from the AFC play the winning team from the NFC in the Super Bowl. The Playoff teams are: the four AFC divisional winners, three AFC wildcards, four NFC divisional winners and three NFC wildcards.
How Many Teams Make the NFL Playoffs?
Prior to the 2021 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 qualify from both the AFC and the NFC.
Championships in tightly contested divisions like the NFC East can still be up for grabs in week 18 [Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports]
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 handed the second seed, and so on. The three 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 2021, 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 in each game. The first seed from each conference gets a bye and can take a home-field advantage all the way to the Super Bowl.
Homefield Advantage: Does it Matter?
Getting the number one seed is a big advantage in the NFL Playoffs:
Home teams in the divisional round won 75% of the relevant games between 2010 and 2020.
Home teams in the conference championship round won 68.2% of games between 2010-2020.
However… there is some bias in those numbers. Until 2019 the top two seeds in each NFL conference would have a bye week during the Wildcard round. That means they were fresher than their opponents who had played the week prior. The rules changed in 2019 and only the number one seed from each conference got a wildcard round bye now. That means the percentages for hometown heroes winning in front of their own crowd in the playoffs have dropped. No matter what: there is still a generally accepted advantage to playing at home for the higher seeds.
Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are one of a handful of Wildcard teams to win a Super Bowl [Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports]
How do wildcards work in the NFL?
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.
NFL 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 an upset during Wildcard Weekend can change that. 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, at the same time making history by becoming the first team to ever win the Super Bowl in their home stadium.
Wildcard Super Bowl Winners
|1980 Oakland Raiders
|2007 New York Giants
|1997 Denver Broncos
|2011 Green Bay Packers
|2000 Baltimore Ravens
|2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
|2005 Pittsburgh Steelers
Wildcard Lightning Has Never Struck Twice
Two wildcard teams have never met in the Super Bowl. The closest we've come to this happening was in 2010-11 when the Green Bay Packers won the NFC Championship Game after qualifying as a Wildcard. Unfortunately, the New York Jets couldn't complete their comeback against the two-seed Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game to make Super Bowl history. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers would go on to beat the Steelers 31-25.
NFL Playoffs Schedule 2023
Don't miss a minute of the action with our 2022-23 NFL Playoffs schedule. Running throughout January, the Playoff rounds are split across three weekends, with the Super Bowl taking place on Sunday, February 12.
NFL Wildcard Weekend
Saturday, January 14 2023 (two games)
Sunday, January 15 2023 (three games)
Sunday, January 16 2023 (one game)
As mentioned above in ‘How do wildcards work in the NFL?’, 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 knock out 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.
Saturday, January 21 2023 (two games)
Sunday, January 22 2023 (two games)
The NFL Playoffs then move to the Divisional Round, played on the third weekend in January. The first seed will play the winner of the wildcard games with the highest 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.
Lowest remaining AFC seed @ AFC highest seed
2nd lowest AFC seed @ 2nd highest remaining AFC seed
Lowest remaining NFC seed @ NFC highest seed
2nd lowest NFC seed @ 2nd highest remaining NFC seed
Sunday, January 29 2023, 3:05PM ET (AFC Championship)
Sunday, January 29 2023, 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.
The winner of the NFC championship take home the George Halas Trophy, and the AFC winners take the Lamar Hunt Trophy. Halas and Hunt are among the most influential people in the history of football and setup two storied NFL franchises, the Chicago Bears and Kansas City Chiefs respectively.
Conference Round Structure - AFC & NFC
AFC Divisional Round Winner with lowest seed @ AFC Divisional Round Winner with highest seed
NFC Divisional Round Winner with lowest seed @ NFC Divisional Round Winner with highest seed
Superbowl LVI will be played at State Farm Stadium, the home of the Arizona Cardinals [Joe Rondone/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK]
Super Bowl LVI
Sunday, February 12 2023, 6:30 PM ET @ State Farm Stadium, Glendale, AZ
The two Conference Champions meet on the second weekend in February 2023, competing in the 56th Super Bowl. This gives players a two-week break after the NFL Conference Championship games. The NFL Pro Bowl is held over the interim weekend and no-one playing in the Super Bowl participates in the Pro Bowl in preparation for the big game.
The Big Game Brings Out Big Money
The Super Bowl is America's most popular betting event of the year. Each year an average of nearly $150 million is wagered.
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 the Playoffs 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, 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:
Check out the stats.
By the time the playoffs come around, you'll have access to stats collected over a full NFL regular season. These statistics will give valuable insight into how teams play, what their weaknesses are, and how they could 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.
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 players coming off the bench who would previously have been special teamers at the most. You need to understand exactly how good the second stringers are, as they could have a big impact on how their team fares in the playoffs.
Look at regular season schedules.
It's very important to assess how a team's strength of schedule and route to the playoffs has been. For example, you could have one team with a 14-2 record, who only played a lot of poor teams throughout the season and managed to avoid playing teams with winning records. Then you could have a team with an 11-5 record who played in a loaded division or had a much harder strength of schedule, yet still managed to reach the playoffs. Is the team with the better record really the stronger of the two?
This is probably the best tip when it comes to online gambling, NFL playoffs betting, and your money management. 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 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 2023 NFL Playoffs start on Saturday January 14 for the Wildcard Round, with the Divisional Round on January 21 and 22, and Conference Championship games held on Sunday January 29. The Super Bowl is held on Sunday, February 12, 2023.
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 is held at a neutral, predetermined stadium each year.
How many wildcards in the NFL?
Following a change in 2021, 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.