NFL playoffs

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Official logo of the National Football League Playoffs
The National Football League (NFL) playoffs are a single-elimination tournament held at the end of the 16-game regular season to determine the NFL champion. Six teams from each of the league's two conferences qualify for the tournament based on regular season records, and a tiebreaking procedure exists in the case of equal records. It ends with the Super Bowl, the league's championship game.

NFL postseason history can be traced to the first NFL Championship Game in 1933, though in the early years, qualification for the game was based solely on regular season records. The first true NFL playoff began in 1967, when four teams qualified for the tournament. When the league merged with the American Football League in 1970, the playoffs expanded to eight teams. The playoffs were expanded to ten teams in 1978 and twelve teams in 1990. Recently, there have been calls in the media and within the league itself to expand the playoffs again to 14 or even 16 teams.

Current playoff system

The 32-team league is divided into two conferences: the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). As of 2002, each conference is further divided into 4 divisions of 4 teams each. The tournament brackets are made up of six teams from each of the league's two conferences, following the end of the 16-game regular season. Qualification into the playoffs are as follows: [1]

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The NFL Playoffs. Each of the 4 division winners is seeded 1–4 based on their divisional records. The two wildcard teams (labeled Wild Card 1 and 2) are seeded 5th and 6th (with the better of the two having seed 5) regardless of their records compared to the 4 division winners.
  • The four division champions from each conference (the team in each division with the best divisional record), which are seeded 1 through 4 based on their divisional won-lost-tied record.
  • Two wild card qualifiers (those non-division champions with the conference's best winning percentages), which are seeded 5 and 6.
The first round of the playoffs is dubbed the Wild Card Playoffs (the league in recent years has also used the term Wild Card Weekend). The 3rd-seeded division winner hosts the 6th seed wild card, and the 4th seed hosts the 5th. The 1 and the 2 seeds from each conference receive a bye in the first round, which entitles these teams to automatically advance to the second round, the Divisional Playoff games, to face the Wild Card survivors. Unlike most tournaments, with a predetermined bracket, each round of the playoffs is 're-seeded'; the highest surviving seed always hosts the lowest surviving seed, the second-highest hosts the second-lowest, etc. This guarantees each division winner at least one home playoff game [2] The two surviving teams from the Divisional Playoff games meet in Conference Championship games, with the winners of those contests going on to face one another in the Super Bowl.

If teams are tied (having the same regular season won-lost-tied record), the playoff seeding is determined by a set of tiebreaking rules.[1]

A disadvantage that critics cite in the current system is that a divisional winner could host a playoff game against a wild card team that earned a better regular season record. For example, the Jacksonville Jaguars finished the 2005 regular season with a 12-4 record, but only qualified as a wild card team (the AFC South title was claimed by the 14-2 Indianapolis Colts) and thus had to face the New England Patriots, the AFC East division champions with a record of 10-6, at Gillette Stadium, in Foxborough, Massachusetts. [3]

Since the 2002 expansion to 8 divisions, there have been calls to expand the playoffs to 14 or even 16 teams. Proponents of expansion note the increased revenue that could be gained from 2 or even 4 more playoff games. They also note that the 12-team playoff system was implemented when the league only had 28 teams. With expansion to 32 teams, there has been an effective loss of access to the playoff structure. The opposition to such a move notes that an expansion of the playoffs would "water down" the field by giving access to lower-caliber teams. One can point to the NBA Playoffs and the NHL Playoffs where 16 teams qualify for the post season, and there is often decreased emphasis on regular season performance.[4][5]

Breaking ties

Often, teams will finish a season with identical records. It becomes necessary, therefore, to devise means to break these ties, either to determine which teams will qualify for the playoffs, or to determine seeding in the playoff tournament. The rules below are applied in order until the tie is broken. If three teams are tied for one playoff spot, the rules are applied only until the first team qualifies. If multiple playoff spots are at stake, the rules are applied in order until the first team qualifies, then the process is started again for the remaining teams.[1]
  1. Head-to-head (team with the best record in all games played between the teams tied)
  2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division. (This is for determining Division Champion; also, if there is a tie for a wild-card berth, this is used for breaking ties within a division.)
  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games (only applicable with a minimum of 4 common opponents)
  4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
  5. Strength of victory (winning percentage of opponents that were beaten)
  6. Strength of schedule (winning percentage of all opponents played)
  7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed. (That is, the "strength of victory" for all opponents from the same conference.)
  8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed (That is, the "strength of victory" for all opponents.)
  9. Best net points in common games
  10. Best net points in all games
  11. Best net touchdowns in all games
  12. Coin flip.

The tiebreaking rules have changed over the years, with the most recent changes being made in 2002; record vs. common opponents and most of the other criteria involving wins and losses were moved up higher in the tiebreaking list, while those involving compiled stats such as points for and against were moved to the bottom.

A completely different set of tiebreaking rules are used to determine the order in which teams pick in the NFL draft.

Playoff and Championship History

Further information: National Football League championships
For playoff games of the American Football League prior to the AFL-NFL merger, see AFL playoffs.

The NFL's method for determining its champions has changed over the years.

Early years

From the leagues founding in 1920 until 1932, there was no scheduled championship game. From 1920-1923, the championship was awarded to a team by a vote of team owners at the annual owners meeting. From 1924-1932, the team having the best winning percentage was awarded the championship. As each team played a different number of games, simply counting wins and losses would have been insufficient. Additionally, tie games were counted as 0 wins and 0 losses in the standings (under modern rules, ties count as 1/2 win and 1/2 loss).[6][7]

The 1932 playoff game

Further information: NFL Playoff Game, 1932

In 1932, the Chicago Bears (6-1-6) and the Portsmouth Spartans (6-1-4) were tied at the end of the season with the identical winning percentage of .857. (The Green Bay Packers (10-3-1) had more wins, but a lower winning percentage (.769) as calculated under the rules of the day, which omitted ties). An additional game was therefore needed to determine a champion. It was agreed that the game would be played in Chicago at Wrigley Field, but severe winter weather and fear of a low turnout forced the game to be moved indoors to Chicago Stadium. The game was played under modified rules on a shortened 80-yard dirt field, and the Bears won with a final score of 9-0.[6][8] As a result of the game, the Bears had the better winning percentage (.875) and won the league title. The loss gave the Spartans a final winning percentage of .750, and moved them to third place behind the Packers. While there is no consensus that this game was a real "championship" game (or even a playoff game), it generated considerable interest and lead to the creation of the official NFL Championship Game in 1933.[8]

Before the Super Bowl

Further information: List of NFL champions

Given the interest of the impromptu "championship game", and the desire of the league to create a more equitable means of determining a champion, the league divided into two divisions beginning in 1933. Without a tie-breaker system yet in place, any ties in the final standings resulted in a playoff game, which delayed the NFL Championship game a week. This last occurred in 1965, when the Colts and Packers met to determine the Western conference champion. For the 1967 NFL season, the NFL expanded to 16 teams, adding the Saints. For the last three seasons before the 1970 AFL-NFL Merger, the NFL split its two conferences into two divisions each, with four teams in each division. The four division champions would advance to the NFL playoffs, and to remain on schedule, a tie-breaker system was introduced. The first round of playoffs determined the conference's champion and its representative in the NFL Championship Game, played the following week. Thus, 1967 was the first season there was a proper "playoff" qualifying tournament to determine the teams to play for the NFL Championship.[9]

During the 1960s, a third-place game was played in Miami, called the Playoff Bowl. It was contested in early January following the 1960-69 seasons. The NFL officially classifies these ten games (and statistics) as exhibitions, not as playoff games.[10]

AFL playoffs

Since it would eventually merge with the NFL, the AFL playoff history bears some explanation. For the 1960-68 seasons, the AFL used the two-divisional format identical to the NFL to determine its champion. There was no tie-breaker system in place, so ties atop the Eastern Division final standings in 1963 and Western Division in 1968 necessitated playoff games to determine each division's representative in the championship.

For the 1969 season, a second round was added whereby the each division winner played the second place team from the other division. The winners of this game met in the AFL Championship Game.[9] In the only year of this format, the AFL Champion Kansas City Chiefs were actually the second place team in the Western division. Thus they were the first non-division winner to win a Super Bowl (the Chiefs would go on to decisively win Super Bowl IV that season). [11]

The Super Bowl Era

The Super Bowl began as an interleague championship game between the AFL and NFL. This compromise was the result of pressures the upstart AFL was placing on the older NFL. The success of the rival league would eventually lead to a full merger of the two leagues.[6]

From the 1966 season to the 1969 season (Super Bowls I-IV) the game featured the champions of the AFL and NFL. Since the 1970 season, the game has featured the winners of the National Football Conference(NFC) and the American Football Conference(AFC).

When the leagues merged in 1970, the new NFL (with 26 teams) reorganized into two conferences of three divisions each. From the 1970 season to the 1977 season, four teams from each conference (for a total of eight teams) qualified for the playoffs each year. These four teams included the three division champions, and a fourth Wild Card team.[12] Originally, the home teams in the playoffs were decided based on a yearly rotation.[13] The league did not institute a seeding system for the playoffs until 1975, where the surviving clubs with the higher seeds were made the home teams for each playoff round.[6] Thus, the top seeded division winner would play the wild card team, and the remaining two division winners would play at the home stadium of the better seed. However, two teams from the same division could not meet prior to the conference championship game. [14] Thus, there would be times when the pairing in the Divisional Playoff Round would be the 1 seed vs. the 3 seed and 2 vs. 4.

Following an expansion of the regular season from 14 to 16 games in the 1978 season, the league added one more wild card team for each conference. The two wild card teams would play the week before the division winners. The winner of this game would play the top seeded division winner as was done from 1970-1977. The league continued to prohibit intra-divisional games in the Divisional Playoffs, but allowed such contests in the Wild Card Round. [15] This ten-team playoff format was used through the 1989 season.[12] Under this system, the Oakland Raiders became the first Wild Card team to win a Super Bowl following the 1980 season. [16]

During the strike-shortened 1982 season only nine regular season games were played, and a modified playoff format was instituted. Divisional play was ignored (there were some cases where division rivals had both games wiped out by the strike), and the top eight teams from each conference (based on W-L-T record) were advanced to the playoffs. This was the only year that teams with losing records qualified for the playoffs, the 4-5 Cleveland Browns and the 4-5 Detroit Lions. [17]

For the 1990 season, a third wild card team for each conference was added, expanding the playoffs to twelve teams. The lowest-seeded division winner was then "demoted" to the wild card week. Also, the restrictions on intra-divisional games during the Divisional Playoffs were removed.[14] This format continued until the 2002 expansion and reorganization into eight divisions. In this current format, as explained above, the 4 division winners and 2 wild cards are seeded 1-6, with the top 2 seeds receiving byes, and the highest seed in each round guaranteed to play the lowest seed. Also, records do not always determine the home field advantage, seeds always do. Thus it is possible that a division champion with a worse win-loss record could host a wild card playoff team with a better win-loss record.[12]

See also


1. ^ NFL Playoff Procedures and Tiebreakers. Yahoo! Sports (2006-12-31). Retrieved on 2007-02-21.
2. ^ NFL Football Playoff Bracket. CBS Sportsline. Retrieved on 2007-02-21.
3. ^ 2005 Standings. Pro Football Reference. Retrieved on 2007-02-21.
4. ^ Weisman, Larry (2006-03-22). Expanding playoffs, instant replay on NFL owners' agenda. Retrieved on 2007-02-21.
5. ^ Clayton, John (2005-12-30). Playoff format is matter of integrity. Retrieved on 2007-02-21.
6. ^ NFL History. Retrieved on 2007-02-21.
7. ^ 2006 NFL Record and Fact Book, 410. ISBN 1-933405-32-5. 
8. ^ Hickock, Ralph (2004-11-19). The 1932 NFL Championship Game. Retrieved on 2007-02-21.
9. ^ Hickock, Ralph. NFL Playoff and Championship History. Retrieved on 2007-02-21.
10. ^ The Playoff Bowl (Bert Bell Benefit Bowl). Retrieved on 2007-04-18.
11. ^ 1969 Standings. Pro Football Reference. Retrieved on 2007-02-21.
12. ^ History of the Wild Card. Pro Football Hall of Fame. Retrieved on 2007-01-13.
13. ^ Chasing perfection: 2005 Colts vs. '72 Dolphins. (2005-11-22). Retrieved on 2007-02-21.
14. ^ 1975 Standings. Retrieved on 2007-02-21.
15. ^ 1983 Standings. Retrieved on 2007-02-21.
16. ^ 1980 Standings. Pro Football Reference. Retrieved on 2007-02-21.
17. ^ 1982 Standings. Pro Football Reference. Retrieved on 2007-02-21.

Further reading

  • 2006 NFL Record and Fact Book. Time Inc. Home Entertainment. ISBN 1-933405-32-5. 
  • Total Football II: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League. Harper Collins. ISBN 1-933405-32-5. 
  • The Sporting News Complete Super Bowl Book 1995. ISBN 0-89204-523-X. 

External links

Sport American football
Founded 1920
CEO Roger Goodell (Commissioner)
No. of teams 32, divided into two sixteen-team conferences, each of which consists of four four-team divisions.
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A playoff in sports (North American professional sports in particular) is a game or series of games played after the regular season is over with the goal of determining a league champion, or a similar
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single-elimination tournament, also called a knockout or sudden death tournament, is a type of tournament where the loser of each match is immediately eliminated from winning the championship or first prize in the event.
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In an organised sports league, a season is the portion of one year in which regulated games of the sport are in session. For example, in Major League Baseball, one season lasts approximately from April to September; in European football (soccer), it is generally from August until
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Super Bowl is the championship game of the National Football League (NFL). It and its ancillary festivities constitute Super Bowl Sunday, which over the years has become the most-watched U.S. television broadcast of the year, and has become likened to a de facto U.S.
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<onlyinclude>This is a list of National Football League champions prior to the 1970 AFL-NFL Merger, that is, all the franchises that have won the championship of the National Football League.
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Sport American Professional Football
Founded 1959
First Season 1960
Last Season 1969
No. of teams 8 (1960), 9 (1966), 10 (1968-1969)
Country  United States

Merged 1970, with NFL

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The American Football Conference (AFC) is one of the two conferences of the National Football League (NFL). The AFC was created after the NFL merged with the American Football League (AFL) in early 1970.
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National Football Conference (NFC) is one of the two conferences of the National Football League (NFL). The NFC was created after the league merged with the American Football League (AFL) in 1970.
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A bracket is the diagrammatic representation of the series of games played during a tournament, named as such because it appears to be a large number of interconnected (punctuational) brackets.

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A bye is when a player or team is allowed to advance to the next round of a playoff tournament without playing. This most commonly occurs if the number of entrants into the competition is not a power of two (i.e. not 4, 8, 16, 32, etc.
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Super Bowl is the championship game of the National Football League (NFL). It and its ancillary festivities constitute Super Bowl Sunday, which over the years has become the most-watched U.S. television broadcast of the year, and has become likened to a de facto U.S.
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Jacksonville Jaguars
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Playoffs January 7 2006 - February 5 2006
Super Bowl XL Ford Field, Detroit, Michigan
Champions Pittsburgh Steelers
'''Pro Bowl February 12 2006

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City Indianapolis, Indiana
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The NBA Playoffs is a four-round best-of-seven elimination tournament between sixteen teams in the Eastern Conference and Western Conferences (called Divisions, pre-1970) of the National Basketball Association, ultimately determining the league champion.
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In games and sports, a tiebreaker is used to determine a winner from among players or teams that are tied at the end of a contest, or a set of contests.

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Throughout its history, the National Football League and other leagues have used several different formats to determine their league champion, including a period of interleague match-ups determining a true world champion.
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Houston Oilers 24, Los Angeles Chargers 16
January 1, 1961 at Jeppesen Stadium, Houston, Texas

  • LA - Field goal Agajanian 38
  • LA - Field goal Agajanian 22
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1932 NFL Playoff Game was the first ever playoff game held by the National Football League (NFL), the major professional American football sports league in the United States.
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Regular season September 18 1932 - December 11 1932
Champions Chicago Bears
'''Pro Bowl The 1932 NFL season was the 13th regular season of the National Football League.
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