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How Do The NFL Playoffs Work? Dates & Full Format Explained

As the regular season draws to a close and the playoff picture becomes a little clearer following Week 18, you may be asking yourself, how do the NFL playoffs work? Join us we strip back the postseason schedule for a full explanation.

When Do the NFL Playoffs Start?

The regular season reaches its climax in Week 18, as as such the playoff picture will be officially wrapped up following Monday’s games.

While Week 18 signals the end of the road for this season’s strugglers, it is just the beginning of a potentially history-making period over the course of the next month for teams with postseason prospects.

Beginning the weekend of the 13th January, the NFL Wild Card round – the first of the playoff games – will fire the starting gun as the quest for the Lombardi trophy begins.

NFL Playoff Schedule 2023-24

Season 2023–24
Wild Card January 13–15
Divisional January 20–21
Conference January 28
Super Bowl LVIII

February 11

How Do the NFL Playoffs Work?

Below, we have split each stage of the NFL playoff format into individual sections, where we explain which teams participate and how they can hope to qualify with a victory.

In order to actually qualify for the playoffs, a team needs to either be one of the four division champions from each conference, or be a wild card qualifier.

The four champions are seeded one through four, while the wild card qualifiers are seeding five, six and seven.

NFL Wild Card Round

First and foremost, the number one seeds who have the best season records from each conference – which this season are US sportsbooks‘s Super Bowl frontrunners Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers – receive a first-round bye. This means they don’t participate in the Wild Card round.

In this round, second-seeded division winners host the seventh-seeded wild card team, the third hosts the sixth, and the fourth hosts the fifth.

Teams from the same division can be matched up in any round, and in total there are 12 teams with six games across the weekend.

Divisional Round

The aforementioned teams who benefitted from a first-round bye are also handsomely rewarded in the Divisional round, as they host the lowest remaining seeds following the Wild Card weekend.

As for the rest of the survivors, winners from that round play each other with the higher seeds playing on home soil.

Conference Championship Games

Think of this next round as the semi-finals.

Each conferences’ Divisional Round playoff games have been played, leaving two teams in each. The Conference Championship games will determine the respective winners of the AFC and NFC.

For example, last year the Philadelphia Eagles were crowned the NFC champions, while Kansas City clinched the AFC.

Win these Conference Championships, and you progress to the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl

The pinnacle of football, the holy grail of the NFL. All roads lead to Las Vegas on Sunday 11th February.

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