Can All 4 Teams From The Same Division Make The NFL Playoffs?

Can All Four Teams From The Same Division Make The NFL Playoffs

There are eight divisions of four teams across the National Football League (NFL), and every year each division winner is guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. Thus, teams are ultra-competitive with the teams in their division, as beating them in the regular season is the easiest path to the playoffs. It is not the only path, however. The remainder of this piece will discuss the NFL playoffs, and how all four teams from one division could make the playoffs.

NFL Playoff Structure

Currently, there are 14 NFL teams that qualify for the playoffs out of the 32 total teams. Seven of them come from the American Football Conference (AFC) and seven some from the National Football Conference (NFC). Each conference competes in their separate playoffs, and then the winner of each conference qualifies for the Super Bowl, where the overall winner is determined.

In each conference, the qualification process is the same. The first four seeds are the winners of the four divisions (AFC/NFC East, West, North, and South). Those four teams are ranked 1-4 based on their record, with various tiebreakers in place should teams have the same record. The teams with the number one seed in each conference receives a bye week in the first round, automatically reaching the conference semifinals, and thus does not have to play the first week of the playoffs. As for teams ranked 5-7 in each conference, they are the three “wild card” teams. After the four division winners, the three teams with the next-best records take the final three playoff spots in each conference.

In the first round of the playoffs, in each conference, the second-best division winner (Number 2 seed) plays the worst wild card team (Number 7 seed), the third-best division winner (Number 3 seed) plays the second-best wild card team (Number 6 seed), and the last-ranked division winner (Number 4 seed) plays the best wild card team (Number 5 seed). Sometimes, especially with the 4-seed vs. 5-seed game, the team seeded lower will have a better record, but they are ranked lower because they are not a division winner. This happens when one division is weaker than the others. In the 2022-2023 Playoffs, for example, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the fourth seed in the NFC with a record of 8-9, and they are playing the fifth-seeded seed Dallas Cowboys, who had a record of 12-5.

How Can All Four Teams From the Same Division Make the Playoffs?

All four teams from the same division can make the playoffs if the second through fourth-ranked teams capture the conference’s three wild card spots. This would put the division winner, as well as the division’s other three members, in the playoffs. Since there are only seven playoff spots for the whole 16-team conference, it is highly unlikely that all four teams from the same division will make the playoffs. However, it is possible since the wild card winners can come from any division.

Have All Four Teams From the Same Division Ever Made it to the Playoffs?

While it came close to happening in a few years, all four teams from the same division have never played the playoffs in the same year. This is not surprising, as since each team plays all of the teams in its division twice every year, there will inevitably be several losses between the four teams in those games. Thus, they all need to do great against the rest of the league in order for all four to make the playoffs. Additionally, it has only been possible for all four teams from a single division to make the playoffs since 2020, as prior to that, there were only two wild card teams from each conference, meaning the three non-division winners could not make the playoffs.

In the 2022-2023 NFL season, all four teams in the NFC East almost made the playoffs. The Philadelphia Eagles (14-3) are the NFC’s number one seed, the Dallas Cowboys (12-5) are the first wild card team, and the New York Giants (9-7-1) are the second wild card team. The Washington Commanders just missed out at 8-8-1, as the Seattle Seahawks took the final wild card spot at 9-8.