Football NFL Playoff Rules

The NFL Postseason is a benchmark every team wishes to reach. There are two conferences in the NFL, the American and National Football Conferences (AFC and NFC respectively) and 16 teams in both, of which six can make the playoffs from each conference. The two conferences are split into four divisions each.

Once the regular season is over and the teams' records are set, the best teams in each conference compete in the playoffs to make it to the Super Bowl. Playoffs kick off around December or January and end with Super Bowl Sunday in February.

Who Makes the Playoffs?

Whichever team finishes with the best regular season win-loss record in their respective division automatically qualify for the playoffs. In addition, there are two spots in each conference known as the "Wild Card" spots. These two spots are filled by the two best teams that did not win their divisions. The division the team plays in does not have any effect on whether the team can qualify for the Wild Card.

Seeding and Gameplay

NFL playoff games are win or go home, so each team only has one chance to advance towards the Super Bowl. The playoff teams, separated by conferences, get "seeded" one to six. In other words, they get ranked one to six based on their regular season record. If a team finishes first or second in their conference, they do not have to play during the first weekend of playoff games. This is called getting a "bye". The teams that end up being seeded third and fourth are the remaining division winners. They play the sixth and fifth-ranked Wild Card teams, respectively.

After those two games are played, the lowest-ranked team remaining will play the first-ranked team, and the other team will play the second-ranked team in what is known as the "Divisional Round."

The team that wins the first two games in the playoffs will advance to play in the "Conference Championship" with the opportunity to make it to the championship game, known as the Super Bowl. Naturally, the NFC champion and the AFC are the teams that face each other at the Super Bowl.

Where and When Do Playoffs Happen?

The NFL playoffs start the weekend after the last regular season games are played. The NFL season usually ends around the first Sunday in January, so the playoffs officially start on the second weekend in January. Teams who win their games will move on each week until the Super Bowl, usually played on the first Sunday in February. Teams who make the Super Bowl are given an extra week of preparation instead of the normal one week preparation period throughout the season, making it a two week interval between the conference championships and the final game.

NFL playoff games are played at the stadium of the team that has the better regular season record (or whoever won a tiebreaker). The best team from each conference will have "home field advantage" up until the Super Bowl, which is played at a different venue every year, making it a neutral environment for both teams. Home field advantage is given to the two best teams in each conference as a reward for having the best regular season records.


While during the regular season it is possible for a game to end in a tie despite the overtime, that is impossible during the playoffs. Teams in the NFL playoffs play only one game in order to move onto the next round, and a winner must be decided. That way the regular season and the playoffs have different rules when a game ends tied after regulation. Teams in the NFL playoffs play only one game in order to move on to the next round.

In playoff overtime, the loser of the initial coin flip at the beginning of the game will get to decide whether to defend or receive the ball in the first overtime period.

Scoring and Ties in Overtime

Whichever team wins the coin toss gets the ball first, and will have a chance to win the game if they are able to score a touchdown on their first possession. If the other team scores a safety on the team that gets the ball first, then the other team will win the game. If both teams are unable to score on their respective first possessions, then the game goes to sudden death, in other words, whichever team scores first will win the game and advance to the next playoff round.

Each team will have three timeouts to use each overtime period. NFL playoff games cannot end in ties, so if the game is still tied after the first overtime, teams will play a second one, and will keep playing overtimes until a winner is decided. If after four overtimes there is still no winner, there will be another coin toss to determine who defends and receives first. The game will resume until a winner is declared.

Coaches from both teams are not allowed to challenge any plays, so all replay reviews must come from the referees in the booth.