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Football Wild Card Team

What is Wild Card Team in Football?

In football, a wild card team is a team that earns a place in the NFL postseason through what is called a wildcard. Twelve teams make the playoffs: the eight division winners, and then four wild card teams. Wildcard teams are chosen based on win-loss record as well as a series of tie breakers.


If two or more teams that are competing for the same wild card spot have the same win-loss record, then tie breakers must be used. The following are examples of tiebreakers, in the order of use.

  • Head to head record
  • Conference win percentage
  • Records against common opponents
  • Strength of victory
  • Strength of schedule

Tied teams rarely require additional tiebreaks, but further down the list are team's net point totals during the year, touchdowns scored, and ultimately a coin flip if it comes down to it.

Wild Card Format

Once making the playoffs each wild card team must play in the first round of the playoffs, which is called the wildcard round. The higher ranked wild card team will play the lowest ranked divisional winner, while the lower ranked wild card team will play the second lowest ranked divisional winner. The two highest ranked division winners get first round byes.

The image below is the 2018 playoff bracket, which should help illustrate how wild card seeding works.


Wild card team #1 (Chargers) take on division winner #4 (Ravens)

Wild card team #2 (Colts) take on division winner #3 (Texans)


Wild card team #1 (Seahawks) take on division winner #4 (Cowboys)

Wild card team #2 (Eagles) take on division winner #3 (Bears)

Successful Wild Card Teams

While it is not common for a wild card team to win The Super Bowl, it has happened several times. With wild card teams being ranked so low, they must play at the higher seeded teams home field. If you would like a refresher on home field advantage, now would be a good time to check out the football home team piece.

It is possible for a wild card team to have a run in the playoffs if everything is coming together and the team enters the playoffs on a hot streak. In 2007 the New York Giants finished the regular season in second place in the NFC East division, but making the playoffs as a wild card team. The Giants notched four straight narrow victories including one against the unbeaten New England Patriots to win Super Bowl 42.