Last week in our postseason prep we learned about how teams make it to the postseason. Now that we know how teams get there in the first place, let’s move on and talk about how they advance through the playoffs.
Since this year’s postseason groups is still being decided I’m going to use last year’s playoff picture to put some flesh on this lesson:
The teams in yellow are the division winners. The teams in green are the wildcard teams. The number next to each indicates where they are seeded based on their overall and divisional record.
Once the teams and the seed order has been determined, then we can finally get around to playing!
The playoffs are a single elimination tournament played over the course of several weeks. The playoffs are a way of determining the best team from each conference, so teams only play other teams within their conference (AFC or NFC) during the playoffs. Each week features a different matchup within the conference.
Week 1: Wildcard Round
The top two seeds from each conference earn a first round bye, which means they get the week off. After a long season, it’s a coveted luxury since all of the teams are playing hurt and greatly benefit from a week without a game. (Usually. Sometimes teams can also loose momentum from a week off, which is to their detriment. But more often than not it seems to be helpful.) In 2012, the top two seeds in the AFC were the Broncos (1) and the Patriots (2) and the top two seeds in the NFC were the Falcons (1) and the 49ers (2).
Among the remaining eight teams, the highest and lowest seeds in each conference play each other (Seeds 3 and 6) and the middle seeds play each other (Seeds 4 and 5). The higher seed gets home field advantage. So, using our little infographic up there, we know that in the AFC the Ravens (4) played the Colts (5) in Baltimore and the Texans (3) played the Bengals (6) in Houston. In the NFC, the Redskins (4) played the Seahawks (5) in Washington and the Packers (3) played the Vikings (6) in Green Bay.
We also now know that the Ravens, Texans, Seahawks, and Packers all won their games and advanced to the next round.
(And there you have an accurate portrait of parody in the NFL. There’s a good chance that more than half of the teams that played on Wildcard Weekend last year won’t even make the playoffs this year.)
Week 2: Divisional Round
The top seeds return from the bye week and get to play at home. The same schedule follows: the highest and lowest ranked seeds play each other and the middle seeds play each other. Using last year’s example, we know that in the AFC the top seeded Broncos (1) played the Ravens (4) and the Patriots (2) played the Texans (3). The Ravens and Patriots both won and advanced to the next round. In the NFC the top seeded Falcons (1) played the Seahawks (5) and the 49ers (2) played the Packers (3). The Falcons won, as did the 49ers
and I don’t still have nightmares about Colin Kaepernick running freely about the field or anything.
Week 3: Conference Championships
At this point, four teams remain, two from each conference. Last year, in the AFC, it was the Patriots (2) and the Ravens(4). The last two standing in the NFC were the Falcons (1) and the 49ers (2).
Those teams play each other at the higher seeded teams stadium and the winners are the AFC and NFC Conference Champions. In last year’s case, it was the Ravens and the 49ers. Those two teams, the last team standing from each conference, are the teams that go to the Super Bowl.
Week 4: Bye Week (Week Off)
AKA: Controlled craziness. Until media day arrives, the only day the media has access to players, at which point the craziness is completely uncontrolled.
The AFC and NFC Champions play each other in a predetermined location. Last year, the game was played in New Orleans. There were brothers and a blackout, and eventually the Ravens emerged victorious. This year’s Super Bowl is at MetLife stadium in NYC…which should be a party with Jack Frost and a million or so of his closest snowflake friends. Another Ice Bowl might be on it’s way.
Whew! And there you have it: how teams advance through the playoffs. And we only have to wait a few more weeks until this year’s games start!!!