Hello, ladies! Welcome to Surviving the Super Bowl! Over the next few weeks we’ll be reviewing information that will be essential to not just surviving the Super Bowl this year, but actually enjoying the game!
This week, we’ll start with learning how teams advance through the playoffs and earn the right to play in the Super Bowl.
Ready? Let’s go!
In the NFL, there are two conferences, the NFC and the AFC. There are four divisions within each conference (north, south, east, and west), and four teams in each division (resulting in 32 teams).
I’m better with visuals, so here’s what that looks like:
Does that make sense?
Ok, so from all of those teams, only 12 make it to the playoffs (six from each conference).
To make the playoffs, a team has to place first in their division (AFC North, NFC South, etc). During the 16-game regular season schedule a team plays all of the other teams in their division twice: once at home, and once away.
Example: in the NFC North, the Packers play the Lions, the Bears, and the Vikings once at Lambeau (home), and they will also travel to Detroit, Chicago, and Minnesota to play each team at their own stadium (away). That accounts for six games each season. The results of these divisional games are especially important because, as we talked about above, a team needs to win their division to make it to the playoffs. If two teams in the same division have the same overall record, the team that has the best divisional record gets the playoff spot.
The remaining 10 games are played in an even split of home and away games on a rotating schedule against all of the other teams in the league.
The four teams that win their division from each conference are ranked (“seeded”) according to their regular season record. That results in eight teams total. The remaining four teams are called “Wildcard” teams. These are the two teams from each conference who have the best regular season record. When matched up, the team that is seeded higher plays at home; the lower seed has to travel.
Here’s what the 2012 playoff picture looks like. The teams in yellow are the teams that won their division; the teams in green are the wildcard teams. Each team’s seed is shown by the number next to it.
The playoffs are a single elimination tournament played over the course of several weeks. Here’s what happens each week:
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. This year, the top two seeds in the AFC are the Broncos (1) and the Patriots (2) and the top two seeds in the NFC are 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). So, using our little infographic up there, we know that in the AFC, the Ravens (4) and playing the Colts (5) in Baltimore and the Texans (3) are playing the Bengals (6) in Houston. In the NFC, the Redskins (4) are playing the Seahawks (5) in Washington and the Packers (3) are playing the Vikings (6) in Green Bay.
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. So whichever teams won their wildcard round game the week before travel to their assigned divisional round game.
Week 3: Conference Championships
At this point, four teams remain, two from each conference. Those teams play each other (at the higher seeded teams stadium) and the winners are the AFC and NFC Conference Champions. Those two teams 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. This year, the game is in New Orleans.
(Side note: a home team has never played the in the Super Bowl in their own stadium. Isn’t that crazy?!)
Alright, ladies. Consider your playoff briefing complete. Now you know how the teams got to the playoffs; next week we’ll talk about what you need to know to watch them play in the playoffs.