Playoffs for Dummies


I've heard questions pop up as to whom the Patriots could play in the Playoffs and when, so I thought I'd do a quick post to clarify.  First let's look at who makes the playoffs.

The team with the best record in each division automatically makes the playoffs.  Even if you have a losing record like the 7-9 Seahawks.  The division winners will be seeded (or ranked) #1 to #4 based upon record.  In addition, the next two best teams in the Conference will get into the playoffs as Wild Card Teams.  These teams are seeded #5 and #6 based upon record.  Let's look at this year's teams.

American Football Conference (AFC):

  1. Patriots (14-2) - AFC East Champion
  2. Steelers (12-4) - AFC North Champion
  3. Colts (10-6) - AFC South Champion
  4. Chiefs (10-6) - AFC West Champion
  5. Ravens (12-4) - AFC Wild Card
  6. Jets (11-5) - AFC Wild Card

National Football Conference (NFC):

  1. Falcons (13-3) - NFC South Champion
  2. Bears (11-5) - NFC North Champion
  3. Eagles (10-6) - NFC East Champion
  4. Seahawks (7-9) - NFC West Champion
  5. Saints (11-5) - NFC Wild Card
  6. Packers (10-6) - NFC Wild Card

As you can see, some teams (such as the Colts and Chiefs) have the same record.  In these cases tie-breakers (such as head to head games) are used to figure out the seeding.  For the complete list of tie breakers (and they are extensive), look here.  Now is a good time to point out two rules of the playoffs.

  1. The higher seed team hosts the lower seed team (the higher seed team has home field) for all games except the Super Bowl.  The "Home" team for the Super Bowl alternates each year, with the AFC team home in even-numbered games and the NFC team home in odd-numbered games.
  2. The highest seed team in the conference plays the lowest seed team available.  This is why it is difficult to tell who the next team to play is until all the conference games are played in the weekend.
  3. More after the jump.

The playoffs consist of four weekends of games played in the following order.

  • Wild Card Games - These games are played between the Wild Card Teams and the two lowest seeded division champions in the conference.  Following the rules above, the division winners will always be the home teams here, and #3 seed will play #6 seed, so #4 seed plays the team left over, the #5 seed.  You'll note the #1 and #2 seeds aren't listed, so these teams have a bye week - one of the perks of winning so much in the regular season.
  • Divisional Games - These games are played between the four teams left standing after the Wild Card Weekend.  Obviously this will include the #1 and #2 seeds because they didn't play and either #3 or #6 seed and either #4 or #5 seed.  We'll look at these combinations in a bit.
  • Conference Championship Games - These games are played between the two remaining teams in each conference.  Some years, like 2006, these are more exciting than the Super Bowl.
  • Super Bowl Game - This game pits the AFC Champion vs the NFC Champion in a "Neutral Field" (so far no Super Bowl team has ever played in its home field).

Now let's look at the possible outcomes of this week's contests in the AFC and how that affects the Patriots.  Keep in mind the Patriots, as the number 1 seed, will always play the lowest seed team available.

Winner

 

 

Chiefs - Ravens

Colts - Jets

Patriots Play

Steelers Play

Chiefs #4

Colts #3

Chiefs #4

Colts #3

Chiefs #4

Jets #6

Jets #6

Chiefs #4

Ravens #5

Colts #3

Ravens #5

Colts #3

Ravens #5

Jets #6

Jets #6

Ravens #5

As you can see, the Patriots can only play the Colts or Steelers in the AFC Championship game, since they are the #2 and #3 seeds and there will always be a lower seed team available before then.  Also, if the Jets win, we play them no matter what happens in the Chiefs - Ravens game.

New Playoff Overtime Rules

As was requested, here's a quick overview (we've done this before) of the NFL's new overtime rules for the playoffs.  During the regular season, the overtime is sudden death, meaning that the team that scores first wins.  If both teams fail to score during overtime, the game is a tie - even for Donovan McNabb.  The only difference during the playoffs was that games couldn't end in a tie.  They'd keep added overtime periods until someone eventually scored.  The big change now is that a team can't win by a field goal on its first possession.  Seems simple, but it can get complicated pretty quickly.

If Team 1 kicks off to Team 2, a number of possibilities open up.  We'll deal with some of the simple ones here, but click the link if you're a stickler for detail.

- Team 2 takes the ball and scores a touchdown (KO return, run, pass, whatever) and they win.

- Team 2 fails to score and the game becomes sudden death (described above).

- Team 2 kicks a field goal.  They proceed to kick off to Team 1 (can't win on a field goal on first possession).  Now we have three new scenarios:

  • Team 1 scores a touchdown and they win.
  • Team 1 fails to score on the drive and Team 2 wins.
  • Team 1 scores a touchdown and the overtime turns into sudden death (described above) again.

Many of the additional scenarios defines what constitutes a "change of possession" that would proceed to make the game sudden death once more.  For instance: onside kicks, tipped passes, etc.  For those who crave details, here you go.

For those who had questions, I hope this helps.  As always, Go Patriots!

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