In Playoffs for Dummies - Part I, we discussed the goings on in our own beloved division, the AFC East. The focus was primarily on the divisional race and how ties could be broken within the division. What if (gasp) we don't win the division?!?! Can that really happen? Yep. It's frightening, considering the last time we didn't make the playoffs in the Brady-Belichick era was the 2002 season, but relax. You don't have to win the division to make the playoffs. There's the magic wildcard spot. Here's another link for you; keep this open as we move through the process.
There are 4 divisions in both the AFC and the NFC and the rules are identical for reaching the playoffs, so I'll concentrate on the AFC and you can assume the same applies to the "other guys". There are 6 playoff berths: 1 each for the 4 division winners and 2 wildcard spots (we'll get to those later). Each division winner is guaranteed a playoff berth; this is why winning the division is so key. There's no tie breaking rules to contend with; if you have the best record in the division, you're in.
You still have that link open, right? This chart within that story is immensely helpful (it's hanging in my office; I'm such a geek). The division winners are ranked or "seeded" based on their overall win-lost-tie record (tie breaking rules are used in seeding, too). Once the division champions are seeded, we move on to the wildcard spots. Wildcard teams are those teams that didn't win a division but have the best winning percentage in their conference. I'll write that again - in their conference. You're lumped in with the other 11 remaining teams to determine a possible wild card spot (this is why you're MUCH better off winning your division). There are 2 wildcard spots and they are seeded 5 and 6 behind the 4 division champions.
Now, onto the playoff rounds. There are 3 rounds in conference playoffs. The 2 division champions seeded 1 & 2, get a "bye" in round 1. That is, they don't have to play. This is a reward for doing so well and highly sought after as it gives a team a chance to rest and prepare. Remember our 2007 16-0 regular season? We were seeded first and got a bye on the first round. The winners of round 1 move on to round 2 and battle it out with the top 2 seeded teams. The winners of round 2 move to round 3 and challenge each other for the conference championship. Here's a breadown:
- WC1 vs. DW4, WC2 vs. DW3
- DW4/WC1/WC2 vs. DW1, DW3/DW4/WC1 vs. DW2
- Winners of round 2 meet in AFC Championship
- AFC Champion moves on to Super Bowl
Well, I've run out of steam and you're probably sick of reading this stuff. ;-) I'll create a Part III which will be more focused on our chances for a wildcard spot should we not win the division.