The National Football League (NFL) play-offs are a knockout tournament that is used to determine the NFL champions at the end of the regular season . Six teams each qualify for the play-offs from both NFL conferences (AFC and NFC). The decisive factors are the results of the regular season (percentage of games won) and a tie-breaker system in the event of a tie. The play-offs end with the Super Bowl , in which the winners of the two conferences face each other.
The history of the NFL “Post Season” can be traced back to the first “NFL Championship Game” in 1933. In the period before 1967, qualification for the play-offs was based solely on the season results. The first "true" NFL play-offs took place in 1967 with four qualified teams. With the merger of AFL and NFL in 1970, the play-off field was expanded to eight. From 1978 ten teams were allowed to take part in the play-offs and since 1990 twelve teams.
In 2011, the Houston Texans (who were the last expansion team to be included in the league in 2002) also qualified the last current NFL team for the first time for the play-offs.
Current play-off system
The 32-team league is divided into two conferences, the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC), each with 16 teams. Since 2002, each conference has been divided into four divisions, each with four teams. The play-off tournament scheme is based on six participants from each of the two conferences.
The following teams will qualify for the play-offs after the end of the regular season:
- The four division winners in each conference. These teams will be seeded as numbers 1 to 4 for the play-offs based on their win ratio (in%).
- Two wildcard teams, the two teams that have the best win ratio of the remaining teams in their conference. These are set as numbers 5 and 6.
The first round of the play-offs is called the wildcard play-offs (or wildcard weekend ). In this round, the division winner with no. 3 receives the wildcard team with no. 6 and the division winner with no. 4 receives the wildcard team with no. 5. The division winners with no. 1 and 2 have a bye, ie they stand automatically in the 2nd round, the divisional play-offs, and have home rights against the winners of the wildcard play-offs. In contrast to the NBA , the NFL does not have a fixed schedule, but always plays the highest seeded team against the lowest seeded team. The two remaining teams form the second game pairing. The two winners of the divisional play-offs face each other in the AFC and NFC Conference Championship Games. You not only determine the winner of the conference, but also the participant in the Super Bowl. Only twice since 1990 has a team that was not seeded as No. 1 or No. 2 achieved home rights for the Conference Championship Game (AFC Championship 2006 and NFC Championship 2008).
In the event of a tie with regard to the win ratio in the regular season, the betting order for the play-offs is determined by applying the tie-breaking rules, whereby the direct comparison is the most important criterion.
One possible disadvantage of the NFL play-off mode is that the two teams with the best winning ratios in their conference can clash in the play-offs before the conference championship if they come from the same division. In this case, the better of the two teams would be set as No. 1, the other as No. 5. As can be seen from the diagram above on the right, it would be possible that No. 1 in the divisional play-offs against No. 5 must start (see also proposed amendments below) .
The situation where two or more teams finish the regular season with the same win ratio is common. It is therefore necessary to determine a sequence between these "undecided" teams, on the one hand for deciding which teams will qualify for the playoffs and on the other hand for the betting order. The following rules will be applied in the order listed until a decision is reached. If a decision between three teams for a playoff place is necessary, as soon as the third team is eliminated, the rules will be applied again from point 1 on for the two remaining teams. If several playoff places are available to several teams, the rules will be applied until the first team qualifies, after which the procedure is restarted for the remaining teams.
The tie-breaking rules have changed over the years. Most of the changes were made in 2002 when the league was restructured to eight divisions with four teams each. The victory ratios against common opponents and most of the other rules relating to the victories were ranked higher, while criteria such as points for or against a team were downgraded.
The current regulations are as follows:
|Divisional tie-breakers||Conference tie-breaker|
History of the playoffs and championships
The system the NFL uses to determine its champions has changed over the years.
From the founding of the league in 1920 to 1932 there was no planned championship game. Between 1920 and 1923, the champion was chosen by a vote of the club owners at the annual meeting. From 1924, the rule was that the team with the best win ratio had won the championship title. Since the teams played a different number of games at the time, counting the wins alone was not enough, so the percentage of games won was introduced. Draws didn't count back then, unlike today, where they are counted as half a win and half a loss.
The "Playoff Game" 1932
In the 1932 season, the Chicago Bears (6 wins, 1 loss, 6 draws) and the Portsmouth Spartans (6-1-4) had won 76.9% of their games. Therefore, an additional game for the championship title was necessary. It was agreed that this would be played at Wrigley Field in Chicago, but the severe winter made it necessary to move to the Chicago Stadium as an indoor game. The game was played with modified rules on a shortened 80-yard field and the Bears won 9-0. After that game, the Bears had won 87.5% of their games, making them champions. The Spartans had now only won 75.0% of their games and thus fell back to 3rd place behind the Green Bay Packers . Although this game was not a real playoff game, it was interesting for the audience and led to the introduction of the NFL Championship Games in 1933.
Before the Super Bowl
The interest in the "playoff game" of 1932 led to the league's desire for a championship game. The league split into two conferences in 1933. The two conference winners played the championship game. There was no tie-breaking system and a tie in the end results led to an additional playoff game after the end of the regular season. Such playoff games became necessary in 1941, 1943, 1947, 1950 (2 games), 1952, 1957, 1958 and 1965. These playoff games therefore sometimes led to the scheduled date for the championship game being postponed by a week.
The playoff system, which was valid from 1933 to 1966, was criticized as unfair because it led several times to the fact that the two teams with the two winning ratios in the regular season did not face each other in the championship game. Four times between 1950 and 1966 (1951, 1956, 1960 and 1963), the team with the second-best win ratio did not qualify for the playoffs, while the team with the third-best win ratio made it to the championship game.
In the 1967 season, the NFL expanded the field of participants to 16 teams and divided the two conferences into two divisions each with 4 teams. The four division winners reached the playoffs, while a tie-breaking system was introduced. The first playoff round determined the NFL Conference Champion, the two winners played the NFL Championship Game a week later. The 1967 season is therefore the first in which the champions were determined by a defined playoff system.
During the three years (1967-69) in which this playoff system was used, the tie-breaking system was used once. In 1967 the Los Angeles Rams and the Baltimore Colts finished the regular season in 11-1-2. It was about the division victory in the Coastal Division, the Colts came undefeated in the last game of the season, where they were subject to the Rams. Although the Colts had the best win ratio of all teams together with the Rams, they did not reach the playoffs due to the tie-breaking regulations, while the other three division winners were allowed to participate in the playoffs with worse win ratios. This event led to the admission of a wildcard team to the playoffs from 1970.
In the 1960s, a playoff game for third place, the so-called Playoff Bowl in Miami, was held in early January following the 1960-69 seasons. Although they were official playoff games at the time, the NFL now counts those ten games (and statistics) as "Exhibitions" rather than playoff games.
In the 1960-68 seasons, the AFL and the NFL played with two divisions, with the two winners playing the AFL Championship Game. There was no tie-breaking system, so additional playoff games were necessary in the Eastern Division in 1963 and in the Western Division in 1968 to determine the championship game participant.
In 1969 a 1st playoff round was added. The division winners played against the runners-up in the other division. The two winners of the first round played the AFL Championship Game. In the only year with this mode, the Kansas City Chiefs became AFL Champion and then even won the Super Bowl. At the end of the regular season they were runner-up in the AFL Western Division. You were therefore the first non-division winner to win the Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl era
The Super Bowl was originally a cross-league championship game between AFL and NFL as a compromise in pressure that the newly founded AFL imposed on the existing NFL. The success of the new rival was probably one of the reasons for the merger of the two leagues.
From 1966 to 1969 (Super Bowl I-IV) AFL and NFL Champion met in the Super Bowl, since 1970 the AFC and NFC Champions.
With the merger in 1970, the new NFL reorganized its now 26 teams into two conferences, each with three divisions. By 1977, four teams per conference reached the playoffs. These were the three division winners and a wildcard team.
Originally, home rights in the playoffs were given on the basis of an annual rotation. In 1975 a betting order was introduced according to which the higher seeded teams had home rights in each playoff round. According to the betting order, the No. 1 division winner played at home against the wildcard team, and No. 2 received No. 3 from the other two division winners. However, there was the exception that teams from the same division were not before the conference Championship were allowed to meet. So if the wildcard team came from the same division as the no. 1, the no. 1 played against the no. 3 and the no. 2 against the no. 4 (the wildcard team).
Together with the expansion of the regular season from 14 to 16 games in the 1978 season, the league allowed an additional wildcard team per conference. The two wildcard teams played a qualifying game a week before the division winners, the winner then met in the divisional playoffs on the No. 1 seeded team, as in 1970-77. In the divisional playoffs there was still the rule that teams from the same division were not allowed to meet. However, this was allowed in the wildcard round. This ten-team playoff system was maintained until 1989. During this time, the Oakland Raiders became the first wildcard team to win the Super Bowl in 1980.
Due to a strike in the 1982 season, each team only played nine games in the regular season. The playoff system was modified this season. Division-related scores were disregarded as there have been cases where both games between two teams in a division fell victim to the strike. Instead, the eight best teams from each conference were approved for the playoffs. This season was therefore the only one until 2010 in which teams with a negative win-loss ratio qualified for the playoffs (the Cleveland Browns and the Detroit Lions , each with 4-5). In 2010, the Seattle Seahawks qualified as division winners of NFC West with a win / loss ratio of 7-9, setting a new record. This meant that the Seahawks were not only qualified for the playoffs, but also ranked No. 4 as division winners. The Saints (11-5) and Packers (10-6) were placed as No. 5 and 6, and the Giants and Buccaneers (10-6 each, but worse Strength of Victory than the Packers) remained as "victims" of the system. excluded from the playoff.
From 1990 there was a third wildcard team per conference, which increased the number of participants in the playoffs to twelve. According to the new system, the weakest division winner had to compete in the wildcard round. Games against teams from the same division were allowed. Until the restructuring in 2002, this system consisted of eight divisions. In the system explained above that has been in effect since then, the four division winners and two wildcard teams contest the playoffs. The highest seeded team plays against the worst seeded team in each round, and the betting order also determines home rights (not the regular season win ratio). Hence, it is possible that a division winner could have home rights against a wildcard team that has a better win ratio. This happens more often when # 4 meets # 5.
Since the expansion and restructuring to eight divisions in 2002, there have been efforts to expand the playoffs to 14 teams. Proponents point to the added value of the two additional playoff games and the fact that the 12-man playoffs were introduced when the league consisted of 28 teams and six divisions (each with 4-5 teams). With 32 teams and eight divisions, access to the playoffs became harder for wildcard teams, while it became easier for division winners of weak divisions. In 2008, the San Diego Chargers and the Arizona Cardinals won the division with eight wins each (Arizona ultimately had nine wins), while the New England Patriots missed a wildcard place with eleven wins. Opponents of widening the playoff field are of the opinion that the playoffs would be "watered down" by weaker teams and point out that in the NBA and NHL , where 16 out of 30 teams reach the playoffs, often no longer as much value the services are placed in the regular season.
After the 2007 playoffs, when two better-winning wildcard teams (the Jacksonville Jaguars and later Super Bowl winner New York Giants ) won away at division winners (the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ), the NFL looked at a different proposal. The division winners should not automatically be given home rights, but rather the teams with the best winning numbers. The NFL Competition Committee rejected this, however. The president of the Atlanta Falcons , Rich McKay, said they just wanted to discuss the idea. The owner of the New England Patriots , Robert Kraft, was a vehement opponent of this idea: "If you win a division, your fans should know that you can play a home game."
In contrast to the regular season, players on a team do not receive individually set salaries during the play-offs, but each player on a team receives the same salary. The staggering for the play-offs of the 2016 season is:
|Wild card game||Division winner||$ 27,000|
|Wild card team||$ 24,000|
|Divisional playoff game||All||$ 27,000|
|Conference Championship Game||All||$ 49,000|
|Super bowl||winner||$ 107,000|
- NFL Playoff Procedures and Tiebreakers . Yahoo! Sports. December 31, 2006. Retrieved February 21, 2007.
- NFL Football Playoff Bracket . CBS Sportsline. Archived from the original on May 23, 2007. Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Retrieved February 21, 2007.
- FOXSports.com - NFL tiebreaking procedures . December 9th, 2006. Archived from the original on December 30th, 2008. Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Retrieved December 25, 2008.
- NFL Tiebreaking Procedures
- NFL History . NFL.com. Retrieved February 21, 2007.
- 2006 NFL Record and Fact Book , ISBN 1-933405-32-5 , p. 410.
- Ralph Hickock: The 1932 NFL Championship Game . HickokSports.com. November 19, 2004. Archived from the original on October 30, 2002. Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Retrieved February 21, 2007.
- Ralph Hickock: NFL Playoff and Championship History . HickokSports.com. Archived from the original on January 25, 2013. Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Retrieved February 21, 2007.
- The Playoff Bowl (Bert Bell Benefit Bowl) . Archived from the original on April 15, 2007. Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Retrieved April 18, 2007.
- 1969 Standings . Pro Football Reference. Retrieved February 21, 2007.
- History of the Wild Card . Pro Football Hall of Fame . Retrieved January 13, 2007.
- Chasing perfection: 2005 Colts vs. '72 Dolphins . NFL.com. November 22, 2005. Retrieved February 21, 2007.
- 1975 Standings . NFL.com. Retrieved February 21, 2007.
- 1983 Standings . NFL.com. Retrieved February 21, 2007.
- 1980 Standings . Pro Football Reference. Retrieved February 21, 2007.
- 1982 Standings . Pro Football Reference. Retrieved February 21, 2007.
- Larry Weisman: Expanding playoffs, instant replay on NFL owners' agenda . USATODAY.com. March 22, 2006. Retrieved February 21, 2007.
- John Clayton: Playoff format is matter of integrity . ESPN.com. December 30, 2005. Retrieved February 21, 2007.
- Proposal to reseed playoff teams withdrawn by owners
- LOOK: Most NFL players take a huge pay cut when their teams make the playoffs. Retrieved January 14, 2017 (English).