General News

Everything you need to know about the NFL playoffs, from how to watch to tiebreakers – The Athletic

Three … two … one … happy 2024 NFL playoffs!

If your New Year’s resolutions include watching more football, you’re both a distinguished goal-setter and in luck. The NFL playoffs begin Jan. 13, with the wild-card round stretching until Jan. 15. That gives you about a week to get acquainted and initiated into the league fandom, but luckily it starts here with a few minutes and everything you need to know.

Warning: Increased football viewership can cause excessive yelling at inanimate objects like your TV.

How many teams make the postseason?

Fourteen of the league’s 32 teams get to take their shot at the Vince Lombardi Trophy, with seven teams — the four division winners and three wild-card teams — from each conference surviving Week 18.

The teams with the best record in the AFC and NFC each nab No. 1 seeds, and both were secured in Week 17. The Baltimore Ravens (13-3) cruised past the Miami Dolphins to clinch the top spot in the AFC for the first time since 2019 while the 49ers’ victory over the Washington Commanders, and the Arizona Cardinals’ upset of the Philadelphia Eagles, granted San Francisco (12-4) NFC supremacy.

As top dogs, the Ravens and 49ers get a first-round bye — bypassing the wild-card round — and home-field advantage.

The No. 2 seeds are the division winners with the second-best records, and the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds follow as the division winners with the third- and fourth-best records.

The fifth through seventh seeds go to the wild-card teams, which are those that did not win their divisions but had the next-best records of all the conference. They fill in the remaining seeding chronologically: The team with the best record of all three wild-card teams slots in at No. 5, the second best at No. 6 and the third best at No. 7.

What are the playoff tiebreakers?

What if playoff contenders have the same record? Who gets in?

It’s the team that has the best head-to-head record. But if that is also tied, the postseason bid goes to the team that has the …

  1. Best win-lost-tied percentage in conference games.
  2. Best win-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
  3. Better strength of victory in all games.
  4. Better strength of schedule in all games.
  5. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed in all games.
  6. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed in all games.
  7. Best net points in conference games.
  8. Best net points in all games.
  9. Best net touchdowns in all games.

And if all those somehow finish even, there’s the foolproof, finite tiebreaker: the coin toss.

Heads … your team gets a playoff bid! Tails … your poor, poor TV.

What the current playoff picture looks like

It’s crunch time in the NFC …

The 49ers, Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams have punched their tickets, leaving two spots up for grabs in Week 18.

The 49ers own the NFC West and the Lions won the NFC North. The NFC East and South are unclaimed.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8), Green Bay Packers (8-8), Seattle Seahawks (8-8), New Orleans Saints (8-8), Atlanta Falcons (7-9) and Minnesota Vikings (7-9) have one game left to punch their playoff ticket while the Cardinals, Commanders, New York Giants, Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears are eliminated.

How each can clinch a playoff berth:

Buccaneers: A win (clinches NFC South division title) OR a tie + Saints loss/tie (clinches NFC South division title) OR a tie + Seahawks loss + Packers loss/tie.

Packers: A win OR a tie + Seahawks loss/tie + Saints loss/tie OR tie + Seahawks loss + Buccaneers loss OR a tie + Seahawks tie + Buccaneers loss/tie OR Vikings loss/tie + Seahawks loss + Buccaneers loss OR Vikings loss/tie + Seahawks loss + Saints loss.

Seahawks: A win + Packers loss/tie OR a tie + Packers loss + Buccaneers loss/tie OR a tie + Packers loss + Saints loss/tie.

Saints: A win + Buccaneers loss/tie OR a tie + Buccaneers loss OR a win + Seahawks loss/tie + Packers loss/tie OR a tie + Seahawks loss + Packers loss.

Falcons: A win + Buccaneers loss.

Vikings: A win + Packers loss + Seahawks loss + Buccaneers loss OR a win + Packers loss + Seahawks loss + Saints loss.

Meanwhile in the AFC …

The Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs, Dolphins and Cleveland Browns are locked into the playoff bracket. With three spots left, the Buffalo Bills (10-6), Jacksonville Jaguars (9-7), Indianapolis Colts (9-7), Houston Texans (9-7) and Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7) are knocking, but the door has closed for the Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Jets, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans and Las Vegas Raiders.

The Ravens control the AFC North and the Chiefs hold the AFC West. The Bills’ matchup against the Dolphins on Sunday determines the AFC East title. But keep your eye on the AFC South, with a three-legged race heading into Week 18, much of the drama is yet to unfold.

How each can clinch a playoff berth:

Bills: A win (clinches AFC East division title) OR a tie OR Steelers loss/tie OR Jaguars loss/tie OR Texans-Colts tie.

Jaguars: A win (clinches AFC South division title) OR a tie + Colts-Texans tie (clinches AFC South division title) OR a tie + Steelers loss/tie OR Steelers loss + Broncos loss/tie + Colts-Texans doesn’t end in tie.

Colts: A win + Jaguars loss/tie (clinches AFC South division title) OR a tie + Jaguars loss (clinches AFC South division title) OR a win OR a tie + Steelers loss/tie.

Texans: A win + Jaguars loss/tie (clinches AFC South division title) OR a win OR a tie + Jaguars loss + Steelers loss/tie.

Steelers: A win + Bills loss OR a win + Jaguars loss/tie OR a win + Colts-Texans tie OR a tie + Jaguars loss + Colts-Texans doesn’t end in a tie OR Jaguars loss + Broncos win + Colts-Texans doesn’t end in a tie.

Playoff schedule, TV info

Wild-card round (all times Eastern)

Saturday, Jan. 13

  • Game 1: 4:30 p.m. (NBC)
  • Game 2: 8:15 p.m. (Peacock)

Sunday, Jan. 14

  • Game 3: 1 p.m. (TBD)
  • Game 4: 4:30 p.m. (TBD)
  • Game 5: 8:15 p.m. (TBD)

Monday, Jan. 15

  • Game 6: 8:15 p.m. (ABC, ESPN)

Divisional round

Stakes will rise with two games apiece on Jan. 20 and 21. Times and networks TBD.

Conference championships

Both conference championship games take place on Sunday, Jan. 28.

Super Bowl LVIII

The Super Bowl kicks off Feb. 11 and will be aired by CBS this year. This year’s game is at Allegiant Stadium, home of the Las Vegas Raiders.

Required reading

(Photo: Christian Petersen / Getty Images)