2020/21 NFL PLAY-OFFS

2020/21 NFL: how do wild cards work for play-off qualification?

The 2020/21 NFL play-offs are due to get going on 9 January 2021, with the number of wild cards involved in the post-season up from two to three.

2020/21 NFL: how do wild cards work for play-off qualification?
Chris Graythen AFP

An expanded 2020/21 National Football League (NFL) post-season is scheduled to begin on 9 January 2021, with two more teams added to a play-off roster that will now feature a total of 14 franchises.

While the four division winners in each NFL conference will make up eight of the contenders as in previous seasons, the number of wild cards on each side of the play-offs has been upped from two to three.

How do NFL play-off wild cards work?

The NFL is divided into two conferences: the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). During the regular season, these two sections are in turn split up into four divisions of four teams - north, south, east and west - with the winners of each going through to the play-offs, in which the two conferences remain separated until the Super Bowl.

The remaining six post-season places are given to three wild-card qualifiers from each conference. These spots go to the sides with the best win-loss-tie records outside the division champions.

While the division winners are seeded one to four in the play-offs - depending on their record during the regular season - the wild cards are seeded five to seven.

The top seeds in the AFC and in the NFC both get a bye in the first phase of the play-offs, which is known as the wild-card round. Meanwhile, the second seed hosts the seventh seed, the third seed hosts the sixth seed and the fourth seed hosts the fifth seed.

After the wild-card round, the teams from the AFC and NFC must negotiate two further play-off stages - the four-team divisional round and the two-team conference championships - before the winners of each conference go head to head in the Super Bowl.

As in the wild-card round, the divisional round pits the highest seed against the lowest seed. Throughout the conference play-offs, the higher seeded team is given home advantage.

Super Bowl LV is scheduled to be played at Raymon James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, on 7 February 2021.

Patrick Mahomesof the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates after defeating San Francisco 49ers 31-20 in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida, in February 2020. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

2020/21 NFL play-offs: schedule

Wild-card round:

(AFC/NFC) Lower seed at higher seed: 9 January 2021

(AFC/NFC) Lower seed at higher seed: 9 January 2021

(AFC/NFC) Lower seed at higher seed: 9 January 2021

(AFC/NFC) Lower seed at higher seed: 10 January 2021

(AFC/NFC) Lower seed at higher seed: 10 January 2021

(AFC/NFC) Lower seed at higher seed: 10 January 2021

Divisional round:

(AFC) Lower seed at higher seed: 16 January 2021

(NFC) Lower seed at higher seed: 16 January 2021

(AFC) Lower seed at higher seed: 17 January 2021

(NFC) Lower seed at higher seed: 17 January 2021

Conference championship:

(AFC) Lower seed at higher seed: 24 January 2021

(NFC) Lower seed at higher seed: 24 January 2021

Super Bowl LV:

AFC champion vs NFC champion: 7 February 2021

Six teams through to 2020/21 NFL playoffs

So far, six teams have already sealed their place in the 2020/21 NFL play-offs. In the AFC, the Buffalo Bills, the Kansas City Chiefs - who are the reigning Super Bowl champions - and the Pittsburgh Steelers are guaranteed a post-season berth, while in the NFC the Green Bay Packers, the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks have made it through.

Seven more franchises - the Cleveland Browns, the Indianapolis Colts, the Tennessee Titans, the Arizona Cardinals, the Los Angeles Rams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Washington Football Team - all have the chance to book their play-off spots in week 16 of the regular season.