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What is the Wild Card in the NFL, how does it work, when is it and how many teams play?

The NFL regular season is coming to an end and the Wild Card weekend is approaching. This weekend will determine the final competitors for the NFL playoffs.

Ariel Velázquez
The National Football League (NFL) logo is seen over the Los Angeles Convention Center.

When the clock at Hard Rock Stadium runs down to the last second of the fourth quarter on Sunday night, the last team to enter the postseason with the Wild Card tag will have been determined.

Wild-card teams have rocked the postseason throughout the years, so fans are paying attention to them from the beginning of the bracket to the Vince Lombardi trophy.

How does the Wild Card work?

The National Football League comprises two conferences (AFC and NFC), each divided into four divisions. The teams that finish with the best win-loss card in each division are declared champions of that unit and earn an automatic spot in the postseason. Thus, four playoff spots are already filled per conference, for a total of eight for the entire league.

Since 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic forced the NFL to expand the playoffs to raise more money for television rights, wild-card teams have gone from two to three per conference.

But how does an organization become a wild card?

Currently, a total of 14 teams reach the postseason. The eight winners from each division and six wild card teams (three from each conference). The organizations that win the Wild Card are those with the best win-loss record overall but failed to win their division title.

The three wild cards of each conference can belong to the same division as long as they finish above the rest of the teams that were not champions of their respective sectors.


How many teams play the Wild Card round?

Before 2020, the top two teams from each conference would earn a bye in the Wild Card round.

However, with the inclusion of a third wild card, only the top seed gets a bye in the first stage of the postseason.

In this way, the three wild-card teams play against the three divisional champions that did not finish with the best winning record.

The top-ranked wild card takes on the divisional champion with the worst record.

The second-highest-ranked wild card will play the second-lowest-ranked champion.

The worst wild card will face off against the team with the second-best record from each conference.

When is the Wild Card round?

The Wild Card round will run from January 13 to 15.

Saturday, January 13

Team to be designated vs Team to be set 4:30 a.m. ET

Team to be designated vs Team to be designated 20:15 ET

Sunday, January 14

Team to be designated vs Team to be designated 1:00 p.m. ET

Team to be designated vs Team to be designated 15:30 ET

Team to be designated vs Team to be designated 20:15 ET

Monday, January 15

Team to be designated vs Team to be designated 20:15 ET

But before Super Wild Card Weekend, there’s Week 18 action to look forward to.