NFL playoff bracket, explained: How byes, seeding will work in 2022 with 17-game format
The NFL made a critical decision about its postseason format before the 2020 NFL regular season. Instead of having 12 teams involved in the playoffs, the NFL would include 14 during the 2021 NFL postseason.
The move was originally met with skepticism. After all, the NFL has, arguably, the best playoff format of any of the four major sports, so why change something that’s working?
But soon after, NFL fans realized that the expanded postseason meant there would be two extra NFL games. So, they stopped complaining and the first 14-team postseason came and went without a major hitch.
The 14-team postseason does have some key differences from the 12-team playoff of old. Here’s a refresher about how the 14-team version of the NFL playoffs works and why the NFL ultimately added more postseason games before last season began.
How many teams make the NFL playoffs?
A total of 14 teams will make the NFL playoffs in 2022. This will mark the second season of the NFL’s 14-team playoff. Previously, 12 teams — six from each conference — made the playoffs but the NFL changed that ahead of the 2020 NFL season.
Now, seven teams from the AFC and seven from the NFC will make the postseason. That only impacts the playoff bracket by adding a seventh seed in each conference and eliminating the bye week for the No. 2 seed.
Under the NFL’s new format, 43.75 percent of the league’s teams will be involved in postseason play. Division winners will still be seeded Nos. 1-4 by record with the final three spots being filled by Wild Card teams.
NFL playoff bracket 2022
Below, you can see how the 2022 NFL playoff bracket will work. The No. 1 seed in each conference will begin the tournament with a bye while the No. 2 seed plays No. 7, No. 3 plays No. 6 and No. 4 plays No. 5 on each side.
Here’s a look at the latest NFL playoff bracket for 2022, updated through Week 16:
1. Kansas City Chiefs (bye)
2. Tennessee Titans vs. 7. Baltimore Ravens
3. Cincinnati Bengals vs. 6. New England Patriots
4. Buffalo Bills vs. Indianapolis Colts
1. Green Bay Packers (bye)
2. Dallas Cowboys vs. 7. Philadelphia Eagles
3. Los Angeles Rams vs. 6. San Francisco 49ers
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. 5. Arizona Cardinals
How many teams get a first-round bye?
Just two total teams — one in each conference — get a bye week under the NFL’s new playoff format. That’s because of the expansion of the Wild Card round to add a No. 2 vs. No. 7 seed matchup in both the AFC and NFC.
The elimination of the second bye was necessary, as making the No. 2 seed play ensures that half of the 12 teams that play on Wild Card weekend will be eliminated. That means eight will play in the divisional round and the NFL will continue to halve the total of teams from there until one is left standing after the Super Bowl.
Why did the NFL expand the playoff field?
It’s all about the money. The extra playoff game will generate revenue that the NFL otherwise wouldn’t have, and it is allowing the league to have an extra prime-time broadcast, as they will play a “Monday Night Football” postseason game for the first time in 2022.
It also keeps more teams in the playoff hunt longer during the 18-week season. That makes each game a bit more meaningful and gives the fan bases of middling teams extra hope that they can qualify for the postseason.
Does the No. 2 seed have any benefit without a bye?
The No. 2 seed is far less attractive without a bye. The team that gets the No. 2 seed is guaranteed two home games — provided that they can dispatch the No. 7 seed in the Wild Card round. After that, they would either travel to the No. 1 seed’s home for the AFC or NFC championship or get to host the championship game if the No. 1 seed is upset.
That said, it’s a lot different than the bye week that the team used to get, as the No. 2 seed will have to play an extra game that previous No. 2 seeds haven’t had to play. So, teams are less likely to fight hard for it if they have the opportunity to rest their players late in the season, especially if they have their division title wrapped up and don’t have a shot at the No. 1 seed.
Does the NFL’s 17th game have an impact on the playoffs?
The addition of a 17th regular-season game won’t have much of an impact on the playoffs themselves. The biggest change is that the NFL postseason calendar will be moved back by a week because of the extra games. As such, the Super Bowl will now take place on the second Sunday in February instead of the first.
Also, the playoff race will be a bit longer and more packed than usual. Because of the extra game, teams that are hot at the end of the year will have a better chance to make a postseason run, as they’ll have extra time to make up ground in the standings.
NFL playoff schedule 2022
Saturday, Jan. 15
Sunday, Jan. 16
Monday, Jan. 17
Saturday, Jan. 22
Sunday, Jan. 23
Sunday, Jan. 30
Super Bowl 56
Sunday, Feb. 13
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