The 2015 regular season for the National Football League is rapidly coming to a close, and it will not be long before a handful of the teams with the best records are selected to compete in the 2015 playoffs. While some teams still have a chance to mount a comeback and ensure their place in the approaching crux, by now, it is certainly possible to look ahead and make some predictions as to how the NFL playoff season will “kick off.”
The Big Twelve
As mentioned in a previous article, which explored ranking and the major facets of the regular NFL game season, there are 2 “conferences” in the National Football League – the AFC, or American Football Conference, and the NFC, or National Football Conference. Each conference is made up of North, South, East, and West Divisions, and each of these divisions encompasses 4 playing teams. The playoffs feature an overarching total of 16 NFL teams – the team with the best regular season record (calculated by percentage of wins vs. losses, or a fraction of all games played) from each division in a conference is appointed as a competitor in the playoffs. Additionally, 2 “wild card” teams – of all remaining teams in a conference, the 2 best records – are also selected to compete, thus resulting in a total of 6 teams from each of the 2 conferences. As of today (December 26th) the 2015 playoff teams are slated to be the New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers, Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks, and Minnesota Vikings.
First Round: “Wild Card Playoffs”
The first round of the postseason playoffs, aptly-titled as the “Wild-card Playoffs”, will feature the 2 last-place division winners from each conference facing off against the wild card teams of that conference; this will be the last opportunity “2nd place” teams from each conference will have for a shot at the Super Bowl. Since there are only 2 wild card teams from each conference, but 4 division leaders from each conference, the 2 best division leaders are exempt from playing in this round of the playoffs (they are automatically advanced into round 2). This will apply to the Patriots, Bengals, Panthers, and Cardinals.
Why Understanding Playoff Selection is Important
Knowing exactly how teams are selected to play in the NFL playoffs makes predictions much easier and more accurate. It also allows fans of football to estimate how their team must play in relation to other teams if they are to be guaranteed a shot at the Super Bowl (this involves also factoring in wins and losses of the season up until a certain point in time, as well). For example, by now, it is perfectly safe to say that the New England Patriots have clenched their division – with a seasonal record of 12-2 wins v. losses, they are guaranteed to finish first in their division and will play in the playoff season. The New York Jets, in the same division as the Patriots, have a record of 9-5 this season, but will still play again before the season ends. As a result, they do have a chance over against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs at one of the wild card placements for the American Football Conference (however, because of the Jets’ game schedule, they will actually be playing against the Patriots to gain another win, or possibly suffer another loss).
Indeed, grasping how and why teams are selected for the playoff season is nearly as important to predicting the course of the entire NFL year as the overall performance of the teams themselves!