There are no big changes in the playoffs, the recent changes were made in 2020. Everything is set for the 2021-22 National Football League Playoffs to begin in January 2022 with 14 NFL teams making their way into the postseason.

The 2020 was different for the NFL and not only because of the coronavirus, but because the NFL decided to expand the playoffs to 14 teams. Previously, only 12 teams were allowed, the modification in the format added 3 wildcards for each conference

The NFL is divided into two conferences: the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference, and within each of the conferences there are four divisions. The divisions are known as East, North, South, West.

NFL 2021-22 playoff format: Division Winners

Each conference has 16 teams divided into four divisions that take the conference name to distinguish themselves: AFC East, AFC North, AFC South, and AFC West. With the NFC it is the same, each division from East to West carries the initials of the conference.

Each division within the conferences is made up of four teams fighting to win the division with the best record. A clear example of an AFC East winner in 2020 was the Buffalo Bills with 13-3-0.

The two winners of the divisions in each conference with the best record do not have to play in the Wildcard Round, they get a special pass called BYE and go to the next round (Divisional Round) to play against the winners of the wildcard round.

 A clear example was in 2020 when the Chiefs won the AFC West with 14-2-0 (best record in the AFC) and automatically entered the Divisional Round. The division winners are numbered 1 through 4 and are known as Seed No. 1, 2, 3 and 4. These are all the division winners from this 2021 season:

  • AFC East: Bills
  • AFC North: Bengals
  • AFC South: Titans
  • AFC West: Chiefs
  • NFC East: Cowboys
  • NFC North: Packers
  • NFC South: Buccaneers
  • NFC West: Rams

NFL 2021-22 playoff format: Wild Card Round

The wildcard round is a bit more complex but easy to understand even for people who don't know anything about American football. Each conference offers 3 special berths called Wild Cards where three teams have the opportunity to access the divisional round (if they manage to win), conference title game and super bowl. They are also known as Seed No. 5, 6 and 7.

The teams that play in the wildcard round are those that have the top three records (after division winners) at the end of the regular season. In 2020 the three NFC teams that made the playoffs through the wildcard were:

NFC South –  Tampa Bay Buccaneers 11-5-0 (Saints won the division)
NFC North –  Chicago Bears 8-8-0 (Packers won the division)
NFC WestLos Angeles Rams 10-6-0 (Seahawks won the Division)

The teams' games in the Wild Card round will be against the teams that won the divisions and had the best records after the two teams that received the free pass (bye) for the divisional round. These are the teams who will play in the Wild Card weekend this year:


Raiders at Bengals
Patriots at Bills
Steelers at Chiefs


Cardinals at Rams
49ers at Cowboys
Eagles at Bucs

Bye: Titans (AFC) and Packers (NFC)


NFL 2021-22 playoff format: Divisional Round

This round is the big filter of the playoffs, only the best teams from each division and conference face each other in four or five games that will define the final games for the conference title games. The format of the divisional round is:

Game 1: BYE NFC Team with best divisional record (Packers) vs. NFC Wildcard round winner (Winner of Eagles at Bucs)
Game 2: AFC Team with best divisional record vs. AFC Wildcard round winner
Game 3: BYE AFC Team with best divisional record (Titans) vs. AFC Wildcard round winner (Winner of Steelers at Chiefs)
Game 4: NFC Team with best divisional record vs. NFC Wildcard round winner.


NFL 2021-22 playoff format: Conference Title

There is not much to say about this part of the playoffs since to reach this part of the postseason the four best teams must win in the Divisional Round, the previous record does not matter here and there are no Bye’s available. In 2020 the Chiefs won the AFC against the Bills, and the Buccaneers won the NFC against the Packers.

NFL 2021-22 playoff format: Super Bowl

This is the last phase of the playoffs, only the winners of the conference titles can play in the final game for the Super Bowl ring. After the conference title games, both teams will have several days off before playing in the Super Bowl.

This is how the Playoffs looked in the 2020 season where the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl against the Chiefs.

Data provided by
Week Date Winner/tie   Loser/tie Pts Pts
WildCard 2021-01-09 Buffalo Bills   Indianapolis Colts 27 24
WildCard 2021-01-09 Los Angeles Rams @ Seattle Seahawks 30 20
WildCard 2021-01-09 Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Washington Football Team 31 23
WildCard 2021-01-10 Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers 48 37
WildCard 2021-01-10 New Orleans Saints   Chicago Bears 21 9
WildCard 2021-01-10 Baltimore Ravens @ Tennessee Titans 20 13
Division 2021-01-16 Green Bay Packers   Los Angeles Rams 32 18
Division 2021-01-16 Buffalo Bills   Baltimore Ravens 17 3
Division 2021-01-17 Kansas City Chiefs   Cleveland Browns 22 17
Division 2021-01-17 Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints 30 20
ConfChamp 2021-01-24 Kansas City Chiefs   Buffalo Bills 38 24
ConfChamp 2021-01-24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Green Bay Packers 31 26
SuperBowl 2021-02-07 Tampa Bay Buccaneers N Kansas City Chiefs 31 9

NFL 2021-22 Playoff Picture: Bracket

Following a wild regular season finale, the 2021 NFL Playoff picture is set will all 14 teams already inside the postseason. With the Tennessee Titans and the Green Bay Packers having a bye in the AFC and NFC, respectively, this is what the bracket of the playoffs looks like: