The Duel

NFL Playoff Format Explained & Printable 2019 Postseason Bracket Heading into Week 17

By David Hayes
The Vince Lombardi Trophy is raised by a member of the New England Patriots after Super Bowl LIII.
The Vince Lombardi Trophy is raised by a member of the New England Patriots after Super Bowl LIII. / Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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While each NFL regular season features more than 250 games played by 32 different clubs, it all comes down to 12 teams making the playoffs and one Super Bowl champion come February.

Unlike other major professional leagues' postseason formats, such as the NBA or NHL and their 16 annual playoff berths, the NFL only opens its postseason gates to 12 teams each January – eight (four from the AFC and four from the NFC) of which have to duel it out in single-elimination matchups in their respective Wild Card rounds.

NFL Playoff Format

The NFL postseason features a bracket split between the AFC and NFC, and each conference produces six playoff teams. The team with the best overall record (and/or tiebreaker criteria) from each conference receives the No. 1 seed, a first-round bye, home-field advantage through their conference championship game. The No. 1 seed then draws a Divisional Round matchup with the highest remaining seed to advance from that same conference's respective No. 4 seed vs. No. 5 seed and No. 3 seed vs. No. 6 seed Wild Card Round games.

Each conference's team with the second-best record (and/or tiebreaker criteria) also receives a first-round bye and home-field advantage in a Divisional Round matchup with the lowest remaining seed between the winners of that same conference's respective No. 4 seed-No. 5 seed and No. 3 seed-No. 6 seed Wild Card Round games. For example, if the No. 6 seed upsets the No. 3 seed in the Wild Card Round, the NFL's reseeding policy would send that No. 6 seed on the road to face the No. 1 seed in the following Divisional Round. However, if that No. 3 seed were to beat the No. 6 seed, that No. 3 seed would advance to face the No. 2 seed in the Divisional Round, leaving the winner of the No. 4 seed-No. 5 seed Wild Card Round game to face that conference's No. 1 seed.

Each conference's two Wild Card Round matchups feature the divisional winners with the worst record and second-worst record, respectively. The divisional winner with the worst record receives that conference's No. 4 seed on their side of the playoff bracket, and the divisional winner with the second-worst record receives the No. 3 seed. That No. 3 seed faces that conference's No. 6 seed Wild Card team with the worse record between that conference's two Wild Card teams. The Wild Card team with the better record receives the No. 5 seed and hits the road to face the No. 4 seed divisional winner in the Wild Card Round.

Including the Wild Card Round, the NFL Playoffs feature three rounds leading into the Super Bowl (the fourth and final round). If the top-2 seeds from either conference were to lose in the Divisional Round, the top remaining seeds from that conference would then earn home-field advantage in the conference championship game.

Printable NFL Playoff Bracket

For an on-paper representation of the NFL playoff format described above, you can view and print out the 2019 NFL playoffs bracket ahead of Week 17 by clicking here. Now that the 2019-20 NFL Playoffs are officially set, you can also print out a PDF version of the official NFL playoff bracket by clicking here.


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David Hayes is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, David Hayes also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username DavidWHayes. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his personal views, he may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his personal account. The views expressed in their articles are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.

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